The Mets made it clear over the weekend: the new goal is third place.
As it stands now, the Mets are two games behind the Phillies for that relatively modest goal, and 1.5 games ahead of the Marlins. But obviously, what the Mets have in mind is a momentum-building finish that can help them prepare for 2013, both on the field and marketing the team to fans.
1995 has to be the gold standard for that ideal.
On August 5, 1995, the Mets lost to the Marlins at Shea Stadium, 6-3. Bill Pulsipher got knocked around fir six runs over eight innings, but stayed in the game, because what could happen to young pitchers who are overused? Carl Everett homered, but his OPS was just .677. The Mets as a whole dropped to 35-57, good for last place in the National League East, 24 behind Atlanta, 5.5 behind the Marlins for fourth place.
What followed was one of the most enjoyable periods of Mets fandom I had between the 1988 and 1999 playoff appearances. The Mets finished 34-18, catapulting them to second place in the NL East overall, at 69-75. Everett put up an .843 OPS from August 5 through the end of the season. Rico Brogna had 10 home runs and an .855 OPS at first base. Pulsipher ran off a streak of 47 innings at an ERA of 3.06 over six starts, and Jason Isringhausen pitched to a 2.21 ERA over his final 10 starts.
The results didn’t really translate to 1996, however. Pulsipher came up hurt, and Isringhausen, based on results, appears to have been pitching through injury as well. The highly-touted Paul Wilson struggled for similar reasons. Brogna was a bust due to his back, which ultimately limited his career, while Everett struggled as well. The Mets started weak, played well enough in June/July to get within hailing distance of the wild card, but finished 71-91.
The overall excitement did push attendance up from an average of 17,683 fans per game in 1995 to just under 19,609 per game in 1996. That kind of boost could make a dramatic difference for the 2013 Mets.
And the pleasure of seeing young players succeed late in the season has cache itself. I remember how excited I was for 1996, based on the end of 1995.
Just a friendly warning: don’t assume the Mets will finish strong just because they want to. And don’t assume it has much bearing on how they’ll do next year.