(As everybody knows, I am a neutral sports columnist who never roots, ever. However, I happen to know this Mets fan who is suffering because of their new so-called closer, Frank Francisco. The other night this fan delivered a rant from deep in his tormented soul.)
I can’t stand it. Frank Francisco is the final straw. He has conditioned me to expect the worst, so now I suffer even when he gets them one-two-three the way he did Tuesday night and then again Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He’s setting us up for something horrendous, I know he is.
He even has Howie Rose making jokes. On Tuesday night when Francisco came in with a one-run lead on the road, Howe-on-the-radio was citing the Beatles’ Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite -- about a circus! How apt.
We’re all familiar with the frantic organ music and allusions to trampolines and fire and somersaults on the Mr. Kite song. That’s what this Francisco is, a human cannonball, with a 1-3 record and a 6.75 earned-run average after Wednesday.
Francisco seems so fragile and erratic, with bad fundamentals with men on base. But Mets fans are used to suffering. Fact is, we have been suffering for a decade and a half with every closer they come up with.
What makes it worse is that across town the Yankees have had Mariano Rivera. Never mind Jeter and Bernie and Posada. Rivera put the Yankees over the top while the Mets have had a bunch of high-wire acts.
I put some statistics together. Since Rivera became the Yankees’ top closer in 1997 (replacing John Wetteland) he has come jogging out of the bullpen, so calm and assured, and has saved 603 of 672 opportunities, including this year, and now he is injured. That amounts to 69 blown saves by the Yanks’ main closer in 15-plus seasons. The Mets, as far as I can figure it out, have had 86 blown saves in 573 opportunities by their leading closer from 1997 (the Mo Era) through Tuesday night. Somehow, it feels worse.
The whole jittery parade of them – John Franco in 1997-98, Armando Benitez had the most saves each year from 1999-2003, good grief Braden Looper for 2004 and 2005 – who even remembers him? – and then Billy Wagner for three seasons and Frankie Rodriguez for three seasons.
As far as I’m concerned, Wagner was the most reassuring of the closers because when he was on, he really could blow it past the batter. But sometimes he wasn’t on.
Meanwhile, in the Bronx, like a metronome, Mo trots in, they play his music, and then it’s time for New York, New York. Out in Queens, we drive into the night still shaking from fright, even when the Mets hold on. The damage to our nervous system. The damage to our collective psyche. All from the gap between closers. I can’t take it!
(The Mets are not about to switch closers this early in the season, not at those prices. A valiant little team, with a manager who seems to have a grip, must depend on a closer who makes people crazy. It’s an occupational hazard for all closers -- except Mo. Poor Mets fans, in such proximity to greatness. Makes me glad I do not suffer like that.)
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