Sunday, September 20, 2009. Mark it on your calendars. It could be the day the Mets finally clinch fourth place in the National League East for the first time since 2004.
In 2004, Art Howe led his ragtag band of misfits to a 71-91 record. It was a struggle to fend off the upstart Montreal Expos, but the Mets managed to hold on to fourth place by a four-game margin over Les Expos.
Prior to 2004, the Mets' last fourth place finish was in 1996. That year produced similar results to 2004. The Mets finished 71-91 and held off the last place Phillies by four games.
This year, the Mets have run away with fourth place in the division, as they have a commanding 12½-game lead over Washington. Will the Mets be taking part in a celebratory silly string party after the last out is recorded on Sunday?
Silly string celebrations have been the precursors for better seasons in the past. In 1996, the Mets finished in fourth place with a 71-91 record. The following two seasons they finished 88-74. Those winning seasons were followed by the only back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history.
In 2004, following their fourth place finish, the Mets went on to an 83-79 record in 2005. After that, they finished with the best record in the National League in 2006.
In today's baseball, a fourth place finish in the National League East means that the team finished in next-to-last place. Back in 1968, there were no divisions. There were only two ten-team leagues. Finishing in next-to-last place back then meant ninth place. That's exactly where the Mets finished in 1968. I think we all know what happened to them in 1969.
Do not despair, Mets fans. The history of the franchise suggests that fourth place (or next-to-last) finishes are only the beginning of amazing turnarounds. All they have to do is beat the Nationals on Sunday and the future will become much brighter much sooner. Get your silly string ready. The clinching is at hand!