Thursday, September 1, 2011

Two Ways For Mets Fans To Remember This September

September has rolled around and the Mets will almost certainly be left out of the postseason party. Going into the final month of the season, the Mets find themselves 22 games behind the first place Phillies and 14½ games behind the wild card-leading Braves.

But although October is only a rumor at Citi Field, there are two events that are still visible on the horizon for the Mets and their fans - a winning season and a batting title for Jose Reyes.

The Mets have a 65-69 record as they begin play in the month of September. Although the climb back to (and hopefully over) .500 could be daunting, it's not an impossible task. In fact, the Mets have twice before entered September with a losing record, only to turn things around and finish of the bright side of .500 at season's end.

In 2001, the Mets began the month of September with a 64-71 record, seemingly out of contention in the NL East after winning the National League pennant the year before. But an 18-9 mark in September and October (the season was pushed back a week due to the tragic events of 9/11) kept Mets fans hopes up and more importantly, gave them a winning record for the season (82-80).

Similarly, the 1973 Mets appeared to be going nowhere fast in the NL East. With a 62-71 record after their final game in August, the Mets were on a one-way ticket to disappointment just one year after finishing ten games above .500. But all it took was a little "ya gotta believe" and a 20-8 mark in September and October, and the Mets found themselves in the playoffs (albeit with an 82-79 record), finishing one win short of their second World Series championship.

Both the 1973 Mets and the 2001 Mets were more games below .500 entering September than this year's model. A 17-11 record this month would make the 2011 Mets the third team in franchise history to achieve this feat.

Now, let's talk about Jose Reyes and his personal quest to become the team's first batting champion.

Entering September, Reyes was leading the National League with a .336 mark, just slightly ahead of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and his .333 average. However, Braun went 1-for-5 in his first September game (a day game against the Cardinals this afternoon), lowering his batting average to .331.

Prior to this season, only three Mets players had ever finished within ten points of the batting title. Cleon Jones (.340) finished eight points behind Pete Rose (.348) in the 1969 National League batting race, with Roberto Clemente (.345) sandwiched between them. Dave Magadan (.328) finished seven points behind 1990 NL batting champion Willie McGee, with Eddie Murray's .330 average sliding in between the two. Finally, in 1998, John Olerud became the first Met to finish second in the league in batting, with his franchise-record .354 average. (Larry Walker finished nine percentage points ahead of Olerud with his .363 batting average.)

Of the above batting title contenders for the Mets, only John Olerud entered the month of September with the lead in the batting race. Prior to the games of September 1, 1998, Olerud's .344 mark was two points higher than Walker's .342. But an 0-for-3 performance by Olerud coupled with a 2-for-3 game by Walker on the month's first night caused a shift in the race, with Walker taking a two-point lead over Olerud (.344 to .342). Olerud retook the lead the following night, but Walker took it back on September 3 and never gave it up for the rest of the season, hitting .640 (16-for-25) from the 3rd to the 12th of September. Even Olerud's .621 average (18-for-29) over his final ten games wasn't enough to help him claim the franchise's first batting title.

Editor's note: In 1969, Cleon Jones was hitting .351 going into September, eight percentage points ahead of eventual batting champion Pete Rose (.343). But Roberto Clemente was the league leader in batting with a .354 mark on the morning of September 1, 1969.

In 1990, Willie McGee's batting average was frozen when he was traded from the Cardinals to the Oakland A's. Since he did not bat again in the National League following his trade, his .335 mark at the time of the trade remained intact. Dave Magadan's batting average never reached McGee's mark in September, peaking at .333 on September 5.

If Jose Reyes can keep his lead in the batting race past September 3, he will be the first Mets player ever to lead the league in batting that late in the season. Of course, should he manage to hold off Ryan Braun, he would become the team's first batting champion in their 50-year history.

So what if the Mets aren't even in the Phillies' and Braves' rear view mirror? There are still two reasons to root for the boys in orange and blue (especially if they wear those sweet "Los Mets" alternate jerseys). The Mets can finish with their first winning mark since the days of Shea Stadium and Jose Reyes can finally provide an answer to the decades-old question, "what will happen first, a Mets' no-hitter or a Mets' batting champion?".

Instead of thinking that there's only one month left to the off-season, think that there's one more exciting month of baseball to be played at Citi Field, a month that could give Mets fans a winning attitude and an unprecedented individual achievement for one of their heroes. You gotta believe, right?

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