Our ESPN colleague Bill Simmons has popularized what he calls his 16 Levels of Losing to rate the manners of emotional distress endured by fans let down by their particular team. The levels include names such as "The Stomach Punch" and "The Guillotine," with the most painful level being "The Game."
Since the Mets won the World Series in 1986, their fans have been subject to a significant amount of "baseball pain" relating to what Simmons described. They have been taken to the precipice of victory, then were dragged away, kicking and screaming.
Adam Wainwright's strikeout of Carlos Beltran to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS is the classic example of the ultimate agony, and the memories of that moment are brought back with Wainwright facing the Mets for the first time in the regular season since then, Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. We were curious to see how it ranked among ardent Mets fans in terms of pain. So we asked a few to rank some painful moments from mildly stinging to excruciating.
• Mike Scioscia, Hero: The Mets were three outs away from a 3-1 series lead against the Dodgers in the 1988 NLCS when an unlikely hero, Scioscia, homered against Dwight Gooden. The Mets lost in 12 innings (leaving the bases loaded in their half of the 12th), then lost the series in seven games.
• The Walk-off: The Mets rallied from a 3-0 series deficit in the 1999 NLCS and led the Braves twice late in Game 6 of the series, but they couldn't finish it. The Braves ended up winning the series when Kenny Rogers walked in Andruw Jones for the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.
• The Enemy Celebrates: The Mets and Yankees finally met in a Subway Series, and the Mets lost their best hope at a series win when they failed to hold a ninth-inning lead and lost Game 1. The Yankees ended up clinching in Game 5 at Shea Stadium when Mike Piazza's fly ball came up a few feet short of a game-tying home run; instead, it was the series-ending out.
• The Strikeout: The Mets were heavy favorites to win the NLCS against the Cardinals in 2006, and all the signs seemed to indicate it was meant to be for them, most notably Endy Chavez's amazing home-run-saving catch in Game 7. The dream died when Yadier Molina hit a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning and Beltran looked at strike three to end the season.
• The Collapses: In 2007 and 2008, the Mets were in position to make the postseason but fell apart down the stretch. In each instance, they had a chance to save their season with a final-game victory. But devastating home losses to the Marlins, including one in the final game at Shea Stadium, wrecked their hopes for a fantastic finish.
THE FANS RESPOND
John Coppinger, aka "Metstradamus"
The worst: The Collapses
"I never thought I would rank anything over the Subway Series in terms of disappointment. Heck, I was at Game 5 and could swear that Piazza's ball was gone. That thing reached its apex near the wall and then just died. But this was a difficult list to rank for me because I was present for three of the six events (the Yankee loss, the last game at Shea to complete the '08 collapse, and the Scioscia home run).
"But what made the 2007 collapse different than any other was that everything else put me in a state of depression. The collapse in 2007 made me angry before it made me depressed. I was screaming at the top of my lungs watching Brett Myers about to clinch the division for the Phillies not five minutes after the Mets lost to the Marlins. That made 2007 just a little different than everything else."
Matt Cerrone, Metsblog.com
The worst: The Walk-off
"There was a magical story being told in 1999, especially following the grand-slam single [by Robin Ventura in Game 5]. Finally, it seemed like the Mets would outlast the Braves. It was going to so awesome, and then ball four. Game over. The 2000 Mets were not better than the Yankees, and were always one step behind in that series. Beltran struck out, but, at that moment, I felt better days were still to come. The collapses were more like long-term torture. The Scioscia home run tied a game, in a series that would end days later. But, the ball from Kenny Rogers dashed hopes and dreams in a single second, and I'm still not over it."
Matt Silverman, author and editor of multiple Mets-related books
The worst: The Enemy Celebrates
"I was in the ballpark for most of the Shea debacles, but the absolute low was seeing the Yankees clinch the 2000 World Series at Shea. It doesn't get much worse than being at your home park and being shouted down by the loudmouths clad in Satan's black, with an added layer of arrogance of a 3-1 lead in the Series. The Yankees scored twice in the ninth and the end seemed imminent.
"The moment the ball left Piazza's bat I stood up, shook hands with my two friends who weren't even looking, took my wife's arm and walked up the aisle while Bernie Williams stood ready to make the catch. We did not look back lest we turn into a pillar of salt.
"My wife drove home -- a two-hour trip -- and I sat catatonic listening to the radio until Bob Murphy went off the air. I figured if he could handle it, I could, too. I have had a chance to go to every Mets-Yankees regular-season series played since then and have not been back."
Greg Prince, author, "Faith and Fear in Flushing"
The worst: The Collapses
"This is like being asked to choose from among a kick to the head, a kick to the gut and a kick to the groin.
"While all the other horror shows took place in the glare of the postseason, the collapses ensured there'd be no postseason. The '07 version was an exercise in You Gotta Disbelieve: No way they could not make the playoffs after having held a commanding mid-September divisional lead; no way they could not get a chance to avenge the Molina/Wainwright ending; no way future Hall of Famer whatshisname could give up seven earned runs in a third of an inning the first third of the first inning, to be exact.
"That was the longest Sunday afternoon of my life. The sequel 52 weeks later was just as chilling, given that the same stakes were on the table, another lead (albeit one less formidable) had been squandered and, as soon as the Mets stopped playing, they'd tear the stadium down."
Jason Fry, "Faith and Fear in Flushing"
The worst: Subway Series Game 1
"My worst moment is a little different -- it's the ball four that Armando Benitez threw to Paul O'Neill. Mets up 3-2 in the ninth, one out, Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. Benitez had O'Neill with a 1-2 count, O'Neill fouled off two pitches, Armando threw two more balls, O'Neill fouled off two more, then walked. Armando then predictably unraveled, the Yankees tied it and then beat Turk Wendell in the 12th.
"It actually began before Benitez when Todd Zeile hits what would have been a home run, except for the fact that he hits it to the smartest Yankee fan on earth, who passes up catching a World Series home run because it just might hit the top of the wall. It does, Timo Perez has been celebrating instead of running, and Jeter makes a great play to nail him at the plate. Three small things in rapid, fatal succession. Then O'Neill scratches out that walk and Armando implodes. The rest of the series was the same way. Little fatal things. When O'Neill started fouling off pitches, I think on some level I sensed everything would go to hell -- and Yankees fans, to my eternal disgust, sensed it too.
"I still have moments where I'm lying awake or doing chores and realize my mind has been drifting and I've worked myself into a semi-conscious rage about something. Inevitably, it turns out what I'm muttering under my breath is 'Goddamn Benitez.' I've accepted that this will happen until the day I die."
"Buddy Gus," ESPN producer, regular on Bill Simmons podcasts
The worst: Mike Scioscia, Hero
"All of these are brutal in their own way, but that game is the worst for a few reasons. We had beaten the Dodgers 10 of 11 games in the regular season, were relatively fresh off our World Series win in '86, and our ace was on the mound against a light-hitting catcher. That homer took my breath away when it happened. Other than the Pendleton homer in '87, it was the most devastating homer hit against the Mets to that point that I can recall."
For those curious, we had each voter rank the losses from 1 to 5 as well. The final order came out this way:
1. The Collapses; 2. (tie) Mike Scioscia, Hero, and The Enemy Celebrates; 4. The Strikeout; 5. The Walk-off.
Two years ago, Rob Neyer and I looked at a series of "what-if" scenarios related to famous moments in baseball history. Here is a link to a scenario in which Beltran hit Wainwright's curveball.
Mark Simon is a researcher for "Baseball Tonight" and a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.