As the Mets acknowledged in the midst of their seven-up-with-17-to-go September tumble, they are quite human. And humans have recall; flashbacks too. Even if their 2008 season is stress-free or as easy on the nerves as, say, their 2006, they Mets won't be free of it. Can't happen, won't happen.
But they can make it mostly irrelevant by implementing the lessons they say they learned during the unbecoming freefall. "We can just tear it up out of the gate and then keep on tearing it up," closer Billy Wagner said. "And we've got the talent to do that."
The talent goes on display this week. First, Johan Santana, then Pedro Martinez, and, in the background, their three Cy Young Awards. Call it "Pitchers at an Exhibition." Then, Oliver Perez, followed by the pitcher who turned heads and burned bats in exhibition games -- John Maine. "He was as good as any pitcher in Florida," a scout said last week. Florida, and don't ignore Memphis, Tenn.
"The Mets can have the best pitching in the league, by far," the scout said. "No [team] goes as deep in the rotation as they do, if Pedro holds together and Maine keeps it up."
Unmentioned in that assessment was Santana, unmentioned because he is considered a given by that scout and others. He will pitch, he will win and -- in a new, less challenging league, with neither super lineups nor designated hitters -- he may dominate.
"He's what an ace is," Martinez says. "I know what it takes, and he gives us that."
"When the Mets got Santana, it's like when we got [Greg] Maddux," Braves manager Bobby Cox said earlier this month. "We already were a good team. We'd been to the World Series. We had great starting pitching like the Mets have now with Pedro and that Perez and John Maine. Maddux made us better. Santana makes them even tougher."
Maddux was 26 and one year into his run of four straight Cy Young Awards when he moved from the Cubs to the Braves, as a free agent, during the 1992 Winter Meetings. Santana, who turned 29 in March, brings two Cy Young Awards -- he was a unanimous choice in 2004 and 2006 -- with him, as well as these distinctions from the last four seasons combined:
Most victories in the Major Leagues: 70.
Lowest ERA in the Major Leagues: 2.89.
Highest winning percentage in the Major Leagues, (75 start min.): .686.
Most strikeouts in the Major Leagues: 983
Lowest batting average in the Major Leagues by opponents: .211.
Highest winning percentage in the Major Leagues (75 start min.): .686.
Third-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Major Leagues (500 strikeout min.): 4.96-1.
Beginning Monday, and against the team that completed the process of elimination Sept. 30 last year, Santana can begin to make irrelevant whatever '07 after-effects are in place. His beating the Marlins wouldn't be surprising, losing to them wouldn't be catastrophic. But an early run of strong performances would remove more of the stain; not that it ever will disappear.
"It's gonna come up," Wagner says. "If we have a big lead in September, someone's gonna bring it up. That'll be fine. I hope we do have a big lead."