Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
It was going to be the National League East rivalry of the 2010s, giving the Mets a team to measure themselves against and fans an opponent to hate, complete with a star player straight out of visiting villain central casting.
But no, not so far at least. And the decade quickly is starting to run out, as quickly as Bryce Harper and the rest of the Nationals again are running away with the division.
Let’s see: The Mets did finish second to the 96-victory Nats in 2014 but were 17 games out. In 2015 the Mets had a season to remember, reaching the World Series, while Washington stumbled, finishing seven games back.
That seemingly set things up nicely for 2016, but the Nationals won 95 and the injury-riddled Mets ended up eight games back.
That seemingly set things up nicely for 2017, but after Saturday’s 7-4 loss, the injury-riddled Mets are 11 ½ games back. In mid-June.
“Yeah, it is frustrating,” Jay Bruce said after the 3 1⁄2-hour slog was over and the Nationals had a third consecutive victory in a series the Mets needed to win and now officially have lost.
“They’re obviously the team in front of us, and we have a lot of work to do. We have an uphill battle to climb. We had a chance to chip into that a little bit and we haven’t.”
The Mets have one game left in the series Sunday, but they now are 0-6 against Washington at Citi Field this season and 4-12 since the start of last season, an excellent formula for lack of success.
Bruce was 3-for-4 Saturday. Even better for the Mets, Yoenis Cespedes was 4-for-5, hit a long home run and looked spry on the bases.
None of that was enough, though, not for a team among the most disappointing in recent New York sports history. Did we mention it’s only mid-June?
“Keep playing,” he said. “Keep grinding it out . . . You can’t tuck your tail between your legs and run and hide. This is the big leagues. You play good teams, you better play well.”
Collins noted that with some players heading into free agency, there might be a temptation to think about personal statistics. But he expressed confidence his veteran leadership would not allow that to happen.
“If you feel sorry for yourself here you’re going to get your butt handed to you, and so we don’t,” Collins said. “We can’t afford to do that . . . We’re all still here. We’re all in this together.”
There is not much left for these guys to say publicly. Their injury luck has been horrific, but at some point staying healthy is part of the game, a part at which the Mets have failed catastrophically.
Injuries — and a shaky bullpen — presumably are the only things that can stop the Nationals, but as long as they keep trotting out Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in their rotation, they should be fine.
Same goes for trotting out Daniel Murphy against the Mets. The former Met was 2-for-4 Saturday and has reached base safely in all 28 of his career games against the Mets, batting .396 with nine doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 29 RBIs.
“We obviously came to spring training with a very talented team on paper and we’ve got a lot of injuries,” Bruce said, “but I think we’re a group of professionals that understand the process, understand that it’s a long season, understand that we have injures, and no one’s feeling sorry for us. We have a job to do.”
A big part of their job is to beat the Nationals. They’ve failed.