Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “spoiler” as:
They left out one definition:
4 a : team that has no chance of making the playoffs (and may not have ever had a chance of making the playoffs) who take a really good team by surprise by taking 2 of 3 in the really good team’s home ballpark, thereby making the really good team’s trek to the playoffs more difficult; also : the team responsible for something that may or may not have ended up in the really good team’s cornflakes.
No team lists “be a spoiler” among their pre-season goals. But if you’re going to play meaningless games in September, you might as well try to drag playoff contenders down with you. The Mets did so over the weekend, taking 2 of 3 from the rival Braves, dropping Atlanta’s lead over the St. Louis Cardinals to 3.5 games for the National League Wild Card. The San Francisco Giants are now 4 games back of the Wild Card leaders. On September 1, the Braves held an 8.5 game lead over the Cardinals, and are now at risk of collapsing in 2007 Mets-like fashion – and the Mets would love to help.
However, being a spoiler means taking no sides, except your own. The Mets travel to St. Louis to face the Cardinals in a three-game series beginning Tuesday. The Mets would love to do the same thing to the Birds’ parade that they did to the Braves’ cornflakes. And maybe (though that wouldn’t be their intention, as a rogue spoiler), that would allow Carlos Beltran’s Giants to sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card.
The best thing about embracing their role of spoiler, is the ability to get up for games during the last week or so of the season. The Mets were dreadful against two bad teams, the Cubs and Nationals, at home. They looked better – still not great of course, against the Braves in Atlanta. Dillon Gee still ran out of gas, they still can’t get through a game without an error, and the bullpen is still shaky. But they showed some more of that heart that has made them so watchable all year.
Maybe they’ll carry that into St. Louis. Then maybe they’ll get motivated enough to want to beat the arch-rival Phillies, who also have nothing to play for, but in a getting-ready-for-the-playoffs kind of way. And maybe they’ll be motivated to finish the season strong against the equally mediocre Reds. And if that’s not motivation enough, many of the Mets are playing for jobs in 2012, and the offseason is right around the corner.