Shuck and High Five

New York baseball nostalgia hits Denver.

But not my Mets. I'll keep on shucking clams until both hands are bloody, because Valentine's exhausted troops are still standing. On September 21 they trailed Atlanta by one game for the National League East lead and led Cincinnati by four in the wild-card hunt. Nine games (and eight losses) later, they appeared finished, doomed to join such notorious collapsibles as the 1964 Phillies (gave up six-and-a-half-game lead by losing ten straight), the 1969 Cubs (folded to the Mets in September) and the 1978 Red Sox (led theYankees by 14, blew that, then lost a one-game playoff when New York's light-hitting Bucky "Fuckin'" Dent whacked the game-winning homer). Mets fans didn't even want to hear about the '87 Blue Jays, who held a three-and-a-half-game lead over Detroit with seven to play -- and lost all seven. Or the '62 Dodgers, who had the Giants by four with seven to go and finally lost the pennant on a bases-loaded walk in a playoff game.

What's worse, this might have been, as one ex-Mets manager would put it, déjà vu all over again. Last season the Mets needed to win just one game of their last five to earn a playoff spot. They lost all five.

I don't know what the Mets' exemplary shortstop, Rey Ordonez, eats for dinner, but he is the emotional heart of an infield that has made only 27 errors this year. The young Cuban has committed only four miscues in more than 150 games, and last week he was right on the money again when he summed up the Mets' swan dive with a piquant Cuban aphorism: "So much swimming," he said, "only to die on the sand."

Patrick Merewether

Well, get out the sunblock and crack yourself a cold one, Rey. And condolences to you, B.B. Fahey. You Gotta Bereave! has transformed itself back into You Gotta Believe! Even if by long distance, with a pastrami sandwich drying out on the coffee table.

Mike Shanahan's posterior collateral ligament -- the one that connects his brains to his ass -- is in perfectly good shape, thank you. Your two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos are now 0-4, MVP running back Terrell Davis is lost for the season with a knee injury, and "spoiled" fans have started throwing serious debris at the players. But Shanahan's thought processes career merrily on, like Hitler's at the Eastern Front.

No Bubby before his time, or before his time has passed -- that's one brilliant Shanahan insistence. Don't bother stopping the run, because we'll score faster and more often later in the game -- that's another. Not to worry: Griese and company will pick up the pieces in effete, rose-scented Oakland next week. In light of their longstanding friendship with the Broncos, the Raiders will probably play pattycake with the ailing Donks. Failing that, the Green Bay Packers come calling the next Sunday, a bunch of freshly scrubbed altar boys eager to please their hosts.

The Shanahan genius is at last unmasked. In the absence of his alter ego, John Elway, who was also his Luftwaffe, the Mastermind suddenly looks puny and dull-witted, and his ground troops can't get the job done. Good thing Field Marshall Bowlen got that new ballpark financed last year, isn't it?

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