I was 21 years old the last time the New York Mets won a World Series. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined 21 years later, the ’86 championship would still be their most recent. While a drought of such length hardly compares to what other teams’ fans have put up with, there’s a definite sense this morning a window of opportunity has closed, one that cannot so easily be reopened in 2008.

For all the talk of what David Wright, Jose Reyes and (just maybe) Lastings Milledge might mean long-term, these Mets were assembled to win now. Even assuming the likes of Tom Glavine, Paul Lo Duca or Carlos Delgado come back in ’08 (hardly sure things in any case), they’re all another year older. As will be the oft-injured Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez and that promising September call-up, Pedro Martinez.

We’ll never know how the ’07 Mets would’ve faired in the playoffs —- keep in mind that last season’s 85 win Cardinals slumped in September and put the fear of god into none of their playoff opponents — but with all due respect to the Phillies, the Mets’ failure to win one more game during the campaign’s final week still borders on the unbelievable. Evan Roberts, the master of understatement, called this “the biggest choke job in the history of regular season sports”, and when you consider the way the Mets were manhandled at home by Washington and Florida, two bad teams with nothing to play for, it’s very tough to argue with the WFAN mid-morning howler.

Keep in mind this sort of collapse isn’t supposed to happen to a team with an ample supply of veteran leadership. Every single member of the everyday lineup, is a former All-Star with postseason experience. That clubhouse included owners of World Series rings such as Glavine, Martinez, El Duque, Jeff Conine and Luis Castillo. Not to mention those championships won during Willie Randolph, Rickey Henderson or Howard Johnson’s playing days.

Just as there are few precedents for a collapse of this magnitude, it’s not as you could claim the club was lacking in “character guys” or some such nonsense. But even the most casual observer had to note the palpable sense of dread surrounding the Mets over the final week, compared to downright giddy approach of 2 teams a combined 40 games under .500. I usually don’t put much stock in notions that accomplished veterans need a Larry Bowa-type to get on their ass when things become a tad sloppy, but I also thought this Mets roster — flawed though it was in spots (and the Phillies pitching staff didn’t have holes?) — should’ve been good enough to at least win 90 games.

Here’s a few quotes to ponder from around this morning’s sobby blogosphere :

I never liked this team. Early on, when they were ahead of last year’s pace, I was vaguely embarrassed by this. Like a lot of us, I found myself groping for explanations, and worrying about why they left me cold. Was this the ugly side of raised expectations? Of the first stages of hegemony? Was this how being a Yankee fan began? What wasn’t to like?

But I struggled to warm to them during the spring, and when they stumbled through the summer I stopped fighting it. I let a bit of hard-earned cynicism take over, dissecting fandom like social scientists examine human attachment. I told myself that when they made the playoffs, I’d find myself liking them just fine. But then the second half of September came, with the second horrible body blow administered by the Phillies, the inept handling of the pitching staff, the idiotic displays of temper, and the repeated assheaded baseball. And finally, those horrifying quotes by Delgado and Glavine and Pedro, the astonishing admissions that yeah, the team was bored and complacent. That right there was the end of the pretending that I would change my mind. – Jason, Faith & Fear In Flushing

For a franchise that gave us the Terry Pendelton home run, the Mike Scioscia home run, the Worst Team Money Could Buy, Bobby Valentine’s fake mustache, a bases loaded walk to end a playoff series, the 2000 Subway Series, eighteen Brian Jordan grand slams, countless losses to Atlanta, trading a number one prospect who would one day lead the American League in strikeouts for a guy who ran off the field with an arm injury never to be seen at Shea Stadium again, a game seven loss to an 83 victory St. Louis Cardinal team that had no business getting as far as they did, you…the 2007 New York Mets…have done the impossible.

You topped ’em all.

You allowed a man who once punched his wife with a closed fist on a Boston street throw his glove in the air and feel feelings that I should have been feeling tonight.

You proved right a man who made a stupid statement at the beginning of the season when he said “finally, we have the best team on paper.” I said then that Jimmy Rollins was wrong, and I still say he’s wrong. The Philadelphia Phillies did not have the best team on paper. The New York Mets, however, did.

But guess what the Philadelphia Phillies are: They’re the best team in the National League East. And that’s what counts.Metsradamus

The people that run SportsNet New York have, in their two years of existence, proven to be absolutely clueless about their primary audience, the Mets fan. Without us, this network has virtually no reason to exist. Unfortunately, the suits in command of this vehicle have no loyalty at all to Mets fans. Their decision to forgo pre- and post-game shows during the September pennant race for all games televised on Channel 11 or FOX was indefensible enough, but to provide absolutely nothing today with the entire season riding on the outcome was utterly inexcusable. They gave us nothing… nada… zip… bupkis.

Whatever else you might say about YES and NESN, they’re always there for Yankee and Red Sox fans when it matters. Jeers to this joke of a network, which puts much more effort into trying to appeal to non-Mets fans than to serving us. Disgraceful.Mike Steffanos, Mike’s Mets

These Phillies didn™t exactly lack for self-help. Gallant and resilient in ways the Mets proved not to be, their back-to-back series sweeps of the Mets did plenty to fracture the Mets™ spines. Their own didn™t buckle, even when the first of their two sweeps of the Mets saw the Mets go on a small but profound enough tear to leave at least one or two Phillies ready to concede the Mets the East. But there probably isn™t a Phillie to be found who thought they™d get such monumental help from such a source as the Mets themselves.

The Mets finally failed in their apparent and insane quest to prove that you could lock up a division championship by playing most of the final month like you 1962 ancestors”twelve losses in the final seventeen games and 21 errors on that ledger”and not even being half as funny about it. – Jeff Kallman, Catbird In The Nosebleed Seats

They overcame a terrible start, a barrage of injuries, pitching meltdowns by the dozen and some of the most harrowing, horrifying losses I can remember. They did it with the most potent offense they’ve ever mustered, led by a leadoff man whose power and speed would have made his hero, Rickey Henderson, proud–even if Rickey’s currently changing into street clothes in a funereal Shea Stadium clubhouse. Backing him up was a second baseman who might be the most complete hitter in the game, a slugger from Central Casting who homered in five of the team’s last six games, a centerfielder who hit .310 and proved he was more than a bloody face, and a left fielder who went from Public Enemy No. 1 to second-half savior.

And they owe a lot of this to the inarticulate but indomitable manager who never stopped believing in them.The Good Phight

By now, you™ll know whether Billy Wagner was a hero, a goat, or a merely a bystander in the final act of this historic meltdown. But as he sat in the dugout last week, speaking evenly in his lilting southern accent, Billy Wagner reminded me of those Confederate soldiers in Ken Burns™s Civil War documentary: honorable, defiant, and quite possibly doomed. – Chris Smith, New York Magazine