We think we've found the problem, Mets' fans. The reason for your team's sudden collapse is not Willie Randolph's mismanagement of the bullpen, not a stretch of 10 errors in two games, not poor clutch hitting. It all comes down to your very own Steve Bartman. Yes, it's Matt Murphy's fault.
When Barry Bonds hit home run No. 756 on Aug. 7 in San Francisco to break Hank Aaron's record, it was Murphy — a Mets fan who was even wearing his favorite team's jersey — who came out of a scrum with the ball. But here's our theory: That ball is cursed. The illegal steroid consumption that helped produce it also bedeviled it, like the ancient tiki idol that Bobby Brady found on the beach during his family's infamous Hawaiian vacation. It's star-crossed; and for the Mets to win the East, that ball must be returned to McCovey Cove.
Murphy of course sold the ball at auction, but the taint obviously remains; the Mets blew two three-run leads and lost again in the ninth inning, 8-7, to the Marlins on Thursday. The Phillies, 7-6 winners over the Nationals, are just 1½ games back. On Aug. 7, the Mets had a 4½-game lead over the Braves ... the Phillies weren't even on radar. Glavine had just won his 300th game, and everything was looking good in Flushing. Then Murphy found the Bonds ball, and the Mets have had nothing but bad luck since. There's only one solution. Just as Peter and Bobby did with the accursed tiki idol, someone must return the Bonds ball from whence it came. Either that, or the voting option to blast it into space; that would work also.
• Ranger Smith Disapproves. The NL Central race has pretty much looked like this for the past six weeks or so; with three teams, and now two, vying to relax in the first-place hammock. Who will prevail? Well, to further torture the analogy, you pretty much have to say the Cubs, right? Milwaukee lost on Thursday while Chicago was idle, giving the Cubs a 1½-game lead. Meanwhile, Yahoo Sports columnist Jeff Passan uses the word "liege" for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire in explaining why Chicago will still blow it.
• One Is The Lonliest Number. The Angels can be the first team to clinch their division with a win tonight, as they reduced their magic number to 1 with a 9-5 win over the Mariners on Thursday. LA's lead over Seattle in the West is 9½, and the Mariners responded to the news by having Jorge Campillo throw two pitches right at Vladimir Guerrero's grill. The resulting melee was quite fun, if ultimately uneventful.
• Oh Tim Purpura, Where Art Thou? Former Phillies' general manager Ed Wade, who resembles Tim Blake Nelson more than any man has a right to, was hired in that same capacity with the Houston Astros on Thursday. Yay!