Last night, as the Mets were dispensing with the Phillies 5-3 and putting away the series — bringing Tom Glavine just eight career wins shy of the Grail of 300 — I found my attention drifting over to the scoreboard.

Scoreboard-watching in early April? Yes, because the Braves were playing the Nationals and I wanted to see how that one turned out — not so much because gaining ground on Atlanta was that all-fired important so early on, but because the Nationals were set to play the Mets next and I didn’t want them to come to New York “overdue” to win. Because every team has to, you know. Win eventually, that is.

And the Gnats did it — they eked out a 2-0 win over John Smoltz and the Braves, their second against eight losses, after having dropped six in a row before that. Whew. You don’t want to face a team on a seven-game losing streak. I don’t care who they are. The law of averages says they have to win sooner or later, and since no team in the history of the 162-game season (going back to 1961) has ever lost more than 120 games or fewer than 46, it stands to reason that even “dominant” teams will lose games to “lesser” teams, and even entire series. Timing is everything in this game. Everything.

That’s why I cringed a little bit when I read this little tidbit from Billy Wagner in this morning’s New York Post: “That’s a team, you’ve got to pound ‘em…You’ve got to bury these teams. You know you’re going to play tight games with the Braves. You know you’re going to play tight games for the most part against the Phillies. You can’t afford to let games against teams like Washington escape you.”

Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy. Bad juju needs to stay in the can, Billy.

Now, it’s not like I believe in “bulletin board fodder” winning ballgames or anything. It’s not like I think the Gnats are going to read that, suddenly find their inner pitbulls, and administer a thrashing where previously they would have said, “Screw it, it’s the Mets, we’re losing anyway, let’s just sleepwalk through this.” A home team stacked with talent is going to be heavily favored against a visitor somewhat thinner in that department, regardless of what’s on the latter’s clubhouse bulletin board. Billy is right about that.

But I well remember being a Mets fan way back in the Cretaceous Era, as a young teen in the late 1970s, after Tom Seaver had been traded away and you practically couldn’t give away seats at Shea. I loved it. You didn’t have to have season tickets to get a seat close enough to the Mets’ dugout to smell them — and boy, wearing a Mets cap to school then (in suburban Washington, DC, long before that market was graced with a National League franchise) would earn me rations of shit about just how bad those Mets did smell. “Mets suck!” someone would yell at me. “YOU suck!” I’d yell back, just before flinging my hat in my locker in a fit of frustration. Yes, I caved that easily then, sorry to say.

Even then, though, I can remember many Bob Murphy “happy recaps” after the Mets pulled one out, and I even remember them winning their last six games in a row back in 1979 to avoid 100 losses. Obviously they had to beat plenty of teams “better” than they were in order to accomplish that, because back then pretty much all teams were “better.”

But man, it was so brutal, I remember there being talk in the Washington Post in those years about the possibility of the Mets moving to DC, Washington having been starved for baseball since the last Senators team moved out in ‘71 and became the Texas Rangers, and one columnist whose name escapes me weighed in heavily against that move because the Mets were so unremittingly unredeeming — “a bad, sad group of middle-class ballplayers,” he called them. It felt like a knife in my stomach, reading that. It was like he had just told me that I stunk, that I was the worst person ever for being a Mets fan. Kids can feel that way about “their” teams.

I’m sure there are Nationals fans in Washington — and even in their former hometown of Montreal, still following them from afar — who are doing right now exactly what I did then, trying to squeeze out the last drops of hope from what almost everyone else has written off as a lost season. “John Patterson’s a lot better than 0-2 with a 9-plus ERA, and that Mike Pelfrey is just a rookie, so Patterson could beat him easy, yeah! And how about that Ronnie Belliard, nice game-winning hit last night! And nobody thought the Marlins would win more than 55 games last year either, and look at them! And we have real owners now, and we’re getting a new ballpark, and, and, and…”

And far be it from me to laugh at them. I mean, God bless fans like that, and I mean no snark of any kind. No real Mets fan should laugh at such people, they are the lifeblood of this game, and if you’ve followed this team for more than two years, you’ve been there too. I don’t know how many such Nationals fans exist — there might be two, or 200, or 2000, heck, even 20,000 for all I know — but please, if you ever encounter folks with that curly W on their red caps, don’t tell them the Nationals “suck.” Be kind. Even the teams struggling the hardest could snap out of it for days at a time, and the Nationals could well do that, even in New York, even this weekend, leaving those fans moments to dream on for a young (or latter-years) lifetime. It happened to “us,” it can certainly happen to “them.”

But I’d rather they saved it for Atlanta.