BY JOE RINI
Unlike recent Augusts, Mets fans will gladly pay less attention to preseason football this year. The fireworks and the fisticuffs at Giants and Jets camps notwithstanding, the Mets are in first place and there’s a pennant race in Flushing.
Since losing to the Dodgers on July 24, the Mets have won 12 of 16 games and propelled themselves into first place with a record of 61-52 and 2 1⁄2 games up on the preseason favorite Washington Nationals. This 16 game stretch has included a seven game win streak and a sweep of the Nationals at Citi Field, and, of course, the making of a folk hero with the “trading” of a tearful and subsequently triumphant Wilmer Flores when he homered two days later in the 12th inning to defeat the Nationals 2-1 on July 31.
More importantly, General Manager Sandy Alderson capped a busy trade deadline week with his acquisition of power hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers for prospects, including highly touted AA starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. While Cespedes’ unusual contract makes his Mets career uncertain beyond this season, his presence in the lineup certainly buoys the lineup, along with the newly acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson and the return and revival of Mets like Travis d’Arnaud [off the DL] and Lucas Duda [from the batting morgue].
Strong starting pitching continues to carry the Mets. Matt Harvey picked up his 11th win of the season with a 4-0 victory against the Colorado Rockies, managed by Suffern native Walt Weiss on August 11. Harvey’s eight shutout innings on Tuesday brought his current scoreless streak to 15 innings. Also, while his younger teammates have received more attention than him, veteran Jon Niese has pitched well for about two months and has won four of his last five decisions, including Monday’s 4-2 victory over the Rockies.
With nearly two months left in the season, a spot in the playoffs is far from certain for the Mets despite being in first place, especially with some injured Nationals returning to the lineup and the Mets young starters sailing against the uncharted waters of innings limits. However, the Mets received good news when veteran David Wright began his minor league rehab assignment from spinal stenosis on Monday.
After being the designated hitter in his first game and before his first game at third base on Tuesday, Wright said, “Just to be on the field again felt good. A lot of what I did was just instincts taking over, which is good. [Tuesday] will be a good test. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not going to go too crazy.”
Yet, with 49 games left in the 2015 season, maybe David Wright will be able to channel some of the magic of Joe DiMaggio and his heroics during the 1949 season and the subject of the classic baseball book “Summer of ‘49” by the late David Halberstam. The Yankee Clipper missed the first half of the 1949 season with bone spurs in his foot, yet batted .346 down the stretch as the Yankees nipped the Red Sox at the finish line on the last day of the season to win the pennant.
Duplicating the feat of DiMaggio would be a well-deserved reward for Wright, who has labored through many lean years for the Mets, and perhaps, a good story waiting to be told. The Mets seven game homestand continues this weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates before they hit the road again for nine games against Baltimore, Colorado and Philadelphia.