BY JOE RINI
An eventful week after the All-Star break for the Mets has perhaps set the stage for the most exciting stretch run for the franchise since the 2006 – 2008 period. Whether the drama ends happier for the Mets and their fans this time, well, that is the question.
On the field, the Mets road a wave of emotions in playing three division leaders after the break. The Amazins salvaged the opening series in St. Louis with a grueling 18-inning 3-1 win on July 19 but three days later they squandered a chance to climb within one game of first place when the Nationals snatched a late victory from the Mets bullpen in a 4-3 win. After returning to Citi Field and nearly being no-hit by Clayton Kershaw, the Mets ended a three game losing streak with a rousing 15-2 barrage and subsequently split the series with the Dodgers.
Off the field, the Mets brought up rookie Michael Conforto from Double-A Binghamton and acquired veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from Atlanta in exchange for prospects on July 24 and the three immediately boosted the offense. Conforto knocked in runs in his first three games and went 4-4 on Saturday while Kelly Johnson homered in his Mets debut and Juan Uribe stroked a walk-off/off-the-wall single in the Mets 3-2 ten-inning win on Sunday.
After making these moves for more offense, and with the July 31 trade deadline days away, I asked General Manager Sandy Alderson at Citi Field on Saturday about the likelihood of the Mets acquiring pitching help and he replied succinctly, “It’s possible. We haven’t excluded that possibility.” That possibility became reality two days later when the Mets acquired veteran reliever Tyler Clippard from Oakland. However, on the same day that Clippard made his Mets debut with a game finished after Noah Syndergaard pitched eight shutout innings [the first six of which, were perfect] in a 4-0 victory against San Diego, reliever Jenrry Mejia was suspended for 162 games after a second positive test for PEDs.
After going 0-3 in his debut on Friday, Conforto collected his first career hit on Saturday, an infield single, in the first inning and followed it with three more hits among the 21 hits by the Mets. Speaking to reporters after the game, the 22-year old native of Seattle said, “This was more about what I was dreaming about. I couldn’t have pictured it any better tonight. A lot of firsts tonight.”
Among the 39,744 fans witnessing Conforto’s first four hits was his father, Michael, who spoke to the Rockland County Times prior to the game. Speaking of watching his son play in the majors for the first time, Mr. Conforto said, “It’s exciting but I’m sure the emotions will get to me.” He said young Michael was always a good athlete and actually played more football than baseball until he was about 15 or 16 years old. When I said that baseball was a safer sport, Mr. Conforto pointed to the scars on his knees as mementos of his own football career, which included playing linebacker for Joe Paterno at Penn State.
Speaking of the gridiron, Devon Kennard of the New York football Giants was also at the game on Saturday. Kennard, who followed the Dodgers while at USC, said he has grown to have a great respect for the skills necessary to play baseball. Kennard said he was looking forward to a big season for the team and especially playing for new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Is the return of David Wright around the corner? The injured third baseman fielded grounders and took BP at Citi Field on Tuesday for the first time since April but the date of his return remains unknown.
The Mets enter play on Wednesday in second place with a record of 52-48, one game behind first place Washington, who come to New York for a three game showdown at Citi Field this weekend.