By Joe Rini
And I thought Ed Kranepool was just being kind.
As the Mets Hall of Famer addressed the fans at the festivities honoring the 1969 champion Mets on June 29, he concluded his remarks by addressing the current Mets. “They can do it, like we did — you got to believe in yourself…Good luck. You have half a season. I wish you the best so that we can celebrate in October when you clinch the World Series and (we) come back when you’re still playing.”
Unfortunately, the 2019 Mets responded that day by dropping their seventh game in a row to the Braves by a score of 5-4, falling to a season high 10 games under .500, 13 games out of first place. By the end of that afternoon, 24-year old Pete Alonso seemed as likely to be playing in the World Series as his first base forbear, the 74-year old Kranepool.
Yet, perhaps, the Bronx-born, street smart Kranepool was planting seeds for another miracle. Seeds need a little time and nourishment to bloom and here six weeks later, the Mets are flourishing. Writing about the modest beginning of the 11 game win streak that catapulted the 1969 Mets, Ron Swoboda wrote in his newly published book, Here’s the Catch, “Something started that no one could’ve predicted,” and that something for these Mets was a 4-0 shutout of the Padres by Jacob deGrom and the bullpen on July 25 leaving the Mets at 47-55, 12 ½ games out of first with six teams and eight games between them and the second wildcard spot.
Zack Wheeler started on Friday July 26 in what many anticipated to be his final start as a Met with the July 31 trade deadline looming. I spoke to Jeff McNeil before the game about the atmosphere around the trade deadline and how to approach the final two months of the season and when he mentioned the team could still get hot and get back into the race, I thought he was being confidently hopeful if not realistic. But before the night was over, McNeil hit a three-run homer, adopted a puppy, Wheeler pitched into the sixth inning and the Mets won 6-3 over the Pirates.
The Mets swept the Pirates that weekend and more surprisingly, they acquired pitcher Marcus Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays. Suddenly, the Mets weren’t selling at the trade deadline. Wheeler was staying. Noah Syndergaard was staying. Todd Frazier was staying.
Credit Kranepool’s karma, McNeil’s puppy, a stabilized bullpen, stellar starting pitching, or clutch home runs, the Mets have amazingly reeled off 15 wins in 18 games (following Tuesday’s 5-3 defeat to Atlanta) and at 61-58, stand in the middle of the wildcard race with an outside chance at winning the Eastern Division of the National League.
In winning six of seven games on the last homestand against the Marlins and Nationals, the Mets received contributions from across the roster with Pete Alonso homering in four straight games while dramatic late-inning game-tying home runs were hit by veteran Todd Frazier (career number 208) and rookie Luis Guillorme (career number 1). Fan excitement was intense at Citi Field as seemingly every game was described as the “loudest” game ever at the stadium.
One of the key players on this run has been catcher Wilson Ramos, who sports a .333 average with runners in scoring position. Ramos cracked a three run homer in the Mets 5-0 triumph over the Marlins on August 6. Much maligned for his handling of the pitching staff earlier in the season, I asked Mickey Callaway after the game about Ramos’ progress in handling the staff.
“It’s about him building those relationships,” Callaway said. “He’s done a tremendous job…When you get to a new team, you get new pitchers. You have to earn their trust and he’s done that. He’s catching fantastic now. He’s preparing well. He’s doing a great job of understanding what our pitchers’ strengths are…they have enough knowledge of scouting report to attack weaknesses…and you can really expose hitters.”
With seven teams fighting for two wildcard spots, the Mets will need to keep winning to qualify for October baseball. While the Mets will lean on their starting pitching, they’ll also need the struggling Edwin Diaz to recover his 2018 form when he led the AL with 57 saves. Also, Jeff McNeil injured his hamstring trying to leg out a hit in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game and as the team and their fans hold their breath in the hope that the All-Star outfielder will not miss an extended period of time to injury, we’ll wonder whether Ed Kranepool’s words will turn out to be not only kindly, but prophetic.