By Joe Rini
Are there Miracle Mets every 50 years? The 2019 Mets hope so.
After an amazing 15-1 stretch catapulted the Amazins to within ½ game of a wildcard spot in the National League, a prolonged period of middling play at 13-14 since August 10 has seen the Mets drift 3.5 games from the second wildcard spot in a scrum with the Phillies, the Brewers, and the Diamondbacks as they try to knock the Chicago Cubs off the second wildcard perch.
Getting swept by the Cubs in late August, dropping two of three versus the Phillies at Citi Field this past weekend, and relief pitchers not named Seth Lugo have the Mets dangling off the proverbial plank with only 18 games to play.
After three relievers caused the Mets to blow a six run ninth inning lead for the first time in franchise history (plus causing thousands of disrupted nights sleep for Mets fans) in a disastrous 11-10 defeat at the hands of the Nationals in Washington on September 3, they rebounded to win the rubber match the next afternoon and it was an upbeat Mickey Callaway who greeted the press before Friday’s game against the Phillies, a 5-4 literal walk-off win for the Mets as Pete Alonso drew a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth inning to force in the winning run.
A key second half contributor has been lefty starter Steven Matz. Since returning to the starting rotation in July, the Long Island native has dropped his season ERA by nearly a run and before facing the Phillies for a fifth time in 2019, I asked Callaway how Matz could continue his effectiveness against them.
Acknowledging that there are no secrets between division rivals, Callaway said, “He has to execute better than they execute their at bats.” Citing Matz’s improved performance since the All-Star break, Callaway said, “His cutter has been off the charts” especially to right-handed batters. “He’s very talented. He’s throwing really well at home this year so he has that nugget in the back of his mind, building confidence for him. He’s been pitching great since the All-Star break, so that’s another layer of confidence added on. He’s feeling great, performing great, so he should be able to go out there and throw one of his better games.”
Matz was good enough on Friday, allowing two runs in 5 ⅔ innings, while veterans Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos provided help on offense. After the game, I asked Callaway about the importance of these veterans during the stretch run. “It’s big. We have a great mix of veteran guys and younger players that are performing….Frazier was probably the MVP of the game…and you figure Ramos will get you a hit a game.” Citing the roles played by Frazier and Ramos in starting rallies and driving in runs combined with Alonso’s walk-off walk, “Big job by our veterans and younger guys.”
There was drama on the field and melodrama off the field on Monday. Alonso hit home run numbers 46 and 47 in Monday’s 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks with Aaron Judge’s rookie record of 52 within sight while published reports indicated that Noah Syndergaard again requested to management that he not pitch to Wilson Ramos since he has pitched better to backup catchers Tomas Nido and Rene Rivera. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Syndergaard said, “It’s unfortunate that a private conversation I had with the front office and the coaching staff became public, but it is what it is right now.” 144 games into the season, the Mets have been unwilling to placate their 6 foot 6 inch pitcher with a personal catcher, so it’s likely Syndergaard and Ramos will continue to be battery mates through his final starts.
The Mets have struggled against the top teams in the league but they’ll need to reverse that trend quickly as they face the playoff bound Dodgers this weekend before heading to Colorado and Cincinnati for the final road trip of the season. Last decade, the Mets squandered two playoff runs in their final 17 games; perhaps these final 18 will be kinder to the residents of 41 Seaver Way.