It took about one and one-third seasons, but the New York Mets have finally built a dominant home field advantage in their new home park.
In fact, the Mets are better at home than any team in the major leagues through the first two months of the season.
After a tough 2-6 road trip that began with the Florida Marlins sweeping a four-game series from New York, the Mets returned to Citi Field, where they had already compiled a very solid 14-8 record.
Would the Amazin’s previous home success wane during a six-game homestand against each of last year’s World Series participants?
Hardly. Despite losing the opening game on Friday night, the Mets rebounded to win the final five games of the homestand in impressive fashion, taking two of three games from the New York Yankees before an historic three-game sweep of the defending two-time National League champion Philadelphia Phillies.
New York creeped back above the .500 mark at 25-23 and moved to within just two games of the first-place Phillies (26-20) in the National League East.
That in itself is significant, but what was especially remarkable against Philadelphia, was the Mets’ pitching, which shut the Phillies out for the entire series, winning 8-0, 5-0, and 3-0 against one of the more talented and dangerous lineups in the major leagues.
It marked the first time since 2004 that a major league team shut out another over a full three-game set (when current Mets’ pitcher Johan Santana helped Minnesota do that against Kansas City); it was also the first time the Mets threw consecutive shutouts since 1988; and, it was the Mets’ first three-game series shutout over an opponent since New York blanked Philadelphia September 26-28, 1969.
While repeating history more than four decades later, the Mets improved to a major-league best 19-9 at Citi Field.
The problem is that while the Mets lead the majors in home victories, they are last in road wins, with a paltry 6-14 road record.
The dominant starting pitching, able relief help, and timely hitting that the Mets have been getting at home has been much more inconsistent away from the friendly confines of Queens.
While the Mets’ home crowds were fairly sparse and relatively subdued earlier in the year, attendance and the fans’ energy both picked up during the most recent homestand.
Mets’ starter Mike Pelfrey, who has surprisingly become the Mets’ ace after improving his season record to 7-1 while lowering his ERA to 2.54 as the winning pitcher to start off and conclude the Mets’ five-game win streak on the homestand, said after Thursday night’s win over the Phillies, that feeding off of the energy of the home crowd has helped the Mets. “We definitely sense [the energy from the fans], and we feel them.”
Shortstop and offensive catalyst at the top of the Mets’ lineup, Jose Reyes, who went 12-for-23 while scoring five runs and driving in three during the five-game win streak, agreed that the Mets seemed to get up for beating the their hometown and divisional rivals in front of their home crowd.
But, when asked by reporters why the Mets have failed to carry over the same level of play away from home, both Pelfrey and Reyes were left puzzled and without answers. They were simply hopeful that New York could continue to play as well in other parks as they have at Citi Field this season.
The Mets don’t actually need to play nearly that well on the road, but they certainly can’t be the polar opposites they’ve been at home versus on the road so far this season.
While it seems that the Mets’ pitchers have finally learned to use the spacious Citi Field to their advantage, they’ll need to perform much better in smaller parks on the road. And, if it’s the home crowd of late which has helped the Mets’ bats come through, New York’s hitters will have to pack some of those clutch hits with them on most of the Mets’ remaining road trips.
As Mets’ rightfielder Jeff Fancoeur said after Thursday night’s win, the Mets have to find a way to at least play close to .500 on the road.
The good news for New York is that it seems as though Citi Field might for the most part this year remain a place that Mets’ opponents will want to stay away from. Yet, those same teams are for now, more than happy to invite the Mets to their places.
Thus, for the time being, it appears that any possible road to the postseason for the Mets will go literally through… the road.