(Neil Miller / Sportsday Wire)
“Next year” is finally here for the New York Mets, as they clinched the National League East with a 10-2 win in Cincinnati over the Reds on Saturday afternoon.
The roots of the division championship could be seen in the Mets’ ten-game homestand from July 23rd to August 2nd, when they played the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, and Washington Nationals.
The Mets were languishing throughout July, and were hanging around .500 when the Dodgers in for a four-game series on July 23rd.
That night, Mets Manager Terry Collins put out a lineup that included John Mayberry, Jr., at cleanup, followed by Eric Campbell in the fifth spot, with both hitting around .170. The Mets put up little fight against Clayton Kershaw and lost 3-0.
It was as if Collins put out the lineup not so much because it was the only guys he had available, but to bait Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson to make a move.
The next morning, Alderson stepped up and made the move and put Michael Cuddyer on the disabled list and called up Michael Conforto. This was highly unusual for Alderson to bring up a player with just one year of minor-league experience, in addition to the three years he spent in college. Conforto is the perfect example of a player that was ready to come to the big time at any moment.
Though the Mets lost that night, Conforto played and got a hit. Alderson also brought in Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Atlanta Braves that night to improve what was then the weakest lineup in the sport.
The next night, July 25th, with all three of them in there, the Mets blew out the Dodgers 15-2 to improve their record to 50-48. The impact of the improved lineup lifted Lucas Duda, who hit two home runs that night and nine home runs in eight games.
In the finale that Sunday, Uribe got the winning hit in the 10th inning to to give them a 3-2 win and a split with the Dodgers.
The only blip on the homestand was the Padres series. After Syndergaard won the opener with a masterful outing, the Mets lost a tough one the next day, with Colon getting roughed up early, and the lone highlight being Duda’s three homers in the 7-3 loss. That night also had the sideshow of the Flores-for-Carlos Gomez trade rumors.
Flores came up to a standing ovation from the fans in the crowd when he came to bat in the seventh inning and then was seen crying on the field in the eighth. Since he stayed in, it was obvious that the trade did not occur and Collins had a classic rant afterwards characterized by him saying he was unaware of the trade and saying “From Who? For What?!” when told about it the rumors in the dugout.
The Padres series ended on the afternoon of Thursday, July 30th with the Padres pulling out the win on a Justin Upton three-run homer in the 9th after the Mets were just one out away from a win. when that game ended at around 6:30 after a very long rain delay, the feeling around the team could not have been worse.
Alderson stunned the baseball world in the final hour of the trade deadline by bringing in Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. This gave the Mets an immediate boost, and there is MVP chatter around him, and deservedly so, as he is a big reason the Mets won this division.
That night, they opened the series with the Nationals with Washington leading the division by three games.
Flores won it with a walk-off home run and showed a lot of toughness by recovering from the emotions of almost being traded to winning a big game. This showed the contrast in the ballclubs, as earlier in the night, Washington’s Bryce Harper was ejected for arguing a called third strike and generally proving that he is not a big-time player despite his big numbers.
The next night, Duda hit two home runs and got the game-winning double in the eighth inning, as the Mets won it 3-2. The Mets were within just one game of the division and Citi Field was electric.
Collins said on Sunday, August 2nd, ahead of the series finale, about the feeling around the team, “To put it into words, this is winning New York baseball. This is what you get. You get electricity in the ballpark. The fans are involved the entire game. I’ve been in pennant races for a long time, there’s a lot of games you go to where there’s nice crowds, you look up and the hot dog vendors are busy in the fifth inning because that’s when people go out. Not here, when the action’s going on, people are in their seats. They’re into the game here. There’s no other atmosphere that I’ve experienced compared to this, and the guys feel it. One of the things in the dugout, they say this is what you want to play in front of in September. When they’re talking about it, it’s means it’s being noticed.”
In the finale of the series, Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy, and Lucas Duda hit home runs in a span of five pitches off Jordan Zimmermann in the third inning.
They won 5-1 that night, led by a great outing from Noah Syndergaard, to tie the Nationals for the division lead.
Citi Field was rocking like never before, and the Sunday night playoff atmosphere was a big part of it. There was a sense of excitement among the fans that all the pain they went through since 2006 was all worth it, as this team was a serious contender for the division title.
That night, I predicted that the Mets would win the division. They boasted a strong rotation, with Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, and Jonathon Niese, and Steven Matz would eventually be back from injury. With Cespedes, Uribe, Johnson, and Conforto, they went from having the worst lineup in the National League to one of the best.
This ten-game homestand was pivotal for the Mets, as this is the point when recent seasons had taken a turn, including last year when the Giants took three out of four at Citi in early August and the Mets were never the same. The fact that the Mets not only survived it, but come out of it a lot stronger gave them the momentum they needed to win the National League East.
That weekend, the Nationals showed that something was off about their team. It’s interesting to think whether it’s cause they just weren’t as good as they were projected to be, or if it was something deeper. They were not as tough as other perennial playoff teams like the Dodgers, Pirates and Cardinals. They could not pull games out late. They never showed a sense of urgency at any point this season, and that is why they were eliminated with over a week to go.
It’s amazing to think that the five years that Alderson and Collins have put in has finally come to fruition, that it all led to September 27, 2015 when they became National League East Champions.