by Scott Mandel
This is what a pennant race in New York City is supposed to feel like.
The New York Mets, left for dead just one month ago, with a manager barely clinging to his job and a new general manager under fire for a series of moves that mostly failed, are the hottest team in the sport since the All-Star break.
Today, in a matinee game at Citi Field, they won their 13th game out of their last 14, moved their record to 19-8 since the All-Star break and have moved firmly into the wild card race in the National League after sweeping the hapless Miami Marlins, including today’s 7-2 win behind Steven Matz. The Mets are now one game behind for the second wild card position, behind the Washington Nationals, who visit Citi Field this Friday.
The Mets, dead as a door nail in early July, are now firmly in the National League playoff hunt, just 30 days later. Old Mets fans may have to dig up that relic of a team moniker from 1962, the Amazin’ Mets, to describe what this 2019 team is now doing.
The metamorphosis in the Mets pitching staff continued today, as Steven Matz pitched into the seventh inning, continuing a pattern Mets manager Mickey Callaway has set for his starters.
Today, in a 12:10 matinee, Matz, the 27-year old lefty who has averaged 5 innings per start over the course of his career, was bound and determined to match his compadres by pitching more efficiently and later into games. Mission accomplished.
Despite the oppressive humidity, Matz came within one out of completing that objective as the Mets won their fifth game in a row and their 13th out of their last 14 games.
Matz gave up a run in the second and escaped further damage that inning due to some brutal base running by the Marlins, as both Lewis Brinson and Starlin Castro were thrown out on the basepaths. He also allowed a solo shot to Brian Anderson in the sixth, but manager Mickey Callaway praised Matz’s ability to slow down on the mound, which he has struggled with at times.
“We’ve talked about this a lot the past couple years,’’ the manager said. “He continued to understand he needs to focus on the next pitch and tonight in particular, I think he did a good job of stepping back.”
“It was definitely a conscious effort,’’ Matz said of taking an occasional breather. “The heat and humidity worked in my favor because I couldn’t rush. … Throughout the whole game, I was mindful of working quick, but also taking a second every once in a while.”
Matz wasn’t the only big contributor to today’s festivities, which was merely a prelude to the biggest month of games this franchise will be playing since their 2015 World Series season.
Michael Conforto, whom the Mets and their fans have seemingly been waiting for five years to turn into Stan Musial (Google him, young ones), hit his 24th and 25th homers of the season to lead the offensive assault against the Marlin’s helpless pitching staff. He’s been a streaky hitter throughout his still-young career, struggling to find consistency. He figures he’s picked a good time to heat up.
Pete Alonzo is coming out of his post-All-Star event funk, hitting his 37th homer in the first inning, a two-run job. He has now hit the fifth most homers in a season in franchise history, four behind Carlos Beltran and Todd Hundley, who hit 41 in 2006 and 1996, respectively. With 47 games remaining, it seems a cinch the rookie first baseman will fly past that record.
But, as is usually the case in baseball, pitching will get a team to the promised land of the post-season. Mets starters have dominated since the All-Star break, pitching to a 2.92 ERA and averaging 6.2 innings per outing, the best in the game. They are feeding off of one another.
The season takes a serious turn, now. The Mets may be 13-1 in their last 14 games, may be just 1 1/2 games out of a playoff position, and may have the best starting pitching in the sport but now, it’s time to play the big boys. Washington is up, next, on Friday, with ace Stephen Strasburg looking to set a tone for the Nationals against these upstarts from New York.
This is what a pennant race feels like.