by Scott Mandel
The Mets are for real.
The naysayers were saying a couple of weeks ago, when the Mets were on their hot streak after the All-Star break that this team would come back to earth when the schedule became “challenging,” The naysayers said the Mets are cleaning up against the dregs of the National League but wait till they have to play the Braves in Atlanta, and the Indians.
Last night at Citi Field, the Mets, who are 25-10 since the All-Star game was played, faced a Cleveland team that has been streaking up the American League Central division, to within two games of the Minnesota Twins. They are also managed by Terry Francona, considered by many to be the best in the game at his job. Francona’s teams are always prepared and play to their talent level, often times, above it.
“It’s August, but playoffs started today,” J.D. Davis said after the Mets started a critical nine-game homestand in style with a 9-2 win over the Indians on Tuesday at Citi Field.
But, last night, it was the Mets, considered sellers just a month ago as their season had spiraled out of control as they fell 11 games out of a wild card playoff slot, dominated the Francona-led Indians in ways they are not used to being dominated.
In front of a wildly excited home crowd, Davis and Michael Conforto hit home runs, Steven Matz spun another solid start into the seventh inning giving up just three hits to a potent lineup, and Joe Panic and Todd Frazier chipped in as the veteran role players they are to lead the Mets to a 9-2 win, beating Indians ace, Shane Bieber.
The Mets are playing the game on all cylinders, right now, with their entire roster contributing to this playoff push.
“To beat Shane Bieber in the first game to start off this homestand, to energize the fans, put ourselves in a good position to win a series against these guys is what we set out to do today,” Conforto said.
“They’re relentless,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said, referring to the Mets hitters. “Timely hitting, a key big hit usually starts it — Conforto’s homer — and then you get to their lesser pitchers and you add on. That’s what good teams do.”
Matz continued his metamorphosis since he was banished to the bullpen in June for 10 days. He’s been a different pitcher. In 16 starts, he had a 4.95 ERA and was 5-6 before his temporary stint in the bullpen. In his last seven starts, he has a 2.81 ERA and a 3-1 record. Not bad for a fifth starter.
“You just learn from your mistakes early on,” Matz said. “It’s not anything crazy. Instead of trying to feel for what I have out there, it’s being a little more aggressive in the first inning, and that’s helped.”
The Mets moved to a season-high five games over .500, at 65-60, and closed to within two games of the Chicago Cubs for the second wild card position. They remain three games behind the Nationals for the first wild card.
The season schedule favors the Mets in a big way. Of their remaining 37 games, 25 are home games. The Mets, with the second best home record in baseball at 35-21, have more home games remaining than any other team in the sport. They like their chances to use these games to make the post-season.
“We have to have that playoff mentality, that playoff atmosphere that every game counts,” J.D. Davis said. “Especially [with] the hole that we dug ourselves into. I think the elephant in the room is we got a lot of home games, but a lot of games against playoff teams. This is our playoff time. We have to play well and we have to come out ready to play.”
Say it, Mets fans. Your team is officially in a pennant race, with 37 games left to the season. Who woulda thunk it, just a month ago?