The Mets are about 5 weeks into a remarkably strange season, and despite their current first place standing it’s anybody’s guess as to who this team really is.
Some teams appear destined to win from Day 1. Maybe it’s an exciting come-from-behind Opening Day victory, or just a ho-hum clean win in which the team is firing on all cylinders and appears to be in midseason form. Even if it’s not right away, it often happens pretty early in the season. Some teams just look like they have things under control from the early going, like teenagers who get behind the steering wheel for the first time and look they belong there. Yeah, that’s not this New York Mets team. We’re a little more than one month into the season, and it’s been anything but smooth. The 2021 Mets more resemble a teen who has failed the first two driver’s tests and even upon passing the third is told to continue to practice before really getting out on the road. Uh, that’s an entirely hypothetical situation, of course.
Really though, I find it hard to believe that the Mets come into their scheduled May 10th day off three games over .500, in first place alone in the NL East, with the third best record in the entire National League. It’s true though. It’s right there on screen, or in black and white if you do the newspaper thing. Satisfactory as it may be, it’s been a pretty bumpy ride.
It started with the entire season opening series being postponed due to the Washington Nationals’ bout with the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the Mets suffered a rare Opening Day loss, although it wasn’t Opening Day for their opponents so I’m sure there’s an asterisk in there somewhere. Since then, the Mets have been rained out four times, and snowed out once. In one of those rainouts, they actually started the game only to have it suspended after just 9 pitches. The team has three walk-off wins already, although none of them is likely to show up as a Mets Classic on SNY any time soon. The first ended with a disputed Michael Conforto hit-by-pitch in which he may or may not have been struck by a pitch that may or may not have actually been a strike. This past weekend, the Mets won an extra inning game in which backup to the backup catcher, Patrick Mazeika, in his second major league at-bat, hit a weak grounder to the pitcher for a game-winning fielder’s choice. Mazeika now has one special RBI in his career, and still no hits. Sandwiched in between these two gems was a walk-off win in which Mets manager Luis Rojas strategically used a rarely-needed aspect of the MLB extra inning rules to have the second-to-last batter from the previous inning as his gift baserunner in the extra frame. It’s a little bit complicated to explain here, and the details are not that important, suffice it to say though that it was clever, and unusual, and it worked.
The rocky-ness of this road has not been limited to on-the-field matters either. Two weeks ago, in the midst of team-wide struggles at the plate, Mets players invented a member of the coaching staff, Donnie Stevenson, then credited him with their wins and even bestowed upon him the nickname “Diesel”. Then, days later, the team fired real live hitting coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater. I’m guessing that Diesel Donnie has remained on the staff, although there’s been no official confirmation. Then again, there was never official confirmation to his existence in the first place.
Speaking of things that may or may not have existed…There was a mystery fracas between Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil near the Mets clubhouse during Friday night’s win (aka the Mazeika Miracle). During the postgame press conferences, the players tried to sell the media and the public on the story that they were vehemently disagreeing on the type of animal they saw scurry through the Mets dugout. Lindor says it was a rat, and claims McNeil thought it was a raccoon. McNeil later said he actually thought it was a possum. Without seeing the incident, we don’t know what animal it actually was, but I know what it smells like, and that scent doesn’t come from any of these creatures. That said, they were likely debating repeated miscommunications on balls hit up the middle and found a new way to, um, communicate.
And during all of this, they’ve been winning more than they’ve been losing. Even yesterday, when they finished off a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that has not won at Citi Field since 2017, the celebration was tempered by Jacob deGrom’s early exit due to a possible injury. And while we’re on the subject of injuries, the Mets two best hitters so far this season, JD Davis and Brandon Nimmo, haven’t had a plate appearance since suffering injuries in the same game almost two weeks ago.
So, to recap, since April Fools’ Day, the Mets have had 8 games postponed (some of which have already been made up), they’ve found some unconventional, and relatively uninspiring, ways to win some games, have fired two coaches, have created a new coach, have had a fight between players known as “Mr. Smiles” and “Squirrel”, and have suffered injuries (of varying degrees) to their best pitchers and most successful hitters. Does this sound like a recipe for success to you? Before you say “no”, let me remind you that we’re talking about the third best team in the NL, your first place New York Mets.
When Tug McGraw coined the phrase “Ya gotta believe” in August of 1973, it was a rallying cry for a Mets team that still had a chance at the postseason despite an inability to win consistently. I don’t know if he realized that this declaration would be associated with the Mets nearly 50 years later. Still, here we are. The Mets. Ya gotta believe. Right?
None of this is to suggest that the Mets can’t be successful this season. Much like those 1973 Mets, a team that made it all the way to the World Series, even when it wasn’t pretty, it was still beautiful. These Mets could very well be on top when all is said and done. Getting there conventionally, however? That would be unbelievable.