So that was awesome.
An 11-1 pasting of the Phillies would be awesome any time.
An 11-1 pasting of the Phillies before a huge crowd is even more awesome.
An 11-1 pasting of the Phillies to finish the halfway point of the season on pace for 88 wins is more awesome still, particularly since the Phils are in the basement and shopping their players.
That said, we may as well break out the caveats. (Don’t worry, I promise this post gets fun again later.)
First off, the big crowd was there for postgame fireworks — the Mets said it was the biggest crowd in Citi Field history, but they’ve said that before and I get the feeling they’ve built a certain amount of elasticity into stadium capacity so they can keep trumpeting increasingly meaningless declarations.
Second, and of more note, the Mets looked somewhere between not bad and very good at the midpoint of the last three seasons too.
I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. You could look it up.
In 2009 the Mets were a surprisingly OK 39-42 at the halfway point, four games out of the division lead. They went a horrifying 31-50 the rest of the way.
The 2010 Mets were a robust 45-36 at the midpoint, three games out of first and alone as your wild-card leaders. They stumbled home an anemic 34-47.
The 2011 Mets hit the midpoint with a glass-half-full 41-40 mark, three games out of first. They went a glass-mostly-empty 36-45 for the duration.
I know I’m being no fun, but this has been in the back of my head every time I fall in love with this year’s girl-with-a-curl club. They’re gutsy and resilient and promising and likeable, they really are … but I thought the same things in previous Julys about squads that included the likes of Omir Santos and Henry Blanco and Willie Harris, teams that have not gone down in our collective memory as particularly beloved. The second half of the season is when young players get fatigued, when BABIPs and FIPs regress to the cruel mean, when thin ice skated over finally cracks.
Can the Mets make October? Of course they can — I’m not sold on the Nationals, the Braves have plenty of their own problems, the Marlins are a disaster and the Phillies’ window may have slammed on their fingers faster than we thought. Not to mention there’s not one but two wild cards to play for now. But if the Mets stumble on the way to October and you’re surprised, well, you’ve forgotten recent events.
And with that, let’s get back to everything that did go right — which tonight was quite a lot.
There was Ruben Tejada, setting the tone immediately with a tough 11-pitch at-bat that resulted in an out, but also made Vance Worley work a lot harder than he wanted to, and gave everyone in the Mets’ dugout a good look at his pitches. Ruben was 3-for-4 the rest of the way and played sparkling defense, continuing his apparently trouble-free comeback from his injury and a season that could end with him as an emerging star. That’s something I find particularly gratifying, since I’ve believed in Tejada ever since he came up, and have enjoyed watching him get better and better seemingly every month. He reminds me of Edgardo Alfonzo — a player we saw grow before our eyes, and turn into a sure-handed fielder and deadly hitter with unerring instincts.
Daniel Murphy had a terrific game too, continuing to hit and contributing in a leaping grab of his own, part of our middle infielders’ plan to torment grasshopper-legged Hunter Pence whenever he tried to line one over the infield. The lone disappointment was that Murph didn’t collect the homer he needed for the cycle, settling instead for a two-run double and two RBIs in his final at-bat. (If he played in San Francisco, Giants fans would have tried to vote it into a home run.) On the subject of Murphy, his airborne leap for Pence’s liner was a useful reminder of something I tend to forget. Murph doesn’t have a lot of power, lacks a steady glove afield and strikes us as a lunch-pail scrapper compared with more accomplished teammates. But to snag Pence’s drive, he leapt higher than I could jump if I started out standing on my coffee table. When it comes to hand-eye coordination, fast-twitch muscles and other genetic gifts, Daniel Murphy and are barely the same species.
And David Wright was David Wright, from his thoroughly improved glovework at third to his booming homer into Apple Land late. (If you’re wondering, Pedro Sandoval went 1 for 2 tonight in a loss to the Nationals, an accomplishment Giants fans rewarded by voting that he get the key to the city.) Wright’s heroics were more impressive not only statistically but also morally: His fine fielding took a hit away from Shane Victorino, and whenever something bad happens to Shane Victorino, God creates a kitten.
And then there was Jonathon Niese, who shrugged off a second-inning summertime home run from Chico Ruiz to allow just two more hits over eight innings. Since the Come to Jesus session with Dan Warthen, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey that followed Niese’s disaster in Toronto, he’s 6-1 and has lowered his ERA from 4.85 to 3.35. Like the previously discussed teams, Niese has had a history of second-half fades. But his recent run of success suggests he may be figuring it out.
And history isn’t destiny — as any broker will tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. The Mets are 44-37, fun to watch, easy to root for and worth investing hope in. Those 42,000 folks who got in-game fireworks before the postgame variety had to have noticed that. Here’s hoping they’ll be back — and that the guys down there on the field are too.