The team that was a surefire bet to cruise to another division title got off to a rocky start. But then they began to right the ship, they had their pitching lined up, and once September rolled around, they took dead aim at first place, inching closer and closer day by day until they were presented with an enormous head-to-head opportunity against their direct rivals.
But, alas, the 1987 Mets couldn’t overtake the team that had run in front of them all summer long, the St. Louis Cardinals.
See? Not every historical comp revolves around the 2007 Mets blowing an unblowable lead. Sometimes teams that enter September in front stay in front. Sorry I had to drag Terry Pendleton into this, but don’t you get it?
We can be the 1987 Cardinals. Or any number of LOTS of first-place teams that didn’t become second-place teams. It happens. It happens more often than the opposite. You build a lead and you earn a cushion. The Mets went into their Biggest Series In Seven Years with a cushion of four games.
They are one-third through it with a cushion of five games because they beat the Nationals, 8-5, after taking an early lead of 3-0 on solo homers off Max Scherzer by Michael Conforto, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes; ceding a grand slam to Wilson Ramos and then another enemy tally (oy, Niese); and then storming back. The Mets made it 5-4 and 5-5 and 6-5 and 7-5 and 8-5. The best part — besides the five runs added to the three previous runs through the offensive machinations of Cespedes, David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud, Ruben Tejada and let’s mention Cespedes again because it’s so much fun to realize he’s a Met who was obtained to do exactly what he’s doing — is that the Nats’ total stayed steady from the fourth through the ninth.
Jon Niese gave up five runs in the fourth, the 15th time in his career he’d given up five runs in a single inning, something no Met pitcher had ever done. Niese is a problem right now. Niese could have represented a fatal error in the company mainframe this Labor Day, but his co-workers came to his aid with vital tech support. Five Met relievers kept those five National runs very lonely. Carlos Torres (whose unmatched endurance and left calf I didn’t intend to curse), Erik Goeddel, Dario Alvarez, Hansel Robles and Jeurys Familia shut out an opposition that had gobbled up our starter and looked ravenous for more.
Well, good luck with that, Washington. No, actually, rotten luck to you. Our guys had the good luck and skill today, as the pen was mightier than the Niese (and the Nats). Hats off in particular to Goeddel for having to come in on a moment’s notice in place of a limping Torres; Alvarez for pulling a modern-day Rich Sauveur in striking out Bryce Harper after coming out of close to nowhere and making his first pitches of the season count like crazy; and Rapid Robles, whose quick-pitching drove Ryan Zimmerman to distraction…and the bench.
That was some good relief pitching. That was some good hitting, Cespedes’s (three extra base hits) and otherwise. And mostly that was some outstanding not giving up. This Mets team hasn’t heard of the 2007 Mets team. This Mets team creates its own precedent. Particularly lovable was Wright, after scoring the seventh Met run, gesticulating in fist-pumping approval in similar fashion to how he did during the last season when the Mets played games like this. That was 2008. That was seven years ago. Wright has waited a long time for this.
So have we.
Sitting down to a Labor Day contest in which the Mets were a) in first place and b) preparing to beat back the team in second place was a refreshing change of pace from all the Labor Days and all the September days we have known during this decade. I flashed back briefly to what I was doing on Labor Day two years ago. The Mets were playing the Braves. The Mets got their ass kicked slowly and repeatedly. I soaked up every goddamn pitch, wondering why I was sitting through a game as bad as that.
Now I know. It was to get to games like this and appreciate them fully.
More to come, too. We are granted no guarantees, but we have every chance to prove that 2015 is its own thing, is its own year, is its own precedent. Tomorrow night we have Harvey going. Six or twelve or some undetermined number of games after that, we might have Harvey going again. Somewhere in between, Niese might find himself. Or Niese might find himself keeping company with the other extant 2008 Met pitcher Bobby Parnell, asking from the shadows of the back of the bullpen, “Whatever became of us?” Harvey’s still a member in good standing of this rotation, just as Niese shouldn’t be professionally dead to us yet. As Jason pointed out, it was easy enough to write off Colon when he waned and he’s presently our most dependable and dynamic starter. I’m willing to give Jon the Veteran the benefit of one more start’s doubt. If he doesn’t flourish, then I’ll personally petition Scott Boras to sign him and instigate the immediate capping of his innings.
That’s a dark thought. Today is a day to look at the sunny side of life. On a Monday holiday, the Mets beat exactly who they had to beat and extended their first-place lead to five meaningful games in September.