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First Place Team Still Alive

With a one-and-a-half game lead over two rivals and an off day today, the Mets are guaranteed go into the books as the kings of April 2018, provided there are books devoted to April kings in any year. At most, there’s maybe a pamphlet.

So put it in the pamphlet. The Mets are No. 1. The Braves and Phillies are Nos. 2A and 2B. The Nationals lurk closer to the Marlins than they do to us, but let’s not wake them just yet. Our team has been alone in first place since April 4 and will remain alone in first place as May dawns. Approximately one-sixth of the season that just commenced is complete. The Mets were literally unbeatable for a nine-game stretch that elevated our expectations Promenade-high, after which they reverted to human after all, as if of flesh and blood they’re made [1]. Which they are, but at 11-1 we begged to differ.

The flesh and blood of two-headed catcher Travin d’Arwecki went on the DL late in the club’s April-defining winning streak and, though you wouldn’t have suspected it, their raging adequacy proved somewhat indispensable by its absence. Not to pin this all on the inherent shortcomings of Double-A Tomás Nido [2] and Quadruple-A Jose Lobaton [3], but the Mets who couldn’t be stopped stopped being unstoppable once one position out of eight could no longer be considered at least major league average most days. The unplanned presence of Tose Nobaton behind the plate and buried deep in the order quietly pointed out how fragile an edifice a given Mets lineup could be. Instead of a catching tandem that wasn’t great but wasn’t bad, we had a gaping hole.

Just one out of eight. But when others out of the remaining seven cooled off or hit into bad luck or maybe slid into a base dumbly, the fragile construction of the Met juggernaut showed its cracks. The shortstop wasn’t really hitting. The third baseman didn’t make every play. The battle-scarred first baseman had little to show for his exit velocity not to mention experience (how dare he be 36?). Maybe the right fielder should play first base some. Maybe we move this guy here and that guy there and, crap, we have to get the bullpen up because there’s another starter who isn’t gonna get us through six. Or five.

The human Mets who lost a series to the Nationals, then the Braves, then the Cardinals were worrisome. First-place, but worrisome. Splitting the first two in San Diego added to the worries. Jason Vargas, their projected island of stability, rusted over on Saturday night [4]. The Padres pounded the bejeesus out of the Mets. Neither deGrom nor Syndergaard would be pitching Sunday. If a first-place team in April ever looked to be teetering on the brink of — gasp! — second place, it was the 16-9 Mets.

Fortunately, the 16-9 Mets pounded the bejeesus out of the Padres on Sunday afternoon, winning 14-2 and becoming 17-9 [5]. The Uniclone Score [6] earned them their first series victory at Petco Park since 2011 (they haven’t swept in San Diego since 1988) and marked the first time nine different Mets recorded at least two hits apiece in a single game. Short of Interleague DH nonsense, that implies either our pitcher chipped in offensively or something went a little wrong amid everything going so right and somebody had to fill in for somebody who had to unexpectedly vamoose.

Zack Wheeler [7] — whose pitching surged past serviceable to the edge of encouraging over the course of five innings — went 0-for-2 as a batter. Yoenis Cespedes [8] slid into a base dumbly. There’s the little wrong something, or so we hope it’s just a little wrong. After two hits and two steals, Ces had to leave the game in the third because of what was termed a sore thumb, which is what the bad vibe from the possibility of Yo missing time sticks out like when you’ve just won by twelve runs. Yo’s slide wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He wasn’t carrying a nine-iron or leaping from a horse into the bag or, heaven forefend, wearing his cap backward. It was just one of those headfirst slides that is forever warned against. It’s also how he slides when he’s not soreing up his thumb. Usually nothing happens; this time it precautionarily nudged him out the game. Nobody’s saying it’s any big deal. Nobody’s saying it isn’t. When it comes to injuries, Mets fans tend to err on the side of ohmigod.

Otherwise, everything was splendid. Brandon Nimmo [9] entered and got two hits so he wouldn’t stick out from his teammates (he does, but only for his preternatural grin). Two hits for this guy who started. Two hits for that guy who started. Thirteen of the Mets’ nineteen hits were struck late as the Mets took what had been a somewhat precarious 4-2 lead and exploded the ever-lovin’ daylights out of it with five runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth. Frazier homered. Reyes homered. Nido singled twice, drove in a run and kindly requested, “don’t put your blame on me [10],” regarding his humanity.

Adrian Gonzalez [11], a convenient point of contention for those who wish to find fault with a first-place team, was the most explosive Met, notching three hits, including the three-run homer that began to put the game out of reach, and totaling five RBIs. Gonzalez, likely giving way to Jay Bruce now and then at first so Nimmo can bring his smile to the order more often without injuries to others, does hit the ball hard and has retained a surprising amount of mobility. The Mets have been suitably upwardly mobile since March 29. They entered first place early and haven’t budged from it. What do we want from them anyway?

To stay there and never leave. That’s all. We’re reasonable people when we’re not losing our minds over not winning every game.