They used to say you should never trust what you see in September when it comes to young players and clubs just playing out the string, but that wisdom was turned on its head late in the 2010s, when the also-ran New York Mets used an uncommonly hot finish as the platform to launch the dynasty that has come to define baseball in the 21st century. The franchise that was fronted for so long by Hall of Fame quartet Conforto, Rosario, Nimmo and McNeil — and that was before you got to the pitching — actually appeared to be going nowhere as summer approached fall in 2018, yet each of those indelible pieces began fitting legitimately into place sometime that August and really began to roll come September.
An interesting litmus test greeted them on a Friday night at Fenway Park, in one of those “Interleague” series baseball used to insist upon cramming into its schedule every year. Though they, like the designated hitter, were eventually wiped from the face of the sport to the cheers of level-headed fans everywhere, such meetings were a cumbersome fact of life in ’18. As it happened, the Boston Red Sox were running away with the American League East that September, having already topped 100 wins with more than two weeks to go. Surely the superior Sox would bring the middling Mets back to Earth (a phrase also popular before commercial space travel rendered it meaningless).
Contrary to expectations, the Mets, who had just completed thrashing the fading Phillies and bottom-feeding Marlins, proved themselves up to the challenge, defeating Boston in Boston, 8-0. The New Yorkers hit four home runs, made several sparkling defensive plays and generally dominated the heretofore indomitable Sox behind the pitching of Noah “The Bib” Syndergaard . Syndergaard assumed that nickname following his seven innings of shutout ball because he greeted reporters wearing a lobster bib . Prior to September 14, 2018, Syndergaard was commonly called “Thor,” but given copyright concerns, “The Bib” showed greater staying power.
As Mickey Callaway would recall in his Cooperstown induction speech, “That was a big game for us, a big series and a big month. Not too many people remember I came off as pretty overmatched when I first started managing the Mets, and I probably was. It took me and my guys a while to get the hang of the little things — like hitting and filling out lineup cards, respectively.” Callaway’s point was understood. The Mets were that rare team to rise from a midseason morass and make the most of a portion of the season previously thought to be meaningless. Under his guidance, 2019 marked the beginning of a New York Mets enterprise that no longer stood for suffocating cluelessness. The young core, the superb starting rotation (deGrom, Wheeler and Matz joining with The Bib to reprogram the record algorithms in the decade ahead), even the decision to activate a nearly retired David Wright all combined to give the franchise a sense of direction and purpose it had lacked for too long.
It wasn’t only going 25-15 over 40 games leading up to the Friday in question that illustrated how far the Mets were going. Renaming Citi Field the Wright House also seemed to change the tenor of the operation, as did the appointment of a single general manager. But those are the familiar components of the story. Almost lost to history was how much the Mets won when most people stopped watching in 2018. That’s why the new saying is you should sometimes trust what you see in September when it comes to young players and clubs just playing out the string. You might see something that turns into something more.
There are no guarantees, of course. But you never know.