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Pitching & 118.3-MPH Homers

Steven Matz [1] went deep. Amed Rosario [2] went deeper. Pete Alonso [3] went deepest of all. Edwin Diaz [4] made certain we didn’t plumb the depths.

And that is how the New York Mets took sole possession of first place [5] twelve games into the 2019 season, which clinches the Mets absolutely nothing. My fellow math mavens with a memory longer than a caterpillar will recall one year ago at this juncture the Mets were the twelve-game champions of baseball, having won eleven of their first dozen contests, setting them up perfectly for losing 84 of their final 150.

Nevertheless, we’ll happily lay claim to first. All wins count regardless of month, and it’s not like you can unlose a loss. Then we can focus on expanding or at least sitting on our lead from this point forward. The Mets are a half-game in front of the Phillies, a game up on the Braves (their hosts and victims Thursday night) and a game-and-a-half ahead of the Nationals. You can’t have four teams in sole possession of four places with any less elbow room. The tightness hews to the bunching of the National League East we all agreed upon as imminent over the winter. The Nationals lost Bryce Harper but seemed no worse for the void. The Phillies added Bryce Harper and seemed better in many ways besides. The Braves were our returning champions and did nothing to detract from their eligibility to repeat. And the Mets, according to unbiased source Brodie Van Wagenen, were consensus favorites to leapfrog all three.

It’s 1975 again, the part of 1975 when I gobbled up preseason magazines that forecast an NL East in which one through four were supposed to be a shuffler’s delight. The Pirates and Cardinals had fought it out down to the wire in ’74. The Phillies, after languishing most of a generation in an abyss, were the Mentos of the circuit, fresh and full of life. And the Mets, with Joe McDonald exchanging players like some kind of proto-Van Wagenen, were not to be counted out. I don’t recall the GM then making bold pronouncements, but he did bring in Del Unser, Dave Kingman and Joe Torre.

Nineteen Seventy-Five turned out not so close in the end. The Phillies challenged, but the Pirates fended them off by 6½ games. The Mets and Cardinals finished over .500, tying for a distant third. I’m sure there’ve been other years when it looked like a quartet would compete teeth and nails for the title, but 1975 is the year that sticks with me as 2019 prepares to live up to its hype.

Twelve games in, we have the edge because in the twelfth game, we had Matz, Rosario, Alonso and Diaz, precisely in that order.

Long Island’s Own Steven Matz (LIOSM) can be Niese-level frustrating, but lately the lefty’s been a balm for nettled nerves. A couple of early runs did not upset Steven’s apple cart whatsoever. He wound up going six innings, the modern equivalent of eight, giving up nothing further. LIOSM features an ERA of 1.65 after three starts, his strikeouts dwarfing his innings pitched, his walks barely an issue.

Rosario, who we couldn’t wait to get a gander at less than two years ago, then somebody collectively deemed nothing all that special to look at, reminded us why we were poised to be so mad for Amed. His second-inning blast, with two on, gave Matz the cushion that allowed him to feel as comfortable on the mound at SunTrust Park as he does on the menu at the Se-Port Deli [6]. And lest the shortstop be overly impressed with his power and start overswinging at everything in sight, the kid (he’s a lad of 23, you know) added an RBI single in the sixth. That made it four runs batted in for No. 1 and a little extra wiggle room for whatever might infect the bullpen once Matz departed.

Four runs not enough for the Mets? Is any quantity of runs enough for any pitching staff these days? The staff that doesn’t have to face Alonso may be the corps that survives longest in this league. Pete politely introduced himself to Jonny Venters in the top of the seventh. The small talk didn’t last long, as Alonso simply had to get going. This latest ’Lonsball special — his sixth — landed 454 feet from home plate, alerting the Braves that there may be a suburb even farther from Atlanta where they can next set up shop. (SunTrust, which debuted four months before Rosario, is practically a relic by local standards.) Everybody groans about the region’s horrible traffic, but if more commuters would park at the Pete & Ride, they’d get where they’re going in no time at all. Alonso’s two-run homer’s exit velocity was measured at 118.3 miles per hour. For reference purposes, that’s a homer hit as hard as hell. Perhaps harder. When Pete Alonso leaves a ballpark, Pete Alonso leaves a ballpark. Seriously, that thing struck water, specifically splashing into a decorative fountain beyond dead center field. That adorable touch of exterior decorating is a Metropolitan landmark now.

Once Pete has gone deepest, every other matter ought to be an anticlimax. But the Braves still have Freddie Freeman and you’re never truly free until you’re free of Freddie Freeman. Met Closer Diaz’s first facedown with fright incarnate came with two out and two on. Especially two on. Did I mention Diaz is the Met closer? And that Freeman was up in the ninth as the tying run? But before you could say “Dillon Gee” three times fast [7], Diaz struck out ye olde divisional nemesis and protected the 6-3 win that elevated the Mets above all comers. Not too far above, though. Just as well — if they got too high, they’d have to duck whatever Alonso socked last.