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Execution Day (Is Not Today)

With the Mets in a pennant race again, I’ve been remembering all the little stresses that come with meaningful games in September.

Here’s one of them: Getting to within an hour or two of the game and thinking that this could be Execution Day — the day where, if they don’t win, you can pretty much write them off.

On Sunday, you probably heard if you didn’t see with your own eyes, the Mets flubbed a chance [1] to move within three of the Cubs and half a game of the Phillies. The damage was lessened by the Cubs and Diamondbacks losing … if you discount the fact that another day was lost from the calendar, which is increasingly hard to do as September rolls along.

Anyway, the schedule dictated that Sunday night’s dispiriting loss and missed opportunity would be followed a day game in another city against a red-hot baseball team. That sounded like a recipe for another loss, and then the Mets would be facing Max Scherzer [2], and … well, yeah, maybe Monday was Execution Day, the day belief put its neck on the chopping block.

But baseball, as always, is a funny thing.

I wasn’t particularly surprised that Noah Syndergaard [3] came out looking to put a hurt on some unfortunate enemy nine, as his implosion against the Cubs struck me as more lousy luck and bad defense than anything else. And, indeed, Syndergaard carved up the Nats. He gave up a leadoff single to Trea Turner [4], then retired the next 16, and ended with 90 pitches and seven spotless innings.

Meanwhile, the Mets ambushed Joe Ross [5] — whose curveball looked positively vicious early — with contributions from up and down the lineup. J.D. Davis [6] looked rejuvenated after an off-day in Philly, while Brandon Nimmo [7] burned up 15 pitches in his first two ABs and then doubled on the first pitch he saw in his third appearance, which is pretty much the classic mix of Nimmoesque (Brandonian?) patience and aggression that we’ve missed all summer. Joe Panik [8] and Rene Rivera [9] had RBIs, and Jeff McNeil [10] cracked a homer that he desperately needed for his own sanity. Seriously, McNeil grounded out to the pitcher to end the second, stranding two, and I was a little worried that he might implode into a neutron star of self-loathing.

Instead of two crushing losses in 18 hours, the Mets wiped the slate clean — or at least cleanish — with a laugher [11]. That would make no sense in fiction, but in baseball it’s just a “well, of course,” because anyone who tries to outguess this sport will soon make a fool of himself or herself.

The rest of Labor Day’s wild-card machinations weren’t particularly Mets-friendly, as the Cubs, Phillies and Diamondbacks all won, meaning the Mets only made up ground on the Brewers. That’s another one of the stresses of being a team on the bubble in September — hoping the scoreboard will give you a triple-bank shot in the standings. And, of course, time claimed another of its daily victories.

Tomorrow the Mets send Jacob deGrom [12] out to face Scherzer. Maybe events will conspire to make that feel like Execution Day. Or maybe it will be the day after that. Or maybe the Mets will keep avoiding that date, ducking the hangman while he’s busy elsewhere.

All we know is this, and it’s a good thing to know: Execution Day? It wasn’t today.