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The Grind and the Break

“Grind you till you break” is Chris Bassitt [1]‘s phrase, first uttered after his debut in blue and orange and the Mets having come back from being knocked down by sundry Nationals to win by doing terrible things to pitchers, spoken of [2] earlier on this trip, and of course immortalized as part of that equal parts stirring and strange ad in which various Mets … hang around outside a bodega.

Here’s what he said back then:

There’s a lot of guys — a lot of teams — that it’s all or nothing. But this team is not that. We might hit some homers, but we’re just going to grind you until you break. That’s the mentality we’ve been preaching since Day One — we have the pitching staff to hold it down until that happens.

Monday night’s game against the Padres — not quite the Dodgers but a pretty good outfit — was a perfect encapsulation of that philosophy, with the Mets getting the program started early against Blake Snell [3]. Brandon Nimmo [4] saw eight pitches and grounded out. Starling Marte [5] smacked Snell’s second pitch over the infield for a single. Francisco Lindor [6] saw six pitches, fanning on a 3-2 slider in the dirt, and lingered by the on-deck circle to give Mark Canha [7] a report on what he’d seen.

The Mets had a runner on second but two out — a spot of bother for Snell but nothing too ominous. But then Pete Alonso [8] refused to be baited and walked on five pitches. Canha, in an 0-2 hole, stubbornly resisted expanding the strike zone and walked on six pitches. J.D. Davis [9] — not renowned as the most patient of hitters — also fell into an 0-2 hole, with the second strike coming on the high fastball that is his kryptonite. But Davis reined in his aggression and worked out a nine-pitch walk, bringing in a run. Three pitches into his own at-bat, a rejuvenated-looking Eduardo Escobar [10] slashed an outside changeup to right and the Mets had a 3-0 lead. When the first inning was finally over Snell had faced eight Met hitters and needed 43 pitches to do so.

There was the grinding — but there’s another part of the equation that’s easy to miss. In the fourth, with Snell tired and trying to squeeze more pitches out of his arm than might have been there, the Mets pounced early, starting with an Escobar double. (He’d add a bomb of a home run and a two-run triple later, hitting for the cycle and demonstrating reports of his professional demise were clearly exaggerated — Escobar’s mile-wide smile after his feat has to be in every season highlight film.)

That pouncing is the second part of the formula, the part where the opponents break. Make a starting pitcher show you his entire arsenal, pick it apart, drive up his pitch count, and then seize opportunities.

Carlos Carrasco [11], meanwhile, continues to have the kind of season that as Mets fans we’ve come to assume we don’t get to see. Carrasco’s maiden voyage in New York was a disaster, derailed by injuries to half his limbs, and he arrived in spring training with the usual talk about good health and starting over. But it was hard to hear it: If you’ll forgive some confirmation bias, that kind of thing never seems to work out for us, does it?

Except sometimes it does. Carrasco has been healthy and has started over, and he’s been wonderful — on Monday he befuddled the Padres with mid-90s gas that perfectly set up his slider and change, striking out 10 and even high-fiving a not particularly attentive baby in Mets garb. (Mom looked happy about it, though.)

It got messy late, as Joely Rodriguez [12] and Drew Smith [13] got knocked around before Escobar rode to … well, not the rescue exactly but the moment where you can put your phone away because it’s going to be OK [14]. The Mets have work to do in the bullpen, absolutely. But every team has some work to do. As long as the Mets stay with the approach Bassitt’s made famous, they’ll be OK. And probably a lot better than that.