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Twice Upon a Time In Queens

Following Friday night’s 7-3 victory over the Angels [1], the 2022 Mets are 39-21 after sixty games. Here is a comprehensive list of every Mets team that had as good a record or better than the current edition at the same juncture in its season:

1. 1986: 44-16

That’s it. That’s the list.

It may not feel as if you’ve been watching the second-best Mets team ever through sixty games, whether on real TV or Apple TV+, because the late nights, the West Coast and the accumulated nicks, scrapes and bruises can take their toll on the psyche in a given week. It also bangs up momentum. The Mets have won four of eight in California with two to go. That also means they’ve lost four of eight. None of the four losses have felt straight out of 1986, let alone 2022. Yet here we are, 39-21, perhaps paused and refreshed to enjoy the surreal thing we’ve called this joyride most of this year.

Tylor Megill [2] returned Friday night. He was gone a month. He’s back. He may not have been in ideal Friday night “Hey guys, let’s a bunch of us throw a no-hitter!” mode, but the Big Drip reinserted himself in the rotation and didn’t altogether droop. He was followed to the mound by David Peterson [3], who was more effective as a long reliever than he’s been lately as a starter. I’ll take my chances with these two finding their way, particularly if neither has to spend the rest of the year facing Brandon Marsh (who produced a homer off each of them and a beard that could eliminate Luis Guillorme’s in the hirsute semifinals).

Admit it: you figured Megill was out for the rest of the season. His return isn’t technically one of the 39 victories, but it all adds up.

We’ll overlook the encouraging reports on Scherzer and deGrom in the interest of seeing/believing and simply be happy Pete Alonso [4] was among the Mets gripping a bat and participating in Buck Showalter’s lineup. Played the field, too. Got a base hit. Stole a base!

Admit it: you figured Alonso was out for the rest of the season.

Pete’s physically adequate. Starling Marte [5] indicates he is, too, and when the Mets are on SNY again tonight, he should be playing. The team isn’t whole, but it’s close enough. On Friday night, it had Brandon Nimmo [6] driving in three runs, Mark Canha [7] driving in three runs, everybody getting on base at least once and Edwin Diaz [8] closing out a non-save situation without incident. Last Sunday [9], it seemed paramount to preserve Diaz for his next save opportunity and not use him a second inning. Edwin hadn’t pitched since and the Mets still haven’t encountered a save situation since Sunday. Funny how that works.

Ups and downs. Ins and outs. Not much specific that can be predictable. Generally, though, you should have a handle on your team after sixty games. A lukewarm week shouldn’t preclude using a potholder when grabbing the 2022 Mets’ handle. On balance, they’re the second-hottest Met team ever.

A word on the 1986 Mets in this context. Their 44-16 mark remains burned in my memory. I couldn’t believe my team could play sixty games and lose only sixteen of them. When they won their 44th, they extended their lead over second-place Montreal (that night’s opponent) to 11½ games. The National League East race was over in the middle of June.

Then it wasn’t quite. The Expos won their next two games against the Mets at the Big O and their first two games against the Mets when they soon faced each other again. The Mets lost five of seven following the seven-game winning streak that catapulted them to 44-16. On June 25, the Expos carried a 2-0 lead over the Mets to the bottom of the fourth. Hold on in this series finale and they’d be seven out. Still a long swath of real estate between second place and first place, but noticeably shorter than what faced them in Quebec a little more than a week earlier. Those Expos refused to be pushed over. The mind conjured thoughts of a potentially stressful pennant race on the order of 1985. Wait a sec — baseball like it oughta be ought not be laced with this kind of angst.

Then the mind relaxed, because in the bottom of the fourth inning on June 25, 1986, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight, Sid Fernandez (!) and Lenny Dykstra each drove in a run; the Mets mounted a 4-2 lead; George Foster added a homer in the home sixth; Sid and Roger McDowell teamed to shut out the visitors to Shea the rest of the way; and following the Mets’ 5-2 win that put the Mets nine up over the Expos, two things happened.

• Hubie Brooks, by then with Montreal, said of his club’s falling short of a sweep, “Nine out is so damn close to ten. Seven out is so damn close to five. I think we did good, but it’s too bad we couldn’t be better than nine out.” Hubie’s veritable waving of the white flag when the Mets went to 47-21 reinforced my notion of 44-16: it’s over.

• The Mets lit out on an eight-game winning streak, by the conclusion of which they held a 12½-game lead and it was still over, only more so. To paraphrase Tim McCarver from the height of the high summer fireworks in Queens, they were spreading the news that they couldn’t be beat.

For the record, the Mets also lost five of seven after streaking to 20-4 in May. There’d be a pair of three-game losing streaks in July and a 1-6 rough patch in August. You might remember a four-game skein in the wrong direction in the middle of September. You might remember it because the Mets were on the verge of clinching their division and the sudden spate of losses amounted to a nuisance en route to a celebration. The tad of pent-up frustration simply made the champagne-spraying that much more raucous [10] (and, even better, transported it from the Vet to Shea), yet things inside the year of years could indeed get frustrating for a few days here and a few days there. The Mets of 1986 didn’t compile a 1.000 winning percentage. It only feels as if they did.


Too soon?

Comparing any subsequent Met year to 1986 with slightly more than 100 game to go may be akin to playing with karmic fire. There’s only one 1986. The Mets wound up winning two of every three games they played that regular season. Since 1986, the Mets have maintained a .667 pace no later than 57 games into a season. They did it when they reached 38-19 in 1988 and they did it again when they reached 38-19 this past Monday in San Diego. The 1988 Mets are a whole other story, but suffice it to say they fell off the two-of-every-three horse as the dog days nipped at their heels, yet they never fell apart. They won a hundred games and a division title.

Right now, these 2022 Mets are better than that team and every team that’s come before 2022, with the exception of one. Still a lot of real estate to cover. Still an opponent or two in the division that’s refused to definitively run into our brick wall. The Braves have been beyond hot, winning nine in a row. The Phillies, too, who shed themselves of Joe Girardi and gained eight consecutive wins as a result. Neither foe could be doing any better. Neither is within six games of the Mets. Those competitors will cool off from their current state of scalding. The Mets won’t be on the West Coast forever and are likely to heat up beyond this week’s lukewarm setting.

I’m a little grumpy from having to stay up late practically every night to watch my team. Wayne Randazzo’s welcome voice notwithstanding, I’d have preferred SNY to Apple TV+. The series split in L.A. and the loss of two of three in San Diego weren’t optimal and remain fresh in the current consciousness. Yet here we are in 2022 looking up only at 1986. Even in what passes for its doldrums, this team somehow manages to give us something unsurpassed to which to aspire.

The 2022 Mets are thus far super. So was the Mets’ premiere utility player of the 2000s. Listen to the current episode of National League Town [12] to solve that Monday crossword of a puzzle.