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The Power of 128 and Counting

Those graphing skills you may have retained from geometry class will finally come in handy if you are yearning to illustrate the upward trajectory of the Mets’ single-season runs batted in record.

1962: 94 — Frank Thomas
1970: 97 — Donn Clendenon
1975: 105 — Rusty Staub; tied by Gary Carter in 1986
1990: 108 — Darryl Strawberry
1991: 117 — Howard Johnson; tied by Bernard Gilkey in 1996
1999: 124 — Mike Piazza; tied by David Wright in 2008

Each of those totals loomed as singularly impressive until somebody surpassed it (even if somebody matched it). They’re still impressive in and of themselves. Whatever limitations the run batted in might encompass as an indicator of overall offensive production, we still know a high number of runs batted in when we see it. We intrinsically understand that a number must be pretty high if nobody comes along and posts a higher one for quite a while despite every batter’s literal best-case scenario — and therefore every batter’s deep-seated goal when he comes to the plate (even those just trying to get on base) — being that a run scores as a direct result of what he does while batting.

We never in the course of a game think, “I wish our team hadn’t just scored another run.” Everybody who isn’t the opposing pitcher or among those invested in that opposing pitcher’s team’s cause is thrilled to see a run batted in. Advanced though modern statistics may be, the RBI perseveres as aspirational in every game, good or bad, in every season, good or bad. Geez, Thomas’s 94 RBIs on the 1962 Mets are more than twice as many games as the outfit for whom he was driving them in won. A supercut of Frank’s at-bats could have constituted a pretty complete team highlight film in living black and white.

Thomas held the Met RBI record for eight years, Clendenon for five, Rusty for fifteen (four shared with Carter), Straw for one, and Hojo for eight (three shared with Gilkey) until Mike put it out of reach of all but one Met (David) for the next 23 years. It had been ages since somebody smashed or pulled up alongside the Mets runs batted in barrier.

But now we and the Mets Record Book are living in the Age of Alonso, and in the Age of Alonso, we’re gonna need a taller sheet of graph paper.

The most urgent takeaway from Sunday in Oakland was the 13-4 thumping [1] the Mets laid on the A’s. Unless we’re overthinking draft order, we never wish our team hadn’t just won another game. This isn’t a year for draft order thinking. This is a year when every win matters and, as Monty Python might suggest [2], every run is sacred. There was no saving any of it for tomorrow, currently today. Today’s an off day anyway.

Sunday was largely taken care of in the bottom of every inning Max Scherzer pitched (the first six, with one run allowed) but destined to be defined in the top of the fourth. The Mets already led, 3-0, thanks to a rare RBI from Tyler Naquin and two increasingly common ribbies from Eduardo Escobar. It represented a promising start, but the Mets weren’t finished. They couldn’t be. The Mets led Saturday, 3-0. It didn’t keep [3]. Sunday they added on, first via Francisco Lindor doubling with two runners on (no mean RBI machine himself, Francisco the shortstop’s season sum stands at 103), then Pete Alonso [4] homering with Lindor on second. That gave Pete 125 RBIs, or the most runs any Met had ever driven in within the confines of a single season. More than Piazza in ’99 and Wright in ’08. More than the standard that had stood for so long that a person suspected it was forever unbreakable.

But not as many as Alonso would have by the end of Sunday, specifically after the three-run double he lashed into the right field corner in the eighth turned an 8-1 laugher into an 11-1 howler. Pete Alonso now held a brand new Mets single-season runs batted in record of 128. Chances are that record will rise more than once between tomorrow night and the end of business on October 5.

There is no such thing as too many runs, regardless of lead, regardless of opponent. The Mariners’ 11-2 lead at Kansas City on Sunday became the Royals’ 13-12 victory. The Mets lead the National League East by 1½ games. Alonso leads the NL RBI race by 16. I had to look up the latter standings. I’m not sure I realized Pete was still ahead of all National League batters — Paul Goldschmidt is a distant second — in what has become his signature category in 2022. I don’t spend a waking moment not cognizant of where the Mets stand relative to the Braves. The Mets are barely ahead of Atlanta after 154 games on the shoulders of at least a couple of dozen fellas making the most out of their orange-and-blue opportunities. The strongest of those shoulders belong to the regular first baseman, intermittent DH and tolerable pitchman (he’s more convincing anticipating a delivery of pancakes than he is sneaking up on Nathan in the front seat) we call the Polar Bear and we call when we need a run batted in.

Over the next eight games, we will be pulling hard for the Mets to pull away from the Braves. That’s the prize that counts most, at least until after October 5. Pete putting further distance between himself and everybody else who drives in National League runners for a living, not to mention anybody who ever drove in Met runners before, will amount to a powerful bonus.