These Mets Can PlayGraham Flashner. 10th July, 2011 - 4:32 am
Nobody would have been surprised if the Mets folded the tent early this season and lived down to the level expected of them. They began the season with their best pitcher, Johan Santana, recovering from elbow surgery and not expected back till August. They lost front-line starter Chris Young for the season after a promising start. David Wright and Ike Davis (two thirds of the starting infield) have been out since mid-May. Would-be ace Mike Pelfrey faltered under the burden of trying to replace Santana. The bullpen, except for closer K-Rod, was undependable.
And yet, almost four months in, this is shaping up as an unexpectedly satisfying season. Credit an improved bullpen, strong performances from pitchers Chris Capuano and Dillon Gee, the motivational skills of fiery manager Terry Collins, and a resurgent offense that is hitting .264, sixth best in MLB, and pounded out 52 runs in a 4-game stretch last week. But most of all credit the catalyst, Jose Reyes, who is having one of the great seasons in Mets history. At age 28, Reyes leads the majors in four categories: average (.354), hits (124), multi-hit games (43), and triples (15). He is second in stolen bases (30), third in the NL in runs scored (65) and is tied for the NL lead in total bases (185).
So it was only understandable that when Reyes pulled up short in the Saturday game against the Yankees with a hamstring injury, panic set in. Reyes had already missed all but 36 games of 2009 with a hamstring tear, and was plagued with a myriad of leg problems early in his career - so much so that he learned a new style of running the bases.
This time, the Mets appear to have lucked out - the injury was classified as a Grade 1 strain, the least serious. Still, this being the Mets and their history of medical gaffes over the years, nothing is necessarily what it seems. In Metsworld, day-to-day usually means a 15-day DL trip, if not worse. After a series of well-publicized medical gaffes, the Mets are not to be fully trusted when it comes to evaluating the health of their players.
Sitting at his clubhouse stall surrounded by anxious NY media, Reyes assured everyone he was proceeding cautiously, acknowledging the injury that ended his season on this very field in May 2009.
For the record, Mets GM Sandy Alderson held to a fast no comment when asked about a New York Post report that said he was prepared to offer Reyes a substantial amount of money to stay in New York.
If Reyes has put the Mets on his back all season, struggling left fielder Jason Bay epitomizes the overpaid, over-hyped free-agent signing that the Mets have become infamous for, trying to assuage a demanding fan base that is always got one envious eye on the Yankees. Bay has not exactly been a fit at cavernous Citi Field, but his manager has yet to give up on him.
I asked Bay why the Mets were so resilient this year as opposed to last year.
Bay: Last year, up until the All-Star break, we were playing really good baseball and everyone was healthy. This year, we have had reasons to roll over, but have not. I think we were faced with adversity so early, we just dealt with it.
Los Angeles has become the personal House of Horrors for the Mets in recent years, starting with the torn labrum injury for Angel Pagan in 2008, and continuing with the season-ending injury to Reyes in May of 2009 and the concussion a year ago to Bay, when he ran into the left-field wall. The Mets dropped three of four at Dodger Stadium a year ago, the beginning of a post-All-Star-Break 2-10 slide that virtually killed their season.
This year, though, it is the Dodgers who look demoralized, suffering through a season worthy of the Mets at their most dysfunctional. Last place in the NL West, playing to uncharacteristically small crowds, demoralized by the Frank McCourt soap opera playing out daily like a bad dream, the Dodgers don not hit and inspire little but apathy and derision in the local papers.
On Monday, buoyed by $4 ticket promotions and July 4 fireworks, a sellout crowd of 56,000 came out, and for one night at least, it was like old times at Chavez Ravine.
The Mets spent the first five innings playing like a team that was tired from a long flight, and fighting a letdown after one of their most dramatic comeback wins of the year. They made outs quickly and quietly, and after five innings, Dodgers pitcher Rubby De La Rosa had a 2-0 lead and a no-hitter in the works. But it all unraveled in the sixth, as the Mets, showing the perseverance that has come to define them, smashed three straight doubles inside the right field line, by Pagan, Beltran, and Daniel Murphy, leading to a three-run outburst that sent De La Rosa to the showers, and the Mets to their second straight win.
Bay survived another collision with the left field wall, and even knocked in an insurance run in the 8th. By the time pinch-hitter Eugenio Velez struck out to end the game, the big Dodger crowd was booing.
The Mets know that feeling well. For now at least, they deserve nothing but cheers.