Something happened on the way to 2022. The Mets did whatever they could to make sure they were no longer the little team from Queens.
The goal was perfect, the execution exemplary.
Using Steve Cohen’s capital, the due diligence of a revamped front office and the tone set by a new manager we’ve known forever — the two baseball people both former Yankees — they emerged from the shadow of the perennially winning juggernaut from The Bronx to become a force in Flushing.
If they aren’t quite the equal of the Bronx Bombers yet — and the standings will tell you they still have a way to go — the Mets stand as no less than a solid threat to supremacy in New York. The Yankees remain baseball’s most imposing team, with very likely its best player, a larger-than-life superstar who’s a fitting symbol for a team that carries the potential to intimidate.
The Mets, it turns out, don’t scare easy.
Like the heavyweight who lands a blow across the kisser right after the bell rings, Judge and his slugging cohort Anthony Rizzo smacked back-to-back homers within the first five minutes of the game. No matter. It wasn’t long before the Mets showed what they are made of — which is nothing resembling many past teams from Queens.
Ten minutes later, the Mets tied the score. A couple minutes after that, they had a two-run lead they would not relinquish in their 6-3 victory at Citi Field.
As hard as the Yankees hit, that’s how hard the Mets hit back, with homers by first-year Mets Starling Marte and Eduardo Escobar matching the Yankees’ estimable power. In many respects it was the best sign of the season.
The best signs of the winter are the five big contracts that rounded out an underachieving team. Most think of it as four — the four players who bolstered a roster. In ascending order of import (and dollars), those were Escobar, Mark Canha, Marte and Max Scherzer.
The fifth, of course, was the former Yankees manager, Buck Showalter, who brought smarts, gravitas and, perhaps best of all, a new and improved personal demeanor built on years of experience in managing gigs across the country.
The result is: the Mets have the best of Buck.
He’s still the brilliant tactician, but he’s much more mellow now. He has been ejected no times this season, which is exactly five fewer than his Yankees counterpart Aaron Boone, who began his career as an easygoing guy but has learned to fight for every strike.
Showalter defers to others, and even understands that others can do a good job. He seems to respect his bosses, which wasn’t always the case. And of course he respects the big boss, Uncle Stevie, who made this all happen in a hurry, thanks almost as much to his determination as to his largesse.
Buck was always funny. Now it comes out. Like when a questioner prefaced a question about the larger league, and the rival Braves, by suggesting he wanted to speak “globally.” Showalter came back with: “I thought we were going to talk about the Hiroshima Carp. That’d be a real World Series.”
Get all the latest live and local coverage from the New York Post as the Yankees and Mets face off for Game 1 of the 2022 Subway Series.
The World Series is actually something on everyone’s mind, as, believe it or not, this was the first Subway Series matchup where both teams are in first place. The Yankees are there by mile in baseball’s best division while the Mets are sweating it out against an arch nemesis who’ve had their number — those Braves.
The Mets aren’t going to give it away like they’ve done in the past though. They bounced back from deficits against excellent opponents.
They matched Aaron Judge’s MVP campaign with one of their own. Judge was on base three times, and Pete Alonso was too. “MVP” chants rang out for both guys. Judge is in the pole position in the American League (except for a few people still understandably in the thrall of Shohei Ohtani). Alonso may not be ahead in the NL race but he is certainly a threat to become the first ever Mets MVP.
And they play through mistakes. Francisco Lindor was caught between second and third for no earthly reason, and it seemed like just a blip in a game full of ups and downs, and back and forth.
They made plays when they had to, which was something of a switch. Jeff McNeil scooped up DJ LeMahieu’s roller barehanded and Alonso’s scooped up McNeil’s throw for two good plays in one.
And, in the end, the key at-bats favored the Mets, and not by a little. In the eighth inning Showalter called upon his own version of Mariano Rivera in Edwin Diaz, baseball’s best closer who has an incomparable strikeout rate of 51 percent, to face the potential tying run in pinch-hitter Joey Gallo, who has a strikeout rate of 45 percent. While mathematically speaking that didn’t add up to a strikeout chance of 96 percent, it sure felt like it.
Gallo whiffed. An inning later, the Mets won Round 1. And better still, it didn’t feel like such an upset.