Somehow, it is as if September has represented an anticlimax for the Mets following a thrilling summer replete with full houses, dramatic moments, blaring trumpets, Jacob deGrom’s return and signal victories including two straight at Citi Field against the Yankees, four out of five against the Braves, two out of three from the mighty Dodgers and a rally to remember in Philadelphia.
The temperature has cooled, the crowds have gotten smaller, the opposition is playing for nothing but pride and future employment opportunities. The Mets have not been able to rise above the elements even while in the midst of a pennant race and seeking to nail down the club’s first postseason invite since 2016.
“You don’t want to be Captain Obvious,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Our guys don’t have to be reminded about what’s going on and what’s at stake. This is not, ‘Woe is me.’ It’s just the opposite.”
The lead-in to this one was as opposite from the way the Mets had played through the guts of the season while at one point building a seven-game division lead over Atlanta.
Losing seven of 11 against a motley crew of Nats, Bucs, Marlins and Cubbies had cut the lead to one-half game. The Mets hadn’t been able to get Edwin Diaz into a game with the lead since Sept. 1.
Everyone wants to give the Mets the benefit of the doubt, but there is no recent foundation of success that facilitates generosity of spirit. Has this been a lull? Has this been a slide? Has this been the beginning of an unthinkable 2007- or 2008-type catastrophic collapse?
Or maybe this has represented just a slice of a season in which all but the most exceptional teams endure the ebbs and flows of the 162-game marathon. Check out the Yankees and their parabolic 2022.
“We’re all trying to solve that riddle. You’re never as good as someone may portray us, so you’re never as bad,” Showalter said as the Mets restored some sort of order with Thursday’s 7-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Roberto Clemente Night — shouldn’t the Pirates have been at home? —while extending their lead to one game over Atlanta. “There are three or four teams that were painted as the ’27 Yankees at some point this year.
“You want to shorten the bad times and stretch out the good. We’ve done a good job shortening the challenges. This is one. There are a lot of teams that struggled in September and were real good in October. Right now, we’ve got to get to October.”
If the Mets can cut if off now, the route becomes less treacherous and with fewer potholes. There is no question that the clearest path to the World Series is winning the division, avoiding the best-of-three wild-card round, and setting up a rotation that features deGrom and Max Scherzer at the top. This is what is at stake for the Mets, who are tied in the loss column with the Braves, New York with 17 games remaining and Atlanta 19, including three at their place in the penultimate series of the season.
The Mets looked like they were playing the summer game on Thursday. Carlos Carrasco struck out a season-high 11 batters in six innings in his second straight start in which he allowed just one run. This was noteworthy for the Mets, whose starters had pitched as many as six innings in just five of the 11 immediately preceding games and whose team trailed by at least three runs after three innings in all three of their defeats this week to the Cubs.
After the right-hander fanned three in the top of the first, the Mets immediately put two on the board on a two-out double from Daniel Vogelbach, who might have experienced whiplash in going from folk hero to zero in 60. That’s what going 5-for-42 with a .119/.260/.119 slash line over a 16-game stretch will do for you.
Vogelbach was one of three bats added by GM Billy Eppler at what recently has appeared like a Bizarro Deadline. Tyler Naquin entered Thursday 8-for-45, with a .178/.278/.289 slash line over his last 22 games before going 1-for-4. Darin Ruf, who needs hits more than consonants, was 2-for-35 at .057/.125/.057 in his last 17 games.
The Mets got a couple of hits from Pete Alonso, and another RBI from Vogelbach. Mark Vientos, who later pinch hit for Vogelbach, ripped a run-scoring single for his first major league hit in his 11th at-bat. Francisco Lindor, who idolized Clemente and a number of the previous Clemente Award winners introduced on the field that included Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, hit his 24th home run to establish a single-season record for Mets shortstops.
“To do it in front of them on this night was special,” Lindor said. “Setting the record is, too, but it would mean a lot more to win the World Series.”
There is much work ahead. One victory over the Bucs does not a stretch drive make. But though there was a touch of the fall in the air, this seemed like one of those Summer Nights.