Mets punch ticket to October with grander goals ahead

September 20th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Almost exactly one year ago, the Mets watched from their dugout as the Brewers clinched a playoff berth at American Family Field. It had been a disappointing season for the Mets, whose promise never seemed to coalesce into quite enough success. As the Brewers celebrated at their expense, Francisco Lindor looked inward.

“It hurt me a little bit,” Lindor recalled. “I was saying stuff like, ‘I wish I had what they had.’”

Recounting that story late Monday night, Lindor stood in front of his locker while various Mets teammates milled around him wearing royal blue T-shirts emblazoned with the words “October rise.” A table that once contained dozens of glasses of non-alcoholic sparkling wine was running nearly empty. Some players had switched to beer. Others drank straight from a golden bottle of champagne, which teammates presented to Max Scherzer in recognition of his 200th career victory. The Mets had just won a 7-2 game over the Brewers to clinch their first playoff berth since 2016. Lindor no longer needed to wish.

“It’s been some hard-fought years of either just straight losing or thinking that we were going to make it and then being disappointed in the end,” said outfielder Brandon Nimmo, a Met since 2016 who has seen the franchise play exactly one playoff game. “It’s been some hard years in there, especially in this market. They expect you to win.”

Grander goals still exist for the Mets, who did not spray champagne in the customary manner upon ensuring at least a berth in the National League Wild Card Series. They did not dogpile on the pitcher’s mound. Instead, when Adam Ottavino struck out Hunter Renfroe to make things official, their infielders and outfielders gathered separately for group hugs and acknowledgements. As those players worked their way back into the dugout, manager Buck Showalter waited to embrace each of them individually.

Then they returned to their clubhouse for a series of short speeches, including one in which owner Steve Cohen, who had flown in from New York earlier in the day, told the Mets that he’s “excited for them and what’s possible.”

For many around the franchise, such possibilities began when Cohen purchased the team in Nov. 2020. In the nearly two years since that time, Cohen has remade the Mets’ front office and expanded their payroll. He spent $341 million to lock up Lindor and another $130 million to bring in Scherzer. He hired general manager Billy Eppler and manager Buck Showalter. Ask those around the club, and they’ll trace most of the culture differences back to Cohen.

Jacob deGrom is one who can see such transformations from a wider lens. The longest-tenured Met, deGrom is the only player who was also here for the team’s last extended postseason run in 2015. He called those games “some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball” and “one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.” At the time, deGrom felt certain the Mets would be postseason contenders every year. When disappointment followed, deGrom began to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to make the playoffs.

“You celebrate this,” deGrom said. “To go that long without being back, that makes this special.”

To a man, deGrom’s teammates agreed, saying that while the Mets intend to pursue the NL East title with all the fervor they can muster, their playoff clinch deserved an acknowledgement as well. So they moved around the clubhouse, drinking beer and taking selfies and spitting jokes at one another. Pete Alonso, whose three-run homer in the fourth inning proved to be the most impactful play of the clincher, yelled for his teammates to shower him with “ketchup and mustard.” They obliged, staining his neck and T-shirt red.

Later, in a quieter corner of the clubhouse, Cohen stopped Alonso, Nimmo and Eduardo Escobar to tell them how proud he was of their accomplishments. He huddled with those three for several moments, lauding them for “the way you guys get along with each other.”

Cohen called the Mets’ playoff clinch the “first step” of a longer journey, saying that “when we go forward, there will be bigger celebrations.” The Mets certainly hope that to be true. As the third MLB team to clinch a playoff berth, the Mets will set their eyes on grander goals as soon as Tuesday, when they will return to American Family Field for another matchup against the Brewers. The Braves loom just a game back in the NL East.

There is little time for rest, but for one night, at least, there was time enough to celebrate, time enough to reflect, time enough to shed the disappointments of the past.

“It means something to our organization, and it means something to our fans to be in the playoffs,” Scherzer said. “Those are the moments you play for. We also realize there are bigger moments to be had in the future. So it’s smiles today, but it’s grinding tomorrow.”