'We needed that': Mets flip script with big 9th-inning rally

May 26th, 2024

NEW YORK -- Manager Carlos Mendoza was in the midst of explaining ’s clutch gene, his aptitude for coming through when the Mets most need him to, when the skipper qualified his team’s latest victory with the seven words that best described its importance: “Especially with the way we’ve been playing.”

Losers of five in a row heading into Sunday, the Mets had seen their playoff odds reduced from a reasonable chunk to a fractional sliver. Their stars were not performing. The various elements of their roster were not properly syncing up. Warning signs of another Trade Deadline selloff were beginning to surface on a near-daily basis.

To be clear: one victory is not enough to eliminate such narratives. But when ’s walk-off single touched down on the left-field grass to give the Mets a 4-3 win over the Giants at Citi Field, it at least provided a piece of evidence that this team is not, in fact, dead before Memorial Day.

“We needed that,” Mendoza said.

And so the Mets achieved it, despite appearing lifeless for much of the afternoon and again receiving little production from their stars. Instead, it was a trio of less-heralded players who provided the most crucial contributions, including Narváez, Bader and Adrian Houser.

After Houser (with an assist from Bader, who robbed Matt Chapman of a homer) gave the Mets four innings of one-run ball following a demotion to the bullpen, the club engineered its only extended rally of the afternoon when Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Martinez led off the bottom of the ninth with consecutive singles. Giants reliever Tyler Rogers subsequently hit Jeff McNeil with a pitch to load the bases, giving Bader a chance to line a game-tying double down the left-field line.

Giants manager Bob Melvin responded by walking Brett Baty to reload the bases, knowing the Mets could not pinch-hit for Narváez and leave themselves without a catcher for extra innings. It was hardly an ideal matchup for the Mets, considering Narváez had entered the day 0-for-27 at Citi Field. But when Rogers submarined an 0-1 sinker over the heart of the plate, Narváez blooped it into shallow left-center field over a shortstop positioned to cut down the potential game-winning run at home.

As McNeil crossed the plate with that run, the Mets spilled out of their dugout to mob Narváez, while a sellout crowd of 41,016 -- inflated thanks to the holiday weekend and a Hello Kitty bobblehead giveaway -- roared its approval.

“That was a fun game,” Bader said. “That was awesome.”

Well aware that they are still not close to digging completely out of their hole, the Mets nonetheless reveled in this one. They needed to. For the better part of May, the team had squandered similar opportunities, unable to play the type of cohesive baseball necessary for sustained success. “There’s no way around it -- we’ve been struggling,” was how starting pitcher Sean Manaea explained the situation, and one win wasn’t enough to change that in an instant.

But Bader pointed to the way the Mets had operated throughout their losing streak as evidence that they would eventually emerge from it. At no point have players felt like they’ve lacked the talent or work ethic to turn around their season. They entered Sunday certainly concerned that things might not fall into place in time but still confident that the situation would improve over time.

Before Sunday’s game, Francisco Lindor arrived at Citi Field in a sleeveless summer shirt, changed into his baseball clothes, then spent a long while alone in front of his locker, reviewing the nuances of his swing with a bat in hand. The rewards did not come immediately; Lindor finished 1-for-4. But it was the type of process that he and others feel will eventually pay dividends.

For some players, it already has. Narváez was unlikely to go 0-for-the-season at home. Houser was confident in a series of mechanical tweaks that had resulted in better velocity, if not better results, in recent starts.

If star players such as Lindor, Pete Alonso and others can follow suit, the Mets believe that they can save their season while it’s still there for the saving.

“Still a lot of moments to come,” Narváez said. “I don’t think it’s just this win. Definitely, this win is going to help. But I think moving forward, there’s a lot of things to come.”