St. Lucie Mets win first FSL title since 2006

September 21st, 2022

The St. Lucie Mets needed an improbable home run to take Game 1 of the Florida State League Championship Series. On Tuesday, though, they took full control of their destiny.

New York's Single-A affiliate took home a league title for the first time since 2006, defeating Dunedin, 6-3, at Clover Park to cap off a 4-0 playoff run. The Mets also swept the Blue Jays in the FSL Finals for the crown 16 years ago, during another undefeated run through the playoffs.

"I feel completely honored to be a part of this group," St. Lucie manager Robbie Robinson said. "With all the turnover that we've had and everything that we've accomplished over the year, we maintained a steady record. ... To have this Draft group come in and buy into the winning mentality and do their thing is a really special moment with everyone."

Though it's not uncommon for teams to have a lot of turnover, the club made 195 roster moves in 2022 with 102 different players. And despite all that, they were the only team in the FSL to have a winning record in both halves.

"We just stayed even-keeled throughout the entire year," Robinson said. "Development is going to happen in the beginning, but when we get to that game and the umpire says, 'Play ball,' we're going to compete and we're going to win this game. That was the mentality from Day 1. We are ready to go. We are going to win this thing."

It was certainly an all-around effort in the win -- all starters recorded at least one hit -- but the Mets’ recent Draft picks stepped up in big ways. Kevin Parada, the 11th overall pick this year, finished 3-for-4 with two RBI singles, while Blade Tidwell, the 52nd overall pick, struck out seven while scattering three hits and two walks across five scoreless innings.

In two starts, Tidwell fanned 13 batters across 9 2/3 spotless frames. Parada finished the playoffs 6-for-15 with two walks, three runs scored and five RBIs. But it wasn't just the catcher's offensive skills that stood out -- it was also the way he handled himself behind the dish.

"He really took ground on the receiving front and pitch calling and just making a statement. It was phenomenal to see," Robinson said. "To see him grow in such a short amount of time speaks to his athleticism and the way he can control a [pitching] staff. It blew me away at how well he did that."

Four other Mets added an RBI in the contest, including center fielder Tanner Murphy, who showed off his glove as well as his bat by nabbing a runner at the plate in the fourth to stop a potential Dunedin rally.

"Me and the coaching staff went ballistic in the dugout. We couldn't believe that that play actually happened," Robinson said. "It was a huge momentum boost for our team."

The Mets jumped out to a quick lead, scoring a run before recording an out after a double by D’Andre Smith, a balk and a single by Parada. Murphy drove in another run to give St. Lucie a 2-0 lead that ballooned to 6-0 by the fourth inning.

That lead was plenty for Tidwell to work with. He didn’t allow a hit through the first three innings and worked through a strange jam in the fifth in which he whiffed four batters. The 21-year-old struck out the first three batters, but Victor Mesia reached on a dropped third strike. A walk and a hit batsman loaded the bases, but the righty set down Cade Doughty on four pitches to escape trouble.

Dunedin scored three in the sixth and put two on with nobody out in the top of the ninth, but St. Lucie righty Paul Gervase capped off 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings with a strikeout and a double-play ball to clinch the title.

"It was the first double play we turned in all the playoffs," Robinson said with a laugh. "We did a group hug in the dugout. It's just so nice to be a part of this group of players."

The Mets secured their playoff spot in the first half of the season, playing to a 40-25 record. The club finished 2022 with 73 wins and led the league in a number of categories, including home runs (132), RBIs (536), stolen bases (208), home runs allowed (72) and strikeouts (1,345).

The organization sees it as a sign of things to come. Big league manager Buck Showalter texted Robinson before the playoffs to congratulate him, the coaches and players on all they've accomplished.

"The guys were floored," Robinson said. "It was great. ... We're trending in the right direction."