Amid charged atmosphere, Mets rise to stage
NEW YORK -- The atmosphere was foreign, aggressive, almost disconcerting, and David Wright sensed it. The Mets' last link to the 2006 club that came within a heartbeat or two of winning the pennant, Wright saw his team's new closer losing composure in the ninth inning of a two-run game, in front of the largest regular-season crowd that had ever assembled at Citi Field. So he calmly walked to the mound, gave Jeurys Familia a few throwaway words of encouragement, and returned to third base.
Familia's recovery, inducing a 3-6-1 double play to put Monday's 2-0 win over the Phillies on ice, sent a jolt through the stadium. The closer leapt off first base, pumping his fist and yelping. The dugout turned into a frat party. The stands melted into bedlam. And the Mets soaked it up. Staring into the eyes of an unnerving situation, they came away unharmed.
"They have to get used to this," manager Terry Collins said. "They cannot be intimidated by the numbers in the stands, or by the expectations."
Over the past six months, Collins has personally pumped up those expectations, calling this the most critical season of his five-year tenure as manager. For the first time in a half-decade, the Mets expect -- not hope -- to compete for a playoff berth. They expect -- not hope -- to win significantly more games than they lose.
So many of them, however, have never experienced baseball of that caliber. By expecting, they don't quite know what to expect.
Jacob deGrom, who gave the Mets 6 1/3 shutout innings Monday, owns less than a full season of experience. Familia has never saved games in anything resembling a pennant race. Juan Lagares and Travis d'Arnaud, who knocked in the Mets' two runs, are significant parts of the future but only trivial parts of the past.
Their evolutions continued on a brilliant spring day at Citi. If the Mets want to continue winning two-run games over division rivals, thwarting comeback attempts and scratching out wins when they are not at their sharpest, those players and others will need to stare down adversity without blinking.
"We know what our expectations are, and they're high," Wright said. "So we know what we want to accomplish. I'm just glad we're at the point now where we can go out and play baseball. We don't have to necessarily talk about how good we think we are. The only way to become a confident team is to become good at winning. And wins like this today will help you."
At 4-3, this is not the Mets' best start in recent seasons. But it is a start. And the Mets are buying into the message that this year may be different.
In deGrom, they have a budding ace to complement Matt Harvey. In Jerry Blevins, they have a competent lefty specialist. In Familia, they have a closer capable of generating ground balls at an elite rate. And those were just three of the primary contributors to Monday's win. The Mets have high hopes for plenty of others, from Lucas Duda to Curtis Granderson to Michael Cuddyer and beyond.
As Wright said, "I don't want to sit here and try to talk about how good we can be -- it's just words."
And words, the Mets know, can never feed atmospheres in the same way as winning.
"We've been doing a lot of yapping about how good we're going to be," Collins said. "Our fan base said, 'OK, we're going to come and see it.' So today, I think, was a big step forward for us. We're going to have some blips. We all know that. But it was a huge step forward and I hope the guys enjoyed it, because we hope to fill this place again."