NEW YORK -- The nights can get awfully long for second-division teams at this time of year. Summer heat can combine with dwindling crowds and the realization that the dream just isn't going to happen this season, adding up to a grinding portion of the baseball calendar.
And while the 2013 Mets fit the part in the standings, they don't look it on the field. They're not dead yet, not by any means. Right-hander Jenrry Mejia has stepped up alongside fellow phenoms Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler to give Mets fans reason to be excited on a regular basis.
Never mind that they're down their best player (David Wright) and their closer (Bobby Parnell). Thanks in large part to that trio of exciting young pitchers, the Mets are feisty, tough to beat, and downright watchable more nights than not these days.
"Every time out you can see them learning and getting better," said catcher John Buck. "That's what's fun. Even if they have a bad outing, these type of guys are good enough to learn from it and gain from it, rather than regress. That's the exciting part."
Or, as manager Terry Collins succinctly put it, "to win, you've got to pitch."
Mejia made it three strong starts in as many opportunities on Tuesday, striking out seven Rockies over 5 1/3 innings as the Mets beat Colorado, 3-2. He has 18 strikeouts in 18 1/3 big league innings this year. He'll be followed by Harvey on Wednesday, offering the potential for a pretty entertaining couple of nights at Citi Field.
As for Mejia, a pitcher once seemingly ticketed for a career in relief may be reclaiming his shot to remain in the rotation. If he stays healthy, it appears he has the stuff.
"I've never pitched like that," Mejia said. "I feel pretty good. I think I'm going to be a starter for all my career. I don't know what they think about it, but that's what I think. Now I have all my pitches under control."
Mejia didn't receive a decision on Tuesday, but on a night when New York struggled for offense, there wouldn't have been a winning rally if not for his work. He mixed a dancing, darting fastball with a variety of offspeed offerings to baffle a powerful Rockies lineup.
"Four-seam, and two-seamer, he changes speeds with those," Buck said. "Then he throws a slider, a curveball and a changeup. [His fastball] cuts and sinks and dives all over the place."
Mejia's story is familiar to Mets fans: former top prospect sidetracked by injury issues, now healthy and getting another chance. If he were only a good story, though, it wouldn't matter. Right now, he's a pretty good big league pitcher.
Mejia was charged with two runs on Tuesday, but only one was earned, and both had mitigating circumstances. Charlie Blackmon's pinch-hit homer came on the third pitch after a lengthy delay resulting from an injury to umpire Manny Gonzalez.
For most of his time in the game, he was untouchable. He struck out Troy Tulowitzki twice, and allowed just two hits before the delay.
A lot of things can go wrong with pitchers, especially young pitchers with injury histories. But it's not unreasonable to start getting a little excited about Mejia.
And if Mejia is good, and Wheeler is good, and we know Harvey is good, that's a nice start. Mix in the promise of youngsters like Wilmer Flores and Travis D'Arnaud -- even Juan Lagares -- and there's something here.
It's not a contend-right-away kind of something. But it's something. And in the meantime, the Mets are playing pretty good ball. They're tough to beat. And more than once in a while, they're fun to watch.
"Guys here are trying to show they belong to stay here, they need to stay here," Collins said. "I think the energy is going to continue to, it's got to stay up."