ANAHEIM -- Those seeking evidence that these Mets are different -- that they are not, despite a 5-5 road trip and the Braves’ recent 11-game winning streak, headed straight into the abyss -- need look no further than the eighth inning Sunday at Angel Stadium. Nursing a slim lead all afternoon, the Mets found reason for concern when Mike Trout sauntered to the plate as the game’s potential tying run.
At that point, a good portion of Orange County began rocking. The Angels played their popular “Rally Monkey” video on the left-field scoreboard, increasing the decibels higher than they had been at any point all weekend. Yet the Mets did not panic. Buck Showalter simply walked to the mound and did something he had never done as manager of the Mets, bring closer Edwin Díaz into the game for a five-out save.
Minutes later, Trout was back on the bench. The crisis was averted. Throngs of fans began streaming for the exits, unwilling to wait around to see Díaz record the final three outs of a 4-1 Mets victory.
“He had his big-boy stuff today,” said first baseman Pete Alonso, who homered and drove in two key insurance runs to increase his National League-leading RBI total to 57. “It sucks for the other hitters.”
When Díaz struck out the side in the ninth to complete the job, the Mets officially survived their 10-game tour of the Southern California gauntlet with a .500 record. They didn’t quite thrive, but they also didn’t quite need to, considering they began this trip with a 10 1/2-game cushion in the NL East. And while that margin is down to just 5 1/2 games, things should grow easier from here for a Mets team that seems undeniably different.
“It reaffirms what I’ve thought since the spring,” Showalter said, “that we’ve got a chance to have a really good group of people that care about competing.”
These Mets, as their 5-5 record out West attested, are not perfect. They are not immune to slumps. They are not going to roll to the division title without the defending World Series champions in Atlanta having a little something to say about it.
So far, however, the Mets have proven capable of acing every test placed before them. Upon losing their first two games to open their road trip in Los Angeles, the Mets won three in a row to set themselves back on a proper course. After Alonso and Starling Marte suffered scary-looking injuries in San Diego, they returned days later looking no worse for wear. (In addition to Alonso’s performance on Sunday, Marte went 2-for-4 with a walk, an RBI double and a run scored in his return to the lineup).
When Sunday’s starter Taijuan Walker allowed hits to four of his first five batters, he adjusted his glove position to guard against pitch-tipping and struck out nine over five shutout innings the rest of the way.
Then there was Díaz, whose renaissance has occurred on a larger scale. Although Díaz has been generally effective since recovering from his nightmare 2019, he’s reached a different level early this season, leading the Majors by a wide margin with a strikeout rate of 17.05 per nine innings. He fanned five of the six batters he faced in his first five-out save since last June, including Trout on a 100 mph fastball over the outer half of the plate, and Jared Walsh on a 102 mph heater.
“I feel great,” Díaz said. “I’ve been able to do my job in every situation they ask me. Every year, I improve, so this year, I think I’m doing whatever I’ve got to do to help this team.”
Whether that means three-out saves or five-out runs of dominance, Díaz is one of many Mets capable of pulling more than his share of weight. That’s why, while this won’t be the last time the Mets face a quandary such as Trout coming to the plate as the potential tying run, it also won’t be the last time they overcome it.
“I step back and go, ‘OK, you’re lucky to be here to watch a really great pitcher against obviously a great hitter,’” Showalter said. “Today, the pitcher won.”