Mets hope Alvarez's late-game 'theatrics' help turn the tide

Rookie catcher's 2-out, 2-strike 9th-inning blast powers rally, 4th straight victory

July 6th, 2023

PHOENIX -- spun in a half circle, turning to face the visiting dugout at Chase Field, where his teammates had already spilled onto the field. Alvarez screamed, pounded his chest with his fist, then raised both arms to flex his biceps. The rest of the Mets roared their approval, enveloped by the moment and aware of its implications.

Alvarez had just hit a game-tying solo homer with two outs in the ninth, setting up a 2-1 Mets victory that Mark Canha helped deliver with a go-ahead triple two batters later. Down to his final strike, Alvarez once again changed the narrative. He made a winner out of Kodai Senga, who deserved nothing less than that after eight masterful innings with a career-high-tying 12 strikeouts.

Alvarez sent a no-longer-reeling Mets team to its fourth consecutive victory. And then he danced. He flexed. He whooped and howled his way around the bases.

“I did everything to celebrate that moment,” Alvarez said, laughing along with his interpreter.

“You can always count on theatrics from him,” added Canha.

Senga called it “amazing.” Manager Buck Showalter noted that Alvarez “doesn’t shy away from the moment,” which has been more undeniably true this week than at any point in his career. On Tuesday, Alvarez hit a go-ahead, two-run homer to send the Mets to victory. A night later, he added a game-tying shot to his growing list of clutch performances.

Earlier this season, Alvarez hit a game-tying, three-run homer against the Rays with two outs in the ninth. He’s now the third Mets rookie to hit multiple game-tying homers in the ninth inning or later, joining Pete Alonso (three times in 2019) and Tim Harkness (twice in 1963).

“In that moment, the way that I think about it is, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” Alvarez said. “The worst that can happen is we lose the game. So at the end of the day, what I try to do is I try to go out there and compete, try to go battle, and really try to give the best of myself.”

Through efforts such as his, the Mets are beginning to resemble the never-say-die, 101-win version of themselves that spent most of last summer in first place. These Mets are likely too far back of the Braves to make a serious run at the NL East crown, but even with a 40-46 record, they’re still well within striking distance of a Wild Card berth.

More than that, they’re less than four weeks away from a Trade Deadline that could shape their chances to be a contender.

Winning now gives general manager Billy Eppler more justification to be a buyer -- or at the very least, not a seller -- at that juncture.

So it was heartening for Senga to stand in the dugout and watch Alvarez round the bases, and not just for personal reasons. In arguably his most dominant start of the season, Senga matched his career best with a dozen strikeouts while setting new highs in innings (eight) and pitches (107). It was likewise energizing for Alvarez to watch his handiwork result in a victory, after Canha drove home the go-ahead run and David Robertson capped things with a clean ninth. And it was memorable -- albeit a bit dangerous -- for Brett Baty.

One of Alvarez’s best friends in baseball, Baty had followed the catcher’s homer with a two-out single, setting him up to race around the bases to score on Canha’s triple. When Baty returned to the dugout, Alvarez greeted his teammate with such a thunderous high five that he feared bruising him.

“Everyone was just super excited,” Alvarez said.

And why not? This was easily one of the most dynamic wins of the season for the Mets.

The question is what comes next. Over the past decade-plus, the Mets have filled many disappointing seasons with isolated highlights. Wednesday could ultimately become another example.

Or, if the Mets keep winning, it could represent a bona fide turning point of their season.

“Before this little streak we’re on, it felt like it was going the other way a lot of the time,” Canha said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit when we needed it. It’s nice to see that starting to go our way.”