WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In a way, this season looked a lot like the last few for the Mets on Thursday night. Jacob deGrom was routinely brilliant in three perfect innings, striking out seven, throwing several pitches over 100 mph seemingly without breaking a sweat, finishing off the first inning by getting Steven Souza, Jr. to swing and miss at a 94 mph offering that looked as if it should have been against the law in the state of Florida.
After that, the Mets -- who never seem to score very much when deGrom is on the mound -- got just one run on a Pete Alonso homer to win, 1-0. So deGrom pitched like the best pitcher on the planet and the Polar Bear went deep.
Same old, same old for the Mets, right?
Except things aren’t exactly the same for the Mets this spring, because even though Frankie Lindor went 0-for-4 on this night, there he was in a blue Mets jersey, batting second between Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, running out to shortstop for the bottom of the first after hitting a pretty good shot to left field off Zack Greinke (no slouch himself) that suddenly died before it got to the wall in left-center.
Oh, yeah. Lindor is a Met. And just by putting on a Mets uniform this spring, Lindor is one of the most talented players the Mets have ever had, even if his best work -- so far -- has been in Cleveland.
This conversation isn’t about pitchers. The late Tom Seaver will always be the greatest Met of them all. This is about position players. No one knows if the 27-year old Lindor will get a rich, long-term contract extension from the Mets before he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. But if Lindor does get that kind of extension, as many believe he will, it isn’t hyperbole at all to suggest that he has the chance, if blessed with good health, to end up as the greatest two-way player the Mets have ever had.
Here is a list of the best position players to play for the Mets, in no particular order:
Gary Carter: He had been a star in Montreal, already on his way to the Hall of Fame, before he got to New York. But in his first year with the Mets, he hit 32 homers and had 100 RBIs as a catcher. The next year, the year of the ’86 Mets, he hit 24 homers and had 105 RBIs.
Keith Hernandez: He never had the MVP Award season on offense that he’d had in St. Louis. But in his first four full seasons in New York, Hernandez batted third, averaged nearly 90 RBIs a season from 1984-87 without ever hitting more than 18 homers, and continued to be as great a defensive first baseman as the game has ever seen.
Darryl Strawberry: He was on his way to his own Hall of Fame career, and being called the best Mets hitter of them all, before he left New York for Los Angeles and began to sabotage his immense talent. But in his best four power seasons, he had 39 homers with 104 RBIs, 39 and 101, 37 and 108, and 28 and 99.
Carlos Beltrán: He only played four full seasons with the Mets, but Beltrán was something to see while he was there. His best year -- even if it ended with him taking a called third strike to end Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals -- was 2006, when he hit 41 homers with 116 RBIs and carried the ’06 Mets as much as David Wright did.
Wright: Perhaps the most star-crossed Mets position player of them all, because of injuries. His career effectively ended five years ago, even if he made a brief farewell appearance in 2018. But when he was young and it was all ahead of him, here were Wright’s best offensive years: 27 homers and 102 RBIs with a .306 average; 26 homers, 116 RBIs, .311; 30 homers, 107 RBIs, .325; 33 homers, 124 RBIs and .302; 29 homers, 103 RBIs and .283.
Mike Piazza: Over a decade after they traded for one Hall of Fame catcher, the Mets did it again with Piazza. His best offensive year was also a World Series year for the Mets, with them eventually losing a five-game Subway Series to the Yankees. He hit 38 homers in that 2000 season, with 113 RBIs and a .324 batting average. He also hit the most famous home run in Mets history, and one of the most famous in baseball history, against the Braves, the night baseball returned after Sept. 11, 2001.
José Reyes: He was a shortstop the way Lindor is, and was the same kind of streak of light when he played next to Wright. Reyes hit .337 one year to win the NL batting title, stole at least 60 bases three times and scored as many as 122 runs. The most triples he had in a season was 19. But during every single one of them, watching Reyes going from home to third felt like as good a show as there was in baseball.
There are others, of course there are. Pete Alonso already has a 53-homer season in the books, the all-time rookie record. Michael Conforto may just be getting started. Cleon Jones had the season of his life for the Miracle Mets of 1969, hitting .340. Edgardo Alfonzo was a Silver Slugger winner at second base in '99. Todd Hundley once hit 41 home runs in a season. Kevin McReynolds, another ’86 Met, finished third in the NL MVP voting in '88. And Mets fans will always have a special place in their hearts for Mookie Wilson.
Now, here comes Francisco Lindor, who smiles his way through a season the way Mookie once did. Mets fans are about to find out how good he really is -- and what a great Met he can be if he sticks around.