At potential crossroads, Mets hold on for wild win
NEW YORK -- “Results matter,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Saturday afternoon, as his team prepared to recover from consecutive late-inning losses to the Cardinals -- the type of midseason body blow that, if left unaddressed, threatened to unravel the rest of the season. Discussing his team’s strategy leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Van Wagenen offered optimism and a willingness to add assets as the Mets attempt to climb back into the National League East race.
He also added that “when that faith has waned, then different actions may dictate that response.”
In other words, if the Mets don’t spend the next six weeks winning more often than losing, they’ll have no choice but to sell off key pieces prior to the Deadline. They began their quest with a wild, 8-7 victory over the Cardinals at Citi Field, which Jeff McNeil sealed when he threw pinch-runner Jack Flaherty out at home plate to end the game.
It was a thorough win for the Mets, who received the longest home run of Pete Alonso's career and a four-hit game by J.D. Davis, but it came at a price. Noah Syndergaard departed with a right hamstring strain that could cost him a start or more.
“A win’s a win,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “It was a great play by Jeff, a heads-up play to get it in and get it home.”
The Mets led for all but a half-inning. After Dexter Fowler homered on Syndergaard’s sixth pitch of the game, Alonso struck back with a 458-foot, three-run shot off the facing of the third deck in left. The Mets tacked on three more runs by the end of the second, including a Davis solo homer. But the Cardinals chipped away throughout the game, plating three quick runs off Robert Gsellman after Syndergaard left the game due to injury.
That brought closer Edwin Diaz to the mound in the ninth with a two-run lead, which the Cardinals sliced in half on a pair of singles. Flaherty, a pitcher, entered as a pinch-runner at first, changing the complexion of the two-out popup that Kolten Wong hit to shallow right field. As McNeil and Michael Conforto both pursued the baseball, Flaherty sprinted around the bases. The ball dropped to the turf and McNeil circled around it, gaining enough forward momentum for his throw to beat Flaherty to the plate.
“Heads up by 'Squirrel,'” Davis said.
“We needed that,” McNeil added. “Hopefully, it carries on.”
The Mets moved to 34-36, continuing their Sisyphean march toward .500. Since last reaching that mark on May 28, they have edged within a game of it on four separate occasions, only to lose their ensuing contest each time. All the while, the Braves have become the clear favorites in the NL East; to them, the Phillies are their main division challenger, with the Mets and Nationals on the periphery.
“It’s a disappointment for sure,” Van Wagenen said of his team’s standing. “Our season so far has had moments of progress, moments of signs where we believe that we can make a run. ... We’ve got some work to do to get back in the race for the division.”
Mostly, Van Wagenen is pinning his hopes on the bullpen, offering optimism that Diaz and setup man Jeurys Familia can improve. To supplement them, Van Wagenen made a minor trade Saturday, acquiring reliever Brooks Pounders from the Indians. More moves could follow -- perhaps even big moves, if the Mets truly feel they can compete.
At least one factor will be the health of Syndergaard, who left in the seventh clutching his right hamstring. Yet regardless of the severity of Syndergaard’s muscle strain, the Mets know they need better performances from the 24 other players on their roster. McNeil’s throw was a start, giving them a win they very much needed. Continued success could change the narrative of their season -- both on the field and in the GM’s suite.
“I don’t think my mindset or the mission statement for this franchise has changed, that our goal is to win now and our goal is to win in the future,” Van Wagenen said. “Moves that we make will have an eye toward that. My hope and my belief is that we can be in contention over the course of the next several weeks and can continue to push that gas pedal down. As we look to beyond 2019, we'll always be opportunistic to make moves that will put us in position to accomplish our goal.”