'Irregulars' key in Mets' twin-bill sweep of Braves

Jankowski, Smith, Guillorme deliver after club picks them over Canó

May 4th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Had the Mets decided to keep Robinson Canó on their roster this week rather than designate him for assignment, it’s not entirely clear whose spot he might have taken. It could have been Dominic Smith or Luis Guillorme, both of whom have Minor League options remaining. It could have even been Travis Jankowski, whose refreshing brand of self-awareness prompted him to quip late Tuesday: “No one’s going to be buying my jersey.”

“But I still think that there’s a big part of what I bring to the table that is very important and very needed to winning teams and championship teams,” Jankowski said. “And I think that’s what we have in this clubhouse.”

Box scores: Game 1 | Game 2

Jankowski proved it in the first half of a Mets’ doubleheader sweep over the Braves, scoring three runs in their 5-4 matinee victory at Citi Field. Smith proved his own value in the nightcap, doubling home the first two runs of a 3-0 win. Guillorme added multiple difficult defensive plays, doing his own part to reward the Mets’ faith in him.

“That’s just the beauty of it,” Smith said. “Everybody in this lineup can contribute on any given night to help the team win, and that’s what makes a good ballclub.”

One of the hallmarks of Buck Showalter’s managerial style is an unyielding commitment to giving players rest. Outside of Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor, who have played in all 26 of the team’s games, every Mets regular has spent at least some time on the bench. With a doubleheader on tap Tuesday, Showalter scrawled out an unorthodox Game 1 lineup, featuring Jankowski in the leadoff spot, Guillorme at shortstop and Tomás Nido at catcher.

The game was not even minutes old when Guillorme made his first impact, diving to rob Ozzie Albies of a leadoff hit. One batter later, Guillorme ranged to his right to prevent Matt Olson from beating out a would-be shift single, and the Mets were on their way.

Jankowski led off the bottom of the inning with an infield knock, coming around to score on an Alonso single as part of a two-run rally. An inning later, Jankowski walked and scored again. In the fourth, he reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second base, moved to third on an error and jogged home on a sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Jankowski collected another infield hit, tapping a slow roller to the opposite field.

“It feels great just being able to contribute,” Jankowski said, “and cause havoc on the bases.”

That sort of speed is why Mets officials never seriously considered cutting Jankowski from their roster instead of Canó; they understood how important bench players with specialized skills can be. At greater risk were Smith, Guillorme and J.D. Davis. In a somber postgame clubhouse late Sunday night, Smith discussed the very real possibility that the Mets might send him to Triple-A Syracuse, calling it “the business of baseball.”

When they chose instead to keep Smith around, he made certain to vindicate their decision. Starting Tuesday for the first time since the Mets DFA’d Canó, Smith ripped a two-run double to the opposite field off Game 2 starter Kyle Wright, who had entered the night with a 1.13 ERA.

“It’s something that I already knew that I could do,” Smith said. “I showed it all Spring Training. I showed the team. And then the little opportunities I do get, I continue to put together good ABs, in my opinion, and hit the ball hard and well. If I’m able to do that, I’m going to force a lot of tough decisions.”

General manager Billy Eppler called the Canó decision a “baseball” move made without regard to money, status, track record or public perception. The Mets made it because they understood how well the other pieces of their roster fit, with Smith providing a left-handed bat, Davis offering righty power, Guillorme well-versed in defense and Jankowski an agent of speed. To be sure, the Mets all wish Canó was still here, too, because he was a well-liked figure in the clubhouse. But he was not producing.

The players the Mets decided to keep all are.

“It does say something about their skill,” Showalter said. “I look at them as regular irregulars. Whether it’s J.D. or Luis or Travis, not only can they do that role, but they’ve embraced it.”