'Fastest 90 of his life': Dom's sprint sparks Amazin' rally

April 26th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- As Dominic Smith slid across the dirt, left hand extended, Jeff McNeil motored around third base with the potential go-ahead run. McNeil’s run was a luxury, if it was a run at all. What mattered -- in that moment, the only thing that mattered -- was for Smith to beat Giovanny Gallegos to the bag.

Fully horizontal, Smith slapped the base with his hand. Gallegos, the opposing pitcher, touched it a fraction of a second later. Umpire Mark Wegner splayed his arms to each side. What could have been the final out of the game instead became a go-ahead, two-run infield single, allowing the Mets’ magical early-season run to continue with a 5-2 triumph over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

“Everybody’s got a hand in this,” said starting pitcher Max Scherzer, whose seven scoreless innings kept the Mets in the game. “Everybody’s got a hand in doing something for the team.”

On this night, it began with Scherzer and seemed destined to end there; the Mets, despite proving prolific offensively over their first 17 games, couldn’t do much of anything against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.

Their impotence finally dissolved in the ninth, when Eduardo Escobar poked a one-out single back up the middle. With two outs, Mark Canha followed with a grounder to third base, which nine-time Gold Glover Nolan Arenado fielded awkwardly before overthrowing first base. Escobar scored and, then when McNeil followed with a double, the Mets found themselves with the tying run just 90 feet from home.

That’s when Smith, who has found himself on the bench more often than not despite Robinson Canó’s deep early-season slump, came to the plate. Facing Gallegos, Smith hit the ball perhaps a little too hard; when Paul Goldschmidt managed to knock it down behind first base, there appeared to be enough time for him to throw out the runner. But Gallegos was late in breaking for first, giving Smith just enough time to beat him to the bag. His sprint speed topped out at 27.5 feet per second, according to Statcast data, more than a full foot per second fleeter than his average sprint this season.

“Fastest 90 of his life,” quipped McNeil.

“I felt slow,” Smith said, laughing. “But I was trying to run hard.”

The rest of the victory seemed like a formality, particularly after Brandon Nimmo hit a two-run homer to increase New York’s margin for error. Edwin Díaz nailed down the save and that was that. The Mets not only managed to avoid being shut out for the first time this season, but managed to pull off one of their best wins on the young season. Manager Buck Showalter called it “a great night for our organization and our fans.”

“These are games that you can kind of reach back for and remember why you do all this,” Showalter said.

In all their answers regarding their hot start, Showalter and others have been careful to note how long the season is. It’s a lesson they learned last year, when the team held first place for 114 days, only to finish third in the NL East.

But this is a different cast of characters, seemingly resilient even to the loss of ace Jacob deGrom, whose timeline remains as murky as ever following his latest MRI. The Mets are winning without him, thanks to contributions from plenty of others. They’re doing it with timely hitting and aggressive baserunning -- two attributes that have rarely been hallmarks for them in recent history. And they’re doing it nearly every night.

“We’re just in the flow of things,” Scherzer said. “We’ve come out of the gates pretty well, but we haven’t won everything yet. April’s April, but things get hairy here in the next few months. That’s when we’ll get tested. But it’s good to come and face good teams -- obviously St. Louis has a great team -- to be able to come in here and compete against them really well.”