There are better teams than the Mets, all you have to do is look at the standings. And though they have been in first place in the NL East every day since May 8, they may even get passed soon by the Phillies -- the only other team in the division besides the Mets over .500 at the moment.
But one thing the Mets have established by now, even when they aren’t hitting or aren’t pitching or both, is that nobody in baseball has been tougher, or better at taking a punch this season, than they have.
The Mets did it again on Sunday against the Pirates after a weekend in which maybe only the Phoenix Suns felt more knocked down in sports.
Here’s what happened to the Mets in Pittsburgh before they even started the last game of a three-game series against the Pirates:
They found out that Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher on the planet but only when he is healthy, is going back on the injured list with more tightness in his right forearm.
Found out that Francisco Lindor, who had really started to play after a nightmare beginning to his career with the Mets, is not just going on the IL as well, but going on with an oblique injury, which means that nobody knows when Frankie Lindor might be back on the field.
It gets better. Or worse.
On Saturday night the Mets blew a 6-0 lead, saw their bullpen give up nine runs in the last two innings, the last four coming off a two-out, walk-off grand slam hit by Jacob Stallings off Mets closer Edwin Diaz who, as they say, was having another moment in the ninth inning.
Finally on Sunday, as if to top -- or bottom -- things off, the team’s second-best pitcher after deGrom this season, Taijuan Walker, gave up six runs in bottom of the first on Sunday, which made it 11 for the Pirates over their last two innings. The highlight -- or lowlight -- of all that was a roller down the third-base line with the bases loaded that Walker thought was foul. Walker tried to glove-sweep the ball into the dugout, only the ball touched the line as he did. So a dribbler that had gone about thirty feet, tops, ended up clearing the bases. And now the Pirates were ahead 6-0.
Walker didn’t make it out of the first inning. Neither did manager Luis Rojas, who got tossed, because he thought Kevin Newman’s ball was foul, too. And the first-place Mets were about to get swept by the last-place Pirates.
Except the Mets then did what they have been doing all season, after every bad loss and every injury and every new call-up: The Mets got up
They sure did. Now it was the Mets coming all the way back from 0-6 down to win, 7-6, on a Michael Conforto two-run homer in the top of the ninth. They were on their way to Cincinnati, leading the Phillies by two games instead of one. Staggered again by a flurry of punches. Still on top of the East. Even still a game better, record-wise, than the Yankees.
“We’re going to continue to expect to win,” Conforto said when Sunday’s game was over. “That’s just the culture we’ve built. Obviously there’s some adversity we have to face, but up to this point, it feels like we’ve thrived on that adversity. It’s only going to bring us closer together.”
Nearly half of the Mets' Opening Day lineup has spent extended time on the IL this season: Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis. Davis, who was gone from the lineup for nearly three months, came back and looked like he was going to be a home run hero for the Mets on Saturday night before the Pirates came back on his team. Conforto has slumped badly since he came back from a hamstring injury, and really was a Mets home run hero on Sunday.
The Mets have seen so many starting pitchers go down -- starting with the great deGrom -- you lose count: deGrom has lost time, Marcus Stroman has, David Peterson. Joey Lucchesi is gone for the year with a UCL tear. Noah Syndergaard is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Carlos Carrasco, who came to the Mets in the trade that brought them Lindor, still hasn’t pitched, though he is supposed to be getting closer to being back on the mound.
Of course, the Mets have benefited from the Braves and Nationals and Marlins all still being under .500 at this point in the season. But when you look at everything that has happened to the Mets so far, you can make the case that they should be right in there with them.
Only they aren’t.
Now, they have lost their best pitcher -- everybody’s best pitcher -- to the IL again. They lose their most talented player in Lindor, who was just beginning to show New York how much game he has. They are in Cincinnati, then play the Jays and Braves and Reds at home before the Trade Deadline. But for now, they are still standing. Staggered, but still in first in the East.
“I’m very proud of this group,” Rojas, a terrific manager, said after his team’s comeback on Sunday.
He ought to be.