In battle between NL's best, Mets come out on top

New York takes two out of three, wins season series vs. Los Angeles

September 2nd, 2022

NEW YORK -- Terrance Gore doesn’t hang around losing teams.

Gore first made it to the big leagues in 2014, about a month before the Royals won the American League pennant. A year later, the pinch-running specialist returned in time to help Kansas City win the World Series over the Mets. Eventually, Gore made it to the Dodgers in 2020 -- they won a title, too -- before finding himself on last year’s Braves postseason roster despite not playing for them at all during the regular season.

It is, in other words, a pretty good harbinger when Gore comes to town. Thursday, he slipped into a Mets uniform and, in the eighth inning, stole a base on cue. It may have been an insignificant part of the Mets’ 5-3 win over the Dodgers at Citi Field, which secured victories in both the three-game series and the seven-game season set against the National League’s top team. But Gore’s presence nonetheless hinted at what the Mets can potentially become.

“The vibe here is the exact same vibe that I got from the Dodgers,” Gore said. “Believe it or not, it’s the exact same vibe.”

Ultimately, all of this may mean nothing in October. The Dodgers could get healthy, regain their form and remind everyone of their status as an NL juggernaut. Some other team could rise, as the Braves did a year ago. Or the Mets could simply stumble in any number of ways.

But New York’s win on Thursday served to fortify the theory that if the Mets aren’t the most dangerous team in the NL, they’re at least good enough to compete with anyone.

“They’ve got a really good team,” closer Edwin Díaz said of the Dodgers. “We showed them we have a really good team, too.”

Not only are the Mets talented, they’re also adaptable. For the fifth time in his last 13 appearances, Díaz answered manager Buck Showalter’s call in the eighth inning rather than the ninth, because the heart of the Dodgers’ order was due to bat. By that point, the Mets had already come from behind to take a three-run lead, thanks to Francisco Lindor’s all-around excellence -- he finished 2-for-4 with a game-tying RBI double, a stolen base, the go-ahead run and a sparkling play on defense -- as well as a quality pitching effort by Chris Bassitt.

But Díaz wasn’t quite himself, walking his first batter, hitting his second and coming within a few feet -- twice -- of allowing a game-tying homer. Once the second of those blasts died at the warning track for a sacrifice fly, Díaz decided to scrap his slider altogether, raring back to strike out Gavin Lux with a 102.8 mph fastball -- the hardest pitch of his career.

“I was a little bit angry because I wasn’t commanding my slider the way I wanted to,” Díaz said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to locate my fastball better.’ And that’s what I did.”

The Mets are now 36 games over .500 for the second time this season. Only three previous iterations of the team ever reached such heights. This version is on pace to finish the regular season with the second-best record in franchise history and to wrap up a playoff spot by mid-September.

The division title remains more of an open question, though things are about to become significantly easier in that arena. Now that they’ve dispatched the Dodgers, the Mets are due to play 16 consecutive games versus teams with losing records, more than half of those against the NL’s two worst clubs, the Nationals and Pirates. It’s a chance to put enough distance between themselves and the Braves that their final head-to-head series won’t matter.

That quest begins Friday. The preceding three days presented a different sort of opportunity: a chance to prove that they can hang with the best. Throughout an emotionally charged series that featured more than 119,000 fans packing Citi Field, plus thousands more keeping tabs from across the street at the US Open, the Mets achieved exactly that.

“They’ve got good pitching,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We’ve got good pitching. It’s going to be like that if we do face them in the playoffs.”

Freeman then added that “if we do face them in the playoffs, no one is going to care what happened in the regular season” -- a sentiment echoed by Bassitt, Lindor and others in the Mets’ clubhouse. And while that’s of course true, it’s hardly the point. To be the best, the Mets not only need to know they can beat the best, but that they can do so with some level of consistency.

Defeating the Dodgers four times in seven games is something the Mets will be eager to have the opportunity to do again.