Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Riding The Wave

In Late August of 2007, the Mets kicked off a crucial 10-game road trip in Philadelphia, against a hard-charging, up and coming Phillies team that was out for blood. The Phillies exploited every Met weakness, got every key hit and got every break over those 4 games, swept the series and rode that wave to a Division Title. Since then, well, we know what's happened.

Now 8 years later, the shoe is somewhat on the other foot. Those up-and-coming Phillies are now a shell of the team they once were, with yet another piece of their glory years, Chase Utley, jettisoned to the Dodgers, who may as well call themselves West Phillies since they've picked up half the Phils' infield. Meanwhile, the Mets are the hard-charging, up-and-coming team that's out for blood. Since the calendar flipped to August, the switch has come on for the Mets and after 4 months of not really being able to get out of their own way, now, they're just steamrolling the lesser opponents that get in their way. The Phillies are one of those now-lesser opponents, and while the Mets had done a good job of handling them to this point, on Monday they took handling a lesser opponent to a whole other level.

It makes sense that the Mets would go into Colorado, face a team that can't pitch at altitude and score 33 runs in 3 games. But the Mets outdid themselves on Monday, setting a pair of club records with 15 Extra Base hits and a mind-boggling 8 Home Runs in a 16-7 thrashing of the Phillies. Needless to say, the game was at Steroid Field, where the jet stream was obviously blowing in the Mets' favor. This happens sometimes, though it feels like a lifetime ago that the Mets hit 7 Home Runs in a game at this same locale. The Mets also scored 16 on that night, but in that season, there was no buildup to this kind of game. There was no struggle, no trade and no resurgence, and also no sense of urgency, because that game was in the middle of April. Monday's was in the thick of a Pennant Race that continues to tilt ever so gradually in the Mets favor.

It's also worth mentioning that in the midst of this offensive barrage, the Mets overcame a 7-2 deficit in the process.

The story of this game after 3 innings was more that Jacob deGrom just didn't have anything. He gave up a pair of 3-run Home Runs to Ryan Howard's carcass and Domonic Brown and generally looked out of sorts. In what was easily his worst start of the season, deGrom was gone before he could get out of the 3rd inning. On the road, against an opponent they should be handling, and they end up getting thrashed.

But oh, they were just getting warmed up.

By this point, the Mets had already hit two Home Runs, the first off the bat of David Wright, who returned to the lineup and promptly smoked a pitch into the Upper Deck in his first AB. Juan Lagares also hit one in the top of the 3rd inning. In the 4th, Wright singled, and then Wilmer Flores and Travis d'Arnaud belted back-to-back Home Runs; d'Arnaud's being hit so far out to Center Field that it disrupted the line at the Cheesesteak factory. This got the Mets to 7-5. In the 5th, Flores attacked again, hitting his 2nd Home Run of the game, a 3-run moonshot tucked just inside the Left Field foul pole that put the Mets ahead. Two batters later, Michael Cuddyer joined the party with another Home Run. One inning later, Daniel Murphy chimed in with the record-tying 7th Home Run, a ball hit so well that Murphy did his own unique style of hot dogging.

After that, the Mets resorted to more conventional ways of scoring runs. d'Arnaud drove home the Mets 12th and 13th runs with a double, and Juan Lagares singled home a run in the 7th. It took until the 9th for the Mets to reach the seats again, although you kind of had a sense it was coming, with Adam Loewen, the Pitcher-turned-Outfielder-turned-Pitcher on the mound just trying to throw strikes and end this Philly nightmare. But Yoenis Cespedes seemed bound and determined to get in on the action. After all, if the Mets were going to set a club record for Home Runs, wouldn't something be a bit afoul if Cespedes was kept off the board? But he wasn't. His drive clanged off the front of the 2nd deck in Left Field and the Mets had their record setting Home Run.

A lot was made after the game about the Mets turning it on like this coincidentally falling on the night David Wright returned to the lineup. While it's nice to have Wright back, at least from a leadership standpoint, I don't see how Wright got everyone so juiced up that they started hitting Home Runs all over the place. They've been doing this for the past few weeks already, while Wright was beating up on A-ball pitching. Wright's presence makes an already good lineup a little deeper, but clearly the addition of Cespedes, combined with the midseason resurgence of players like Flores and the return of d'Arnaud that have really given the Mets lineup some teeth. People are now starting to notice just how good Flores in particular has played since the no-trade and that maybe there's more to him than just a sentimental cult hero who cried on the field. It's the lesser guys stepping up and playing better that's making the difference. Earlier in the season, Flores was shoved into a power hitting/run producing role that he really wasn't mentally equipped for and the performance showed. Given the opportunity to be more of a wheel-turner and he has absolutely shined.

The other unsung hero of this game, who'll get no ink at all is Sean Gilmartin, who came into a completely untenable situation after deGrom left, and all he did was pitch 3.1 shutout innings, keeping the Phillies off the board while his team came back. And he even chipped in with a single and scored on Murphy's Home Run.

Washington, of course, was off tonight and so the Mets now lead by 5 1/2 games, their largest 1st place lead of the season and the first time they've been this far ahead since the Clinton Administration, or at least it feels that way.

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