You’re telling me that Buck Showalter couldn’t get back into a major league dugout for three years because teams’ owners and new-age front office personnel thought the old school manager would demand too much authority?
Oh, my goodness gracious.
The culture shift in Queens has been as dramatic as the turnaround in the Mets’ record from 77-85 in 2021 to 69-39 (and counting) this year, following their 8-5, 6-2 doubleheader sweep of the Braves on Saturday that extended their division lead to 5 ½ games … and with Jacob deGrom on tap Sunday for the finale of this five-game set, in which the home team has taken three of the first four.
Last year, fans and players were making thumbs-down gestures at one another. This year, there is mutual love flowing from the stands to the field and back again, with the Mets 30 games over .500 for the first time since 2006.
“This is what you play the game for,” Max Scherzer said after seven shutout innings of bravura work in Game 2 through which he struck out 11 while throwing a season-high 108 pitches. “We’re just playing great baseball right now.”
The Mets are playing an old-school style in which they attack the game while mixing in enough new era swagger and styling to appeal to all generations, the ones who have been here since Hobie Landrith hit a 257-foot pop fly two-run homer down the right-field line in the Polo Grounds with one man on and two men out in the ninth inning to beat Warren Spahn in April of 1962 and the ones who signed on when Scherzer signed last December.
They are playing hardball, the way Pete Alonso did while going in hard to second base to break up a double play in the third inning of the nightcap. That hustle led to a throwing error by Dansby Swanson that brought in the third run of the game. It was Alonso who later came in hard on Travis d’Arnaud and beat third baseman Austin Riley’s throw to the plate to make it 4-0.
“Donnie was a guy who didn’t run well but was a great baserunner,” Showalter said, referring to Don Mattingly. “Just because you’re not going to win some sprint contest doesn’t mean you can’t be a good baserunner.
“He takes a lot of pride in it.”
They are prepared and daring, the way Luis Guillorme was in the top of the fifth inning of Game 2. The Braves, trailing 3-0, had runners on first and third with one out. The infield was back when Ehire Adrianza rapped a ground ball to second. Rather than taking the easy out and conceding a run, Guillorme whipped an 88-mph strike to Tomas Nido, who laid a neat tag on the sliding d’Arnaud to keep Atlanta off the board.
It is being opportunistic, taking advantage of opposition errors both forced and unforced the way they did in both ends of this one. Francisco Lindor, so much more comfortable and so much more dynamic in Year 2 in New York, was on first base with two outs in the third inning of Game 1 with his team holding a 2-0 lead, when Jake Odorizzi’s pickoff throw sailed into foul territory, allowing Lindor to take second base.
Moments later, Lindor was crossing the plate on Jeff McNeil’s RBI single to right field and the Mets were up 3-0 on their way to an 8-5 victory. No small plays in this game. No small players on this team.
The Mets can run, they can hit and they can pitch. They have scored the third-most runs in the NL, trailing only the last two World Series winners, the Dodgers and the Braves. They are third in the league in batting average, second in on-base percentage and fourth in OPS. Their pitching staff is second in ERA to the Dodgers’ staff.
The bullpen was depleted entering Game 2. Edwin Diaz was unavailable after being forced into duty in the opener after the Braves scored three runs in the ninth inning. But Scherzer, as is his wont, took care of that, finishing his outing with a flourish by striking out the side in the seventh.
“To go seven, that’s my job,” said Scherzer, 9-2 with a 1.98 ERA. “I pride myself on that.”
On Sunday, deGrom will make his first start at home since July 7, 2021. There are four more games between these teams to come, in Atlanta beginning Aug. 15. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, and all that, but the Mets are in prime position to stake a permanent claim to the division title.
Remember this. The first-place team will get a bye in the first round. The runner-up will get a best-of-three first round, likely against the Padres.
Other than asking: What in the world were all those other teams thinking the last three years while Showalter was available?