Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 6, 2015

From Bungling To Beautiful In A Blink

Mets fans had seen it all before, far too many times. Their historically inept organization had done it again.  With last Friday’s trade deadline approaching and their pitching rich team desperately in need of some offensive support, word began to circulate that New York had pulled off a trade with Milwaukee. Social media posts were followed by more authoritative reports from several news organizations that shortstop Wilmer Flores and right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler, who is rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, were headed to the Brewers in exchange for Carlos Gomez.

For Milwaukee’s two-time All-Star center fielder, the trade would mean a return to his first big league team. After signing as an international free agent at the age of 16 and working his way through the Mets minor league system, a 21-year old Gomez was the youngest player in the National League when he took the field for New York in May 2007. The Mets traded Gomez to the Twins the following winter in the deal that brought Johan Santana to New York, and in time he went from Minnesota to Milwaukee. While not the slugger that Mets fans were hoping for, Gomez does have some pop in his bat, having topped the 20 home run mark both of the last two seasons.

Of course for fans to welcome Gomez to Queens it meant they also had to say goodbye to, in this case, a pair of their current favorites. Having been diagnosed with a torn UCL during Spring Training, Wheeler was nowhere near Citi Field last Wednesday night, where the Mets were hosting the Padres. But Flores was in the starting lineup as the game got underway.

That fact, and the even stranger one that Flores remained in the game as the innings progressed, should have given the Mets faithful their first clue that something was amiss. Players who are part of serious trade discussions are normally pulled from the lineup to avoid the possibility of a deal-wrecking injury. But there was Flores, a natural second baseman, doing his best as the team’s everyday shortstop and batting seventh. He singled in the 2nd and struck out in the 4th. By the time Flores came to bat in the bottom of the 7th, San Diego was up by five runs in a game the Padres would eventually win 7-3. Everyone in the stands with a smart phone, which is to say everyone in the stands, had seen the reports and knew that the young infielder was taking his final swings in a New York uniform.

Fans rose to salute Flores with a standing ovation before he eventually grounded out on a full count, and many rose again as he jogged back to the dugout. But then in the top of the 8th Flores ran out to his position on the left side of the infield. What those in attendance probably couldn’t see but what was clearly visible to the television cameras was that the Mets shortstop had obviously been crying. The Mets signed Flores out of Venezuela on his 16th birthday in 2007. During the game he had learned that a week shy of turning 24 he was being traded away from the only organization he had ever known. “I was sad,” Flores told reporters later.

Except that he had no reason to be, because there was no trade. For reasons that were never explained but probably related to concerns by one of the two teams about the physical condition of one of the players, the deal collapsed after having been confirmed by several people in the know. Instead of welcoming a new bat that their team badly needed, Mets fans were left to listen to manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson try to explain how their team had appeared to bungle something as basic as making a relatively minor trade deadline deal.

But then something remarkable happened in Queens. From the depths of their team being the same old bumbling stumbling Mets last Wednesday night the franchise’s fan base has been rocketed to new heights of head-spinning happiness.  The Mets last went to the playoffs in 2006 and haven’t posted a winning record since moving into Citi Field in 2009, but they just gave their faithful a week to remember.

It began two days after the trade that wasn’t, when just minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline Friday New York pulled off a bigger and better deal than the one that evaporated 48 hours earlier. Alderson sent a pair of minor league pitchers to Detroit and in return got slugger Yoenis Cespedes for the stretch run. In his first season with the Tigers Cespedes was batting .293 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs, numbers all better than Gomez’s. That night the Mets opened a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, who came to town leading New York by exactly three games in the NL East. Flores put his once and future team on the board with an RBI single that plated Juan Uribe in the 4th, and then completed his tears to cheers turnaround with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning as the Mets won 2-1.

The newly arrived Cespedes was in uniform one night later, and because the Nats pitched carefully to him, including an intentional walk in the 8th, he opened the door for Lucas Duda. Already hot for the past several games, Duda stroked a pair of solo home runs that brought New York back from an early 2-0 deficit. Then he followed the free pass to Cespedes with an RBI double that proved to be the game winner. One night later the Mets hit three home runs in one inning for the first time since 2007 to complete the sweep and pull even in the division standings for the first time since mid-June.

The Mets then flew south to feast on the lowly Florida Marlins for three straight games, winning by scores of 12-1, 5-1 and 8-6. In that series Cespedes joined the party at the plate, going 7 for 15 with 5 RBIs. With Washington losing two out of three to Arizona at the same time, New York had opened up a 2 game edge going into an off day on Thursday.

Many games remain, and Mets fans know all too well that their team has a history of offering up more disappointment than delight. But the one certainty is that either New York or Washington will win the NL East, and at least on paper the schedule favors the Mets. Both teams play roughly sixty percent of their remaining contests against some of the worst teams in the Great Game. However when it comes to stiffer competition the Mets have a clear advantage. They have just six games remaining against teams with playoff worthy records, and their three against the Pirates and three against their cross-town rivals will all be played at home. In contrast the Nationals must play the Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants a total of ten times, all on the road.

The two squads square off against each other for another six games, with the final three capping the season on the first weekend in October at Citi Field. Should the season come down to those bouts the place will be rocking like it hasn’t been since it opened. For Mets fans, who watched their team go from hapless to hopeful in one week’s time, the dream is alive.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. I haven’t been this optimistic about the Mets in many years. The pitching staff reminds me of the ’69 team, and they now appear to have just enough offense to win a bunch of 3-2 games, instead of 2-1 losses.
    Nicely done (both you and Alderson.)
    -Bill

    • Thanks Bill. While there is still a good long way to go, based on how they have been playing and their remaining schedule I would now be surprised if the Mets failed to make the playoffs. If they do, that rotation could take them deep in the short series of October!

      Mike


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: