BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
There’s just something different about this Mets team than the last few seasons. It’s tangible from the naked eye.
Forget the fact they won 60 games after a 6-3 victory over the Yankees to start off the Subway Series Tuesday night at Citi Field. Forget the fact they are in first place on July 27.
This is not a team that is just lucky to win 60 games. This is a team that has earned them by knowing how to win through toughness, fundamentals, intelligence and preparation. This is a group that has taken on Buck Showalter’s identity in his first year of being their manager.
Tuesday night reflected everything the Mets have been all about all year.
They were resilient instead of dwelling on the Yankees taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning by scoring four runs of their own in the bottom of the inning on Starling Marte’s home run, Pete Alonso’s RBI double and Eduardo Escobar’s two-run home run.
They played well fundamentally by playing good defense such as Jeff McNeil’s one-hand grab and throw to get DJ LeMahieu out in the seventh inning and Mark Canha running in foul territory to make a sliding catch that got Isiah Kiner-Falefa out in the sixth inning. The Mets focused on working on their defense since spring training, and it shows by their defensive highlight reels.
They displayed intelligence in the seventh when Tomas Nido picked up on Anthony Rizzo trying to steal by throwing him out. That heads-up play ended the Yankees’ threat when they had runners at first and second.
This is a team that does not get outworked. They are always prepared to play each and every game. They were ready from the outset by scoring early in the first inning after the Yankees scored their first two runs of the game on back-to-back home runs by Aaron Judge and Rizzo.
The Mets did everything right to win this game. They made the defensive plays, and they got the big hits there in the first inning. Taijuan Walker wasn’t great, but he managed to find a way to pitch six innings to earn his eighth win of the season. Here’s the bottom line about this team, not just this game, but this season: They find ways to win.
At some point, it’s time to say the Mets are a team to reckon with in the National League. They can win the division and even go to the World Series this year because of their starting pitching and timely hitting. No one should be overlooking them. After four months of play, what you see from a team is what you get. What the Mets have done this four months shows they are good.
I know, I know about 2007 when the Mets played well just to choke the divisional lead and miss the playoffs. I understand the Mets have been a great first-half team and a poor second-half team over the years.
Yet, this is a different team with a competent manager and a different cast of characters. These guys know how to win compared to those Mets teams from years past.
On Tuesday night, Marte and Escobar showed the type of leadership the team lacked for a long time. Mets general manager Billy Eppler and Showalter identified a group of players from the free agent list this past offseason. They liked the character of Marte and Escobar, and they felt those guys would be uplifting players that know how to lead by example. That’s why the Mets signed both of them and both paid dividends.
Escobar showed what a leader he is by not fretting through peaks and valleys of a long season. He has gone through a slump, but when he needs to get a big hit in a big spot, he comes through as he did in that first inning and couple of weeks ago when he hit a solo home run in the rubber game of the three-game series against the Atlanta Braves to give the Mets a 1-0 lead that set the tone in their 7-3 victory to win the series. Marte has provided offensive punch to the lineup. These guys know what they are doing out there. Those guys are why the Mets know how to win.
Showalter will always have his team prepared for every game. He has the pulse of the players. He made sure his players do not get ahead of themselves by focusing on one game and one series at a time. His leadership has proven to be a difference this season by having his guys accountable. Just by the product itself on the field, it’s clear he has had an impact on the team in a big way.
The Mets certainly are not in awe of the Yankees, and they were not flustered, even in the first inning. It starts with the manager to the players.
This explains a different vibe that has permeated the team. It’s why fans shouldn’t really worry about if there is another collapse in the works. All this team does is win.
Games like Tuesday night make this season so much fun and rewarding.
At some point, it’s time to accept the fact the Mets have the goods of being a championship team.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6