Mets Stars Play Like Stars in Time of Need


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The Mets stars knew what was at stake Saturday night. They did not need to be reminded. They had to play better for the Mets to keep their season going after a 7-1 loss to the San Diego Padres in Game 1 of the wild-card series Friday night.

With the Mets on the brink of elimination, they needed their stars to play like the best players in the playoffs.

It’s not a hot take to say Game 2 was a legacy game for them. For Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Edwin Diaz and Jeff McNeil, this was a game that would define them for this season. In deGrom’s case, this postseason would define his Met tenure in what was the biggest game of his career on Saturday night.

As good as those guys are, postseason performances determine what type of value they have. On this night, they came through in the Mets’  7-3 victory over the Padres at Citi Field. They kept their season alive by playing in the final game of the best-of-three wild-card series Sunday night at home.

deGrom made his first-ever postseason start at Citi Field, and it could be his final start ever as a New York Met as he likely will opt out and be a free agent after this season. He knew the Mets relied on him to save their season. He was ready to embrace the challenge. After all, the Mets wasted his great years in recent years by not being in the playoffs. He wasn’t going to take it for granted. He would make this postseason start as if it was his last postseason start ever.

Of all the Mets that had the most pressure to do well, it was deGrom. He was pitching in an elimination game after the Mets hoped they would use him in either Game 1 of the National League Division Series or Game 3 if the Mets won Game 1 and lost Game 2 of the wild-card series. He also wanted to erase that bad start he had in Atlanta last week when he gave up three home runs in the Mets’ 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

If he failed, he would lose all the goodwill of the Mets fans that he created after excellent seasons. As great as he has been, fans want to see more of that in the postseason than in the regular season.

deGrom answered the challenge. He pitched six good innings by allowing two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts to show for it. He put the Mets in a position to win, which is something Max Scherzer couldn’t say in Game 1 after he gave up four home runs and seven runs in a forgettable 4 2/3 nnings. 

Momentum swung the Padres’ way in the fifth inning when they tied it at 2. With Jurickson Profar at third and Juan Soto at first and one out in that inning, deGrom needed to bear down or else this game could have gotten away from the Mets for good. 

This is where deGrom was deGrom. He had no problem in this jam by striking out Manny Machado and Josh Bell to end the Padres’ threat through his slider.

deGrom getting out of a jam in the fifth inning turned out to be the turning point of the game. Who knows how this game ends up if he had not gotten those two much-needed strikeouts?

This set the stage for Alonso to hit a home run in the fifth inning to give the Mets a 3-2 lead.

From there, deGrom finished his night by protecting that lead in the sixth inning. He struck out Jake Cronenworth, forced Brandon Drury to fly out and got Ha-Seong Kim to ground out.

It could have been tempting for Mets manager Buck Showalter to have his ace pitch the seventh after a quick sixth inning, but it was the right move to take him out. He hasn’t gone deep in games this year, so it could have been risky.

No matter. deGrom showed leadership by showing the way to get it done in a game the Mets really needed him. If this was his last game as a Met, it was a memorable one.

Alonso needed that home run after he has been scuffling at the plate lately. He had a hideous Game 1 performance, in which he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. He swung at a ball in his last at-bat prior to the home run he hit in Game 2. He was clearly pressing to do something by guessing at every pitch.

Finally, he got a pitch he needed to hit to hit a home run of Nick Martinez. Maybe this gets him going.

If nothing else, it shows as frustrating as Alonso can be at the plate with his strikeouts, he is still a guy the Mets can trust because eventually, he will break through. It came at the right time. He certainly contributed in a game the Mets really needed him. He has not let his frustration get to him, and that could be his best asset.

It’s been a long time since Lindor had a Met moment. In fact, it’s hard to come up with one this season other than his three-run home run off Braves starter Charlie Morton on July 13 that gave the Mets a 4-0 lead that would turn into a 7-3 victory, good enough to get a series win against the Braves.

The Mets desperately needed something out of their expensive shortstop. He knew it. He came through by giving the Mets a 1-0 lead on a home run to left field. It was what the doctor ordered for him and the Mets. It was may have been what set everything aligned right for the Mets. With him leading, everyone started following.

There was Diaz out there in the seventh inning to protect a 3-2 lead. There was second-guessing by Mets fans for having him pitch in that inning. It was the right move to make, and everyone knows Showalter was going to use his closer in high-leverage situations. This was the time since there were no other relievers he could have trusted to keep this lead.

If the Mets blew this lead, Showalter could have lived with himself that he put his best reliever rather than hoping for the best from other relievers that he really doesn’t trust.

Fortunately for Showalter, Diaz shined as usual in that inning. He recovered five outs overall.

It was interesting that Showalter used his closer in the eighth inning when the Mets had a 7-2 lead. But the Mets manager was not going to take any chances with any other Mets relievers. He wanted to get at least two outs in that inning from Diaz, and he got it. It’s hard to second-guess when the move worked out.

For anyone to worry about how Diaz will do in Game 3, don’t. He can handle the workload by getting by with adrenaline and his stuff. He is made for this. He has been great all year, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

McNeil put the game away by hitting a bases-loaded double that scored Lindor and Alonso in the seventh inning to give the Mets a 5-2 lead. The Mets created a big inning by scoring four runs in that inning. He has always been reliable to get a big hit, and the Mets needed him as keys to their win.

If there was a lesson to be learned from this game and from reading this column, it’s that no one should be counting out this team despite how frustrating they can be. They have the character and leadership to find a way to win. They did not win 101 games by accident.

Maybe they don’t win the World Series. Maybe they get eliminated by the Padres eventually. But if they fail, their stars would go down trying.

On this Saturday night, they did by showing nerve and skill, and they live for another day.

This time, in a winner-take-all.

This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6

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