Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mets Clinch NL East, Return to Playoffs


When David Wright's fly ball landed just over the center field wall for a three-run homer the Mets knew it was official; years of pure misery were finally over.

Wright waited nine years between tasting the champagne of October baseball. He, like the Mets fans, endured some of the darkest days in club history. After the team's success in 2006, when they had the best record in the National League and came a swing short of the World Series, it had been down hill. From September collapses in 2007 and 2008, to the Bernie Madoff scandal, to horribly cheap and petty ownership by the Wilpons, and years of losing with subpar talent, anyone in Mets blue and orange took extra pleasure on Saturday night.

Flash back to 2012 and there was another watershed moment that cashed in on this evening in Cincinnati. In December of 2012, the Wilpon's convinced Wright to sign a contract extension, based on the fact they had some young pitchers coming up soon. For two-and-a half years it looked like Wright was tricked by the Mets, the franchise wasn't getting any better.

In 2012, the Wilpons promised that 2013 would be the year. They didn't spend at all, and the team floundered. In 2013 they promised that 2014 would be the year. Same story. In 2014, they promised that 2015 would be the year  -- and for half the season, we were getting ready to hear that the Wilpons were making plans for 2016.

Now back to Saturday's game in Cincy. While the game was already in hand at 7-2, Wright's three-run blast was the pushback to all of that frustration. All the failures; all the broken promises; all the losing; the Albatros was now gone.

As Terry Collins said in his post game press conference, "Now they couldn't take it from us." And they never will. No September choke this time around. The Mets are in the playoffs for the eighth time in franchise history.

While they have a week-and-a half until they play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series, this is a moment to celebrate and enjoy. Because it was just two months ago it looked like even a wild card would be next to impossible for this team.

On July 24 the Mets were 49-48. They were in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and already got smacked around by the Cardinals, Nationals and Dodgers -- three teams that everyone perceived were the class of the National League. While the Mets were getting quality starting pitching, they weren't scoring enough runs to make those efforts stand up. It wasn't pretty.

David Wright wasn't in the lineup at all; he was on the DL with a spinal injury that could have ended his season. A lot of people questioned if his career wasn't over. Moreover on the field, Lucas Duda was struggling; the Mets still couldn't figure out who their short stop was, and Daniel Murphy was dealing with nagging injuries as well. The only saving grace for New York was that Washington still hadn't caught fire yet.

Then a miracle happen. GM Sandy Alderson got the green light to go out and make some moves to get the team some help offensively. Maybe the Mets had a chance to make a push, thanks to the struggling Nationals.

They promoted rookie slugger Michael Conforto from Double-A; they traded for veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, and acquired reliever Tyler Clippard. Now the Mets had a young power hitter and some veteran players to give the ball club an added punch. The Mets blew up the Dodgers 15-2 on July 25 with their new pieces, then outlasted them 3-2 in ten innings the next day.

With just a couple moves the Mets looked like a different team. Then, another watershed moment happened.

During a game against the San Diego Padres, reports surfaced that the Mets traded Wilmur Flores and Zach Wheeler to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Gomez. Whether the Mets let the rumor get out, or the agents floated it out -- it didn't matter -- because the story was now out in the middle of a game. The fans started chanting for Wilmur Flores, who, through the fans found out he was traded.

Immediately Flores lost it. He started crying on the field. Terry Collins had no idea what was going on, and didn't know a trade was done. About an hour later the trade was nixed, because the Mets had concerns about Gomez's back. The moment looked like another disaster in the long line of disasters for the Mets. Not only did a trade blow up in their face, but it deeply affected the player involved during a game. With only hours left before the trade deadline, the Mets still needed to make another move, or the Gomez debacle would be remembered as just that.

As it turned out the Gomez debacle was the best thing that ever happened to the Mets. The Mets had another card to play and went for the biggest prize out there, Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes was an All Star outfielder with the A's, Red Sox and Tigers. He was a gifted athlete, who has been rumored to have a bad reputation, and to top it off, is in the walk year of his contract. However the potential reward in acquiring him were far greater. The Mets acquired Cespedes on July 31 for a couple minor leaguers. They didn't have to deal Flores and Wheeler at all.

Cespedes turned out to be the difference. The guy came to New York and took the city by storm. In 52 games, Cespedes hit .272 with 17 home runs and 44 RBI. He was getting big hits in big spots. Had monster home runs, and had 21 multi-hit games. Cespedes had a five hit, three homer night in Colorado on August 21; he also had an eight-game hitting streak at the start of September. There was nothing Cespedes couldn't do.

With Cespedes in the lineup everyone else picked it up.

Curtis Granderson ended up hitting .279 with 11 homers and 39 RBI in the second half of the year. Daniel Murphy drove in 40 and hit .290. Wilmur Flores hit .284 with six bombs and 21 RBI, and Lucas Duda had 12 homer and 28 RBI in the second half of the year.

Even David Wright made his triumphant return to the lineup in August. In 25 games, Wright hit .298 with three homers and 10 RBI. As for Conforto, the rookie had a big second half thanks to the veteran presence in the lineup. Conforto hit .283 with eight homers and 23 RBI in 50 games this season.

Carlos Gomez? He hit only .234 with four home runs and 13 RBI in 34 games, and was a none factor for the collapsing Houston Astros in the AL West. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make.

It should come as no surprise then as the Mets offense clicked to back up the Mets staring pitching. The Mets went 39-19 from July 25 - September 26, blowing past the Nationals en route to a division crown and a record of 88-67.

Another guy deserving of this moment is manager Terry Collins, who endured a lot of that losing over the past four seasons. He was hired  as a mere caretaker for this franchise as they made their transition from bad team to decent team. There was never a guarantee that he would be the Mets manager beyond the 2014 season and got a tepid endorsement for this year. If anyone, other than Wright deserves this moment, it is Collins.

While it hasn't been an easy two months -- it has been an amazing two months for the Mets. They are the ultimate rags to riches story of the 2015 postseason. Enjoy it Mets fans, you waited long enough.

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