Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Day Mets' Season Changed

Mets Manager Mickey Callaway. Photo by Jason Schott.

Sunday, July 28th will go down as one of the most consequential days of the Mets' season, and if they keep up this run and make it a special season, their history.

That day, the Mets completed a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates with an 8-7 win to complete a 5-1 homestand. They were 10-5 since the All-Star Break, but a hardly-inspiring 50-55.

They were creeping into the wild card conversation, but how do you take a team that's five games under .500 seriously when they last had a winning record on May 2 when they were 16-15.

Overshadowing everything that day was whether the team as it was composed would be kept together as the trade deadline approached on Wednesday, July 31, or would big names like Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler be moved.

Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said on July 28 of how his team had played since the All-Star break, “I feel like we’re syncing things up. Our bullpen’s performing, we’re scoring some runs consistently, our starters have been outstanding, and that’s kind of the recipe for wins, and we’ve been doing that right now. We have to continue to do it no matter what decisions are made. We just continue to plug along and play the best baseball we possibly can…

“Every manager wants to keep their team together. We want to win together, we want to lose together, and that’s the approach we take every day…I think that (General Manager) Brodie (Van Wagenen) understands that I know we can win now. He knows we can win now. There’s a reality to every situation, and we both feel like we can win and get on a run and get into this thing.”

About an hour after Callaway spoke those words the Mets sent the message that they were serious about winning when they acquired one of the most coveted starting pitchers on the market, Marcus Stroman, from the Toronto Blue Jays for two prospects.

The only other move the Mets made the next day was to send starter Jason Vargas to the Phillies for a catching prospect to open a spot in the rotation for Stroman.

Since then, the Mets have lost just one game through Saturday night's 4-3 win over Washington, riding a 15-1 streak to improve to 61-56.

The Mets enter Sunday's series finale with Washington just one game out of the top Wild Card spot, as Washington (61-55) and Milwaukee (62-56) are tied at the top of the Wild Card standings.

"It was huge," Callaway said on Sunday morning of the lift his team got when they were kept together at the deadline. "We had one when Marcus Stroman entered the clubhouse in Chicago, and then a couple days later, at 4:01, when we found out that everyone was staying, so that was another one.

"So, we got a couple good lifts in a couple days there, and there's no doubt that that really energized our group, and made them realize - you know, during that, we were playing good baseball, and I think once we didn't do anything with our current players and we added Marcus Stroman, I think the guys were like, 'oh, we have been playing good baseball and we're an even better team now than we were before,' so let's keep this rolling and go do something special, so it definitely energized everybody."

Callaway said of his optimism through all the highs and lows of this season and that his positive talk has come to fruition, "This is what you want; this is what you're looking for, especially the way things had been going at that point in time. We needed somebody to step up every single night, somebody different, you know, to win as many games as we have in as many days, and it takes that.

"It takes a total team effort. Two guys can't carry you for this prolonged amount of time. It has to be somebody every single night, the pitchers have to do their job and keep the runs very low, and the hitters have to have timely hits, and that's exactly what we've done.

"This is what we wanted, this is what we needed, but we haven't done anything yet. All we've done is put ourselves in a better position than we were prior to this. So, there's a long way to go and there's a lot more games to be played against very good teams, and we have to continue to strive everyday to play the best baseball we can.

"I will always believe in the talent in that room. In spring training, we believed it, and just because you have a few months that don't go the way you want it, doesn't change who's in that room, and it doesn't change the idea of what their talent level can be.

"We were  optimistic all along for good reason, and I think the guys did a great job of staying consistent and not letting things bother them. They could have folded and listen to all the fodder, but they didn't. They came to play as a team everyday, and they've kind of put themselves in a position where they can do something special if they continue doing it."

Saturday night's win over Washington encapsulates what Callaway was talking about there. They got a great start from Noah Syngergaard, as he allowed just two runs over seven innings (the sixth straight time he has gone at least that long in a start), J.D. Davis and Wilson Ramos hit back-to-back home runs to tie the game at 2 in the fourth, pinch-hitter Luis Guillorme hit his first-ever career homer to tie it at 3 in the eighth, and Davis followed later in the inning with a sacrifice fly to give them the lead, which Seth Lugo preserved in the ninth.

Lugo stayed on for the ninth after surrendering a homer to Washington's Juan Soto in the eighth.

Callaway could have gone to closer Edwin Diaz for the ninth, but stuck with Lugo. He said of how Diaz and the rest of the bullpen's attitude is emblematic of his team, "They make it easy because they understand that we just want to win, and that's what they want. They make that part of it easy, and they're always prepared.

"A reliever, especially your best relievers, are ready for their name to be called at any second no matter what the situation is, so I don't think that affects them very much, and then, the part that would, they're not those type people. We're very fortunate to have selfless guys out there in that 'pen and in that room that, at this moment, are going to go out there pitch to the best of their ability when their name is called.

"They make it real easy. I probably toil inside with it a little bit more than they think about it because I care about them and I want them to perform and, when you're a leader, you want guys to be in the best headspace as possible, but doesn't seem to affect them because of their selflessness...

"When you talk to them, they're like, 'hey, I just want to pitch and I'll pitch whenever you call it in.' I think, especially at this time, where we're trying to accomplish something special, you need those type people, and they've been those guys all along.

"You see Edwin Diaz, even on some of his worst games and we come back and win the game, you never see a bigger smile on anybody. You know, most aren't like that. I've seen many guys shaking hands with a frown on their face because they didn't have a good night, and we don't have guys like that.

"You see them when they're coming through the line, man, they're just happy we won, no matter how their night went, and Edwin Diaz is probably better than any closer I've ever been around at that, and that speaks to his character and who he is as a teammate - pretty cool."

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