The New York Mets had their official second-half coming out party this past weekend, energizing the fans at Citi Field in a way they’d never been before.
The building was rocking. Strangers became friends, bonding over their shared love of the team that’s disappointed since the epic and infamous collapse in 2007. And for the first time since the Mets moved from Shea Stadium and called Citi Field their home, the team had an aura—an energy, mirrored by their fans—that was reminiscent of what Mets fans have failed to feel since John Maine, Paul Lo Duca, Lastings Milledge’ wasted potential and a wet-behind-the-ears Carlos Gomez were on a roster that should have been ticketed for the playoffs.
This time around, Mets fans are hoping this temporary feeling of elation doesn’t end with the same bitter disappointment.
After trading five minor league pitchers in exchange for four quality major league players, punctuated by the last-minute acquisition of slugging Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, New York enters its final 56 games of the season in a dogfight with the Washington Nationals for the National League East crown. You know, the same Nationals that were supposed to have the best starting pitching staff ever, a lineup that no pitcher could get through and an arrogance that’s unmistakable because of their previous success—especially against the Mets.
It’s also the same team that the Mets just cut through as its own starting pitchers dominated a critical three-game sweep entering the final two months of the season. As Keith Hernandez recently said on an SNY telecast following the Mets win, “Folks, the race is on.”
Wilmer Flores, who has gone from New York’s most wanted infielder to almost qualifying for the Mets’ Mount Rushmore following a failed trade that had his passion on display for the world to see, played hero in a critical, 2-1, Friday night win when he delivered a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning after previously knocking in the only other run of the game.
As Flores’ ball cleared the wall in left center field, he pumped his fist around first base, then listened to the crowd erupt around him as he cleared second. As he was rounding third, and before he fell into the clutches of his teammates who were ready to crown him king for the evening, he grabbed the front of his shirt, pointed to the Mets logo and without saying a word, the young man, who signed with the club on his 16th birthday, delivered the most emphatic message of the team’s season to date.
The Mets were just two games back after a leadoff win with both Flores and Matt Harvey—who pitched 7.2 outstanding innings before leaving with a no-decision—leading the way. Buttressed by the return of Travis d’Arnaud (elbow) to the team, New York secured a must-win game and established an indisputable tone of dominance that would last for the remainder of the series.
New York—and their fans—entered Saturday’s game with an unmistakable swagger, one that hasn’t been felt since Jose Reyes was salsa dancing in the batter’s box. The reasons? Cespedes, who had just been acquired from the Detroit Tigers, was making his highly anticipated Mets debut. Additionally, All-Star Jacob deGrom was on the mound, and the opposition, no matter who they’ve been, have not had much success against Jacob’s deGrominance this year.
Although he didn’t have his best stuff in a tough matchup versus a Washington team that finally had its full lineup (minus Denard Span), deGrom battled through sixth innings to give his team a chance to win. But it was neither Cespedes nor deGrom who would be the biggest story in this one.
Lucas Duda, who has been the hottest home run hitter in the majors since the second half of the season began, provided all of the support the Mets would need for a win. Duda popped two critical solo home runs—each one sending an electricity through the crowd that simply hasn’t been there to date—and delivered the decisive RBI double that gave the Mets a 3-2 lead.
Jeurys Familia, who had been ice cold since the All-Star break, put the good vibes back into the ninth inning with a dominant performance that secured the victory. On the day that Cespedes debuted, it was Duda, deGrom and Familia who took the headlines as the Mets climbed to just one game behind Washington in the standings. The crowd was jacked, fans everywhere were showing off their pride and players began to realize what was going on in their re-energized Citi Field setting—this is a legitimate push to the postseason.
By Sunday’s nationally televised ESPN game, the Mets’ shining chance to prove to everyone that they should be taken for real after a trade deadline that surprised and impressed many, there was no longer a hopeful optimism from the Mets and their fans that they could compete with the Nationals. There was an expectation to win and genuine disappointment if not—a stark and sudden contrast since the team moved from Shea to Citi. With Noah Syndergaard on the mound and billed as the marquee pitcher in a matchup against Jordan Zimmermann, the Mets—and their fans—were ready for the moment.
With a “Let’s Go Mets” chant rumbling from the onset of the action, Syndergaard gave up a first-inning home run to Anthony Rendon, but it was the only damage Washington was going to do for the next several frames. From that point on, Thor wielded his hammer of a fastball, Noah dropped his arc of a curveball in the zone and the Nationals had no shot.
Scoring all five of their runs in a third inning that saw booming home runs from Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and—you guessed it—Duda, New York took a lead that they’d never relinquish, and the fans responded with an energy that couldn’t be overlooked.
The ESPN broadcast team spent the entire night marveling at the atmosphere Citi Field was providing, and it wasn’t just in the ballpark where Mets fans made their presence felt. The Mets’ Sunday night game was ESPN’s highest-rated Mets game since Tom Glavine’s 300th win in 2007, and SNY revealed the series was its highest-rated since 2012.
“They’ve been essential to us winning. I can’t say enough about the fans—the best fans in baseball,” Duda said.
Now poised to play meaningful games down the stretch as the final two months of the season unfold, the Mets’ commitment to improving has reinvigorated a fan base that has been dormant for far too long.
The sleeping giant is alive, the Mets are for real and the buzz in and around Citi Field is foreign territory for a team looking to take a trip it hasn’t in almost 30 years.
Some might call that a fitting scene. And with just 14 of the remaining 56 games against teams whose records are currently .500 or better, the Mets—and their fans—are prepared to make a strong statement.
Welcome to the New York Mets’ new reality.