The Mets packed up their duffel bags late Thursday afternoon, winners again, and slipped into their uniform for the flight to Denver: a black T-shirt with Eduardo Escobar’s face on the front and “Diez Años” across the back, above the number 10.
Escobar is latest to the Mets this season, signed as a free agent after stints with 4 other teams. He reaches 10 full years of service time on Friday, and the Mets presented him with a signed bottle of Cordon Negro before Thursday’s game. A decade at the highest of the career carries a special significance.
“It’s the dream for a player,” Escobar said after the sport, a 7-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings. “But most significant, once you respect the team and play hard daily, you may play for a very long time.”
Escobar had just played his worst game of the season. He was hitless in 4 at-bats, leaving five runners on base. He made two errors at third base, and kicked a grounder within the ninth inning when a clean play could have ended the sport.
It didn’t matter. The Mets were buoyant as they left town. The forecast in Denver calls for rain and snow with temperatures within the 30s. The best way things are going, it is going to someway turn right into a warm spring weekend.
This looks like one in all those years, doesn’t it? The sort that makes up for thus many also-ran seasons — some self-inflicted, some just rotten luck. The sort where the Mets throw a no-hitter and are available back from being down six runs within the ninth inning. The sort where they lose one other multiple Cy Young Award winner and send their fans home with a 447-foot game-ending blast by Pete Alonso.
The baseball gods are still flinging lightning bolts on the Mets. This season, though, they’ll’t pierce the comfortable force field over Flushing.
“Sometimes you’ve got a foul game — especially me today, on defense — but Pete supports us and we come back for the win,” Escobar said. “When you’ve got a team that plays together, I believe you’ve got a whole lot of possibilities to proceed to win and make the playoffs. Now we have a special group here, man. It’s a whole lot of fun.”
It wasn’t so fun for Max Scherzer on Wednesday. In the course of a showdown with a future Cooperstown teammate, Albert Pujols, Scherzer motioned to the Mets dugout: he was done. He had felt a painful sensation down his left side and had the great sense to know his physical limits.
“I’ve had different body parts where you get zings in the midst of a game and you think that you may go on the market and throw one other warm-up pitch and it’s going to be OK — and it’s not,” Scherzer said, adding later, “Once your body goes, you then can’t pitch. There’s nothing I can do.”
It was the identical way for Scherzer in 2019, with the Washington Nationals, when he missed a start in Game 5 of the World Series with severe neck spasms. He recovered in time to start out Game 7 and help Washington win the championship.
No such miracle this time: The Mets announced in the center innings Thursday that Scherzer would miss six to eight weeks with a moderate- to high-level internal oblique strain. He joins Jacob deGrom, who has not pitched since last July 7, on the injured list. DeGrom has a stress response in his right shoulder blade and has not begun throwing off a mound.
With Scherzer and deGrom, that’s five Cy Young Awards and about $70 million on the injured list, together with Tylor Megill, the young right-hander who began the no-hit relay against Philadelphia on April 29. Scherzer and Megill have combined to go 9-3 with a 3.31 earned run average in 15 starts. They can be hard to exchange.
“Now we have the depth to face up to this,” said Chris Bassitt, the previous Oakland All-Star acquired in a March trade by General Manager Billy Eppler. “For this reason the front office and Billy brought me in and brought Max in, to actually shore up the staff. When things occur — because they occur to everybody — we’re in a position to still win games. We didn’t lose him for the yr.”
Even without Scherzer, deGrom and Megill, the Mets’ rotation is respectable: Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Trevor Williams and David Peterson. They usually have built themselves a margin for error; at 26-14, they’re the one team with a winning record within the National League East. The roster, because it looks today, must be strong enough to carry up for the following two months.
That’s the hope now: just don’t implode. Don’t turn this into 2018, when the Mets began well but lost 29 of 37 from mid-May through the tip of June. Summer was over before it really began.
That was Mickey Callaway’s first season as manager — not only with the Mets, but anywhere. The Mets kept hiring managers with no major league experience — Carlos Beltrán, Luis Rojas — before landing in December on Buck Showalter. Some 3,000 games within the dugout gives a manager perspective.
“Like I’ve said 100 times,” Showalter said on Thursday, “people don’t care about your problems; they’re glad you’ve got ’em.”
Last summer, Atlanta capitalized on deGrom’s absence, and the Mets’ second-half tailspin, for a comeback division title on the approach to a championship. Several trades helped propel the Braves, and this yr’s market has yet to develop.
The Mets will certainly be lively; how could they not? They’re the one team within the majors whose position players and pitchers each average greater than 30 years old. Yet they play like a younger team, or perhaps one from an earlier era — aggressive base running, bunting, even a good batting average: .252, second within the majors to Colorado.
The Mets will bring roster reinforcements this weekend, filling the spots of Scherzer and their other injured players. They’ll see them again eventually, and possibly keep winning within the meantime.
“We’ve got some rough estimates about once we’ll start getting a few of these guys, but normally baseball throws you one other curve somewhere along the way in which,” Showalter said. “You simply keep ducking and dodging and see for those who can get to the endgame.”