If they can’t find Crisis Addiction Anonymous anywhere, and a quick Google search won’t show such a group, the Mets need to create one. Post haste.
Their crisis addiction is going to kill them, or at least knock them right back out of the postseason into which they shook, rattled, rolled, clawed, climbed, and sometimes stumbled their way back after the All-Star break.
They need to stand chastened before those who come to the first meeting of CAA and say it loud. And humble.
Hi. We’re the Mets. And we’re crisis junkies.
Forget about winning at the last minute when they win. If Thursday night in Atlanta is evidence, they can’t resist putting up 6-0 leads in the first inning, expanding them to 10-3 after seven innings, then letting the other guys knock on the door of overthrowing them.
Knock on the door? The Mets were practically ready to let the Braves bust the door down and ransack them, before Edwin Diaz struck Ender Inciarte after walking Brian McCann, ending the game at long enough last. With the Mets lucky to bank a 10-8 win.
It says something when a team slaps sixteen hits before five full innings are in the vault, 23 hits on the night, and still gets to within two runs of blowing it in the end.
It says something when two Mets collect five or more hits in a game together for the first time in franchise history and they still get on the threshold of losing.
It says something when Pete Alonso goes five-for-five with six runs batted in including a top-of-the-first splash hit, Amed Rosario goes five-for-six with four runs scored and one driven in in the leadoff spot, Rosario misses the cycle only by one home run, and the Mets still get to within a suture of losing.
It says something when every member of the Mets’ starting lineup including starting pitcher Marcus Stroman gets one base hit at minimum, and a little over half that starting lineup scores a run at minimum, and the Braves could still find ways to get thatclose to plowing through the Mets’ front door at the last minute.
They had enough to prove after losing the first two of this three-game set, making for three straight losses and the sudden, slightly sinking feeling that their white-hot post All-Star break performance looked like nothing more than a pleasant dream. From which they were going to be awakened by the cacophonous alarm clock that too often jolts the crisis addicted home to reality’s terror.
They opened with a few bangs and ended with more than a few whimpers Thursday night. Lucky for them the Mets get to spend the weekend having their way (you hope) with a collection of Royals very different from the ones to whom they fell four World Series ago.
With Jeff McNeil recovering from a hamstring tweak Rosario took the leadoff spot in the order. He wrung Braves starter Julio Teheran—historically a Met nemesis but this season a lot less than that—to an eighth pitch and hammered it off the right field wall, past a slightly misjudging Matt Joyce, for an opening triple. The National League East-leading Braves must have thought that was just an introductory aberration.
But Joe Panik promptly dropped a line single into short center field to send Rosario home. And up stepped Alonso, with a few things to prove, including shaking off a Wednesday night oh-fer at the plate and a rookie fielding mistake—scrambling for a ball that pretty much belonged to the second baseman—that turned a near-certain double play shot into the continuation of a Braves uprising and win.
Now Alonso looked at a fast ball for a strike. Then Teheran threw him a second straight heater right down the middle and just under dead center in the zone. And Alonso drove the meatball into the fountain behind the center field fence. Tying him with Cody Bellinger for the National League’s rookie bomb record at 39.
All the Mets had to do from there was not overthink, the way Callaway had Wednesday night, when he hooked his effective starter Steven Matz despite a 2-1 lead and Matz retiring fourteen consecutive Braves.
All they had to do from that explosive top of the first intro was what Rosario, Panik, and Alonso didn’t do—step up to the plate trying to kill to death Teheran and any Braves bull they might lure from the pen.
And all Stroman had to do was stay on his game of inducing contact for outs while rehorsing the control for which he’s normally noted but which hasn’t been consistent since he was traded to the Mets before this year’s new single mid-year trading deadline.
So much for those ideas. Stroman wasted two immediate outs in the bottom of the first by walking Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson back to back, before Brian McCann caught Panik helpless playing deep, Panik picking the grounder off cleanly in short right center but too far to catch any runner for the side, even if he could hold Freeman from going home on the play. Then Stroman reached for something a little bit extra and struck Ender Inciarte out swinging to strand the ducks on the pond.
Hi, we’re the Mets. And we’re crisis junkies.
Both sides probably anticipated an early enough reach to their beleaguered enough bullpens, after the Mets wrung 32 pitches from Teheran and the Braves, 33 out of Stroman.
Juan Lagares struck out to open the second but Stroman himself beat out an infield hit. And Rosario sent him home a high line triple to left just eluding a diving Ronald Acuna, Jr., who probably should be named an honourary Navy frogman for the diving he did several times Thursday night.
Then Panik (8-for-12 with men on second or beyond as a week-old Met to that point) and Alonso walked back-to-back on eight pitches before Teheran walked Rosario home on a five-pitch walk to Michael Conforto. And Wilson Ramos, who hit into thirteen double plays entering Thursday night, didn’t give Teheran what he surely wanted, only because Teheran couldn’t throw a ball down enough to dial the area code. And on a full-count eighth-pitch-of-sequence Ramos lined Panik home with a base hit to right.
Lucky Mets, they got into the Braves’ pen first, leaving Teheran to the shortest start of his career to date and forcing Braves manager Brian Snitker to reach for his long man Josh Tomlin. And Tomlin got the double play ball from J.D. Davis that Teheran couldn’t get from the slower-legged Ramos. But now the Braves were in a 6-0 hole.
Seven and a half left, you could hear Mets fans muttering. When’s the implosion this time?
Todd Frazier hit Tomlin’s third pitch of the top of the third over the left field fence. Tomlin eluded further trouble by shaking off a followup single and a sacrifice bunt to strike out a slightly anxious Rosario swinging at pitches away and get Panik to loft a foul pop outside the shallow left field line for the side, but the Mets had a 7-0 boot right next to the Braves’ necks before three full innings were banked.
But Stroman walked Acuna to open the bottom of the third and wild pitched him to second while working to Ozzie Albies. Albies grounded sharply to Rosario at short, but Rosario threw a strike over Acuna’s bent-over body that tore through Alonso’s mitt web for first and third, saddling Alonso with an unfair error charge. And, with further faltering control, Stroman walked Freeman to load the pads for Donaldson.
Then Donaldson grounded to short with Frazier over from third to spear it and throw Freeman out at second, but Donaldson just beat the throw on to first while Acuna scored. And then the Mets patched through the Area Code 6-4-3 for the side on McCann’s grounder to short. For these Mets against those Braves, that’s a thin escape even with a six-run advantage.
It was easier to escape the bottom of the fourth after Joyce hit a two-out breaking ball over the right field wall when Stroman got Tomlin to fly out to right. And, to pad the lead back to seven when Alonso cued a two-out, two-run single through the middle infield.
It was just as easy to escape the bottom of the fifth, after Freeman followed Albies’s one-out line single to left by dialing a very sleek Area Code 3-6-1. It was just as simple for Stroman to shake off Donaldson’s leadoff blast in the bottom of the sixth by getting McCann to ground out sharply to Alonso unassisted at first. It was—
Uh, oh. Callaway reached into the bullpen. Stroman wasn’t a perfect model of control all night long but he still had the game in hand and, at 96 pitches, might yet get through the sixth alive. But Callaway reached for Luis Avilan with lefthanded hitting Inciarte due up.
Is it going to happen now? muttered Mets fans under their breaths. To say it aloud might just bring disaster down in advance.
But Inciarte lined one that Davis nearly lost in the lights before picking the ball up on the descent and making the near shoestring catch. Then Johan Camargo lined a single just beyond Rosario ambling out from shortstop, but Joyce skied one the other way to left for which Davis ran like a racehorse before sliding into the catch across the foul line for the side.
And, somehow, a 9-3 Mets lead after six full still didn’t quite seem safe.
Rosario nailed his fourth hit of the night, a leadoff double opening the top of the seventh, with Acuna again making a bold dive but coming up short enough. Panik grounded Rosario to third, and Snitker lifted Tomlin for former Met Anthony Swarzak. And Alonso hit Swarzak’s first pitch to left for his sixth RBI on the night.
Now a 10-3 Met lead didn’t quite seem safe, either.
Callaway brought in Brad Brach for the bottom of the seventh. And Brach struck out pinch hitter Adam Duvall and Acuna before getting Albies to line out to center for a blink-of-an-eye inning. And Brach’s successor Drew Gagnon had to shake off Freeman’s leadoff bomb into the Mets bullpen and a tough two-out infield hit to finish the bottom of the eighth.
Then Luke Jackson, talented enough but too often prone to send Braves fans hollering for the crash carts lately, got through the top of the ninth by turning a pair of singles by Alonso leading off and Ramos (after Michael Conforto struck out) into an inning-ending Area Code 5-6-3.
But what the hey? 10-4, Mets after eight full? Do we dare hope? whispered Met fans desperately.
We hereby invoke Berra’s Law, whispered Braves fans, in and away from Sun Trust, and probably without a single jolted nerve or slurring tongue.
Gagnon looked good enough recovering from Freeman’s mash, and Callaway by now trusted the rest of his bullpen little enough, not to mention not wanting to put Seth Lugo to work a second straight night after Lugo suffered the hard way Wednesday, that he let Gagnon stay in to work the ninth.
OK, how’s it going to happen? Met fans shuddered.
It happened with pinch hitter Rafael Ortega singling to right on 0-2. With late left field insertion Adam Duvall replacing him at first on a force out. With Acuna sending one into the Mets’ bullpen in left. With Freeman following a pop out to third with a shot into the left field seats. With Donaldson following that with a shot over the right center field fence.
And, with Callaway left to little enough choice but to bring in Diaz, who hadn’t pitched since the Nationals tore a pair of runs out of him in last Sunday’s loss. Who promptly did pretty much what the Mets expected him to do all year long. Before a combination of questionable deployments, and perhaps his own somewhat shot confidence, dissipated him to the point that he’d inspired speculation this week that he might either be sent to AAA to reconfigure himself or demoted to the lowest leverage situations possible.
It seemed a shame that Diaz had to bail his team and his skipper out like this now. And after he walked McCann unintentionally on four straight inside services, Diaz followed ball one to Inciarte with two called strikes before getting him swinging on a slider that dove almost the way Acuna did in the outfield.
Almost the way the Mets dove after they dropped a very unlikely seven-run lead onto the Braves’ cooler heads. The Braves looked better losing by a pair than the Mets turned out to look winning at all, by a pair or otherwise.
The Mets still look like baseball’s hottest team since the All-Star break, 22-9, but that’s on paper only now.
“We went through two teams that are very good. We went .500 against them,” said Callaway in glass half full mode. “Now we’ve got to go into Kansas City and continue to play well, and try to win some games there. Go back home, we’ve got some tough opponents.” Say what you will about him otherwise, but Callaway does have a periodic gift for understatement.
Not that the Braves have things all that simple, either. The Dodgers hit Atlanta for a three-game set Friday night. The National League’s two best teams in a likely postseason prelude. But there’s the creepy feeling that you might like the Braves’ survival chances better than you might like the Mets’.
Because only these Mets can leave you feeling like a win in which they score ten runs still resembles a loss. And only they can leave you feeling like a mere two games back in the wild card hunt feels like twenty.
Hi. We’re the Mets. And we’re crisis junkies.