Five straight for the Thumb Bunch

Jeurys Familia, Pete Alonso

Jeurys Familia and Pete Alonso have a victory handshake after the Mess (er, Mets) won their fifth straight Friday night—with plenty of help from the Thumb Bunch.

Almost a full week ago, the Mets were likely to be number one on a baseball fan’s hate parade. You know, you can’t have those ornery spoiled brats giving thumbs down when doing things right to the fans who spent most of August booing their heads off during what seemed, once and for all, like a classically surreal Met implosion.

You could only imagine the curses and hexes fans wanted to place on their heads for their dissing the people who pay their goddam salaries. Never mind that fans alone, or even predominantly, haven’t really paid baseball players’ salaries in decades.

But the Mets looked so vividly like 2021 baseball’s biggest self-inflicted trainwreck last month that you could still be forgiven for expecting a complete collapse. Maybe even firing squads in the clubhouse and guillotines outside the ballpark.

The hell with Pete Alonso’s happy talk channeling his inner Tug McGraw. Maybe Alonso didn’t use the specific phrase “ya gotta believe,” and McGraw in 1973 deployed it sarcastically after a lame rah-rah clubhouse speech by then-Mets lord M. Donald Grant. But when he said, “If you don’t believe in yourself, then who else is going to believe,” around 10 August, things only got worse instead of better.

Maybe Alonso really was onto something after all. Because look who’s won five straight including the two games last weekend that brought the thumbs-downing to a boil before the weekend ended. Look who’s even figured out a way to blow a lead in the ninth to force extra innings and then won the game in the extras, anyway.

Never mind that the streak’s come at the expense of two other sputtering teams, the Nationals and the Marlins. The way the Mets looked for most of August, they could have lost handily to a lineup of nine arthritic maids, a pitching staff of five one-armed janitors, a bullpen of seven legless movers, and a bench of six quadriplegics.

But ever since the down-thumbing suddenly caught the attention of the rest of the world, the Mets have outscored the opposition 27-13. And on Friday night, they took a precarious 2-0 lead to the bottom of the ninth, watched Edwin Diaz surrender a leadoff home run (to Juan Soto) and an RBI double (to Riley Adams) to tie . . . and pried four unanswered runs out of the Nats in the top of the tenth to win, 6-4.

Let’s not kid ourselves just yet. The Mets get to abuse the Nats in Washington for four more games this weekend, then they get to fly to Miami to inflict a little more use, misuse, and abuse of the Marlins. After that? They come home to host three clubs who can be called many things without pushovers being one of them: the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Phillies.

There’s something to be said for gaining momentum even at the expense of the also-rans. And the Mets did claw their way back to .500 and to a mere four games out of first in the National League East.

Sure, they got some help from the Fish flattening the second-place Phillies 10-3 Friday night. Sure, they got some help from the Rockies eking out a 4-3 win over the first-place Braves. But a team that started August leading the division by three, and almost ended the month trailing by eight the night before the current streak began, has a few reasons to be happier.

Happier, but not quite to the delirious level just yet?

But let’s not spoil the fun. OK? Not the day after ancient Rich Hill pitched like a young man over six scoreless innings. Not the day after everyone in the Mets bullpen not named Diaz pitched three innings of one-hit, scoreless baseball.

Not after Diaz shook off those tying runs—and a scary collision between tying runner Andrew Stevenson and Mets catcher Chance Sisco that knocked Sisco out of the game at once—by ironing up and using a strikeout (of Carter Kieboom) and a ground out (by Luis Garcia) to strand the potential winning Nats run.

Not the day after Javier Baez, one of the Thumb Bunch, poked a one-out double down the right field line in the top of the second and came home almost at once when Michael Conforto—who’d gone from extension lock to question mark with a season’s worth of struggling—ricocheted a single off Nats starter Sean Nolin’s shoulder to send him there.

Not the day after Alonso, Mr. Belief, squared Nats starter Sean Nolin up on the first two-out, one-on pitch in the top of the third and yanked it as far down the right field line as he could for the RBI triple.

Not the day after Alonso drove Francisco Lindor—another of the Thumb Bunch, now deployed as the free cookie on second to open the New York tenth—home with a line single into the right center field gap.

Not the day after a third Thumb Buncher, Kevin Pillar, followed a free pass to Conforto by ripping a liner all the way down the left field line, sending Alonso and Conforto home as if they were escaping for their lives, Conforto following Alonso with an Olympic-level dive across the back of the plate.

Not the day after pinch hitter J.D. Davis was handed another free pass and Jonathan Villar cashed in at once by singling Pillar home for the fourth Met run of the tenth.

Not the day after Jeurys Familia returned to a once-familiar role, closing it out with a leadoff punchout and a pair of swift ground outs in the bottom of the tenth.

“As you can imagine,” Alonso the Believer said post-game, “it’s great. It’s awesome to rip off (five) in a row. [But] we just have to win every possible game that we can. Regardless of the standings, we can only control what we can control. There’s ebbs and flows in the season and right now we’re just looking to finish strong.”

“The whole thing is just the creativity as the game is kind of presenting what it is showing you as a pitcher, as a conductor,” Hill said post-game of his own solid outing. “You saw a variation of a lot of different things out of my mechanics tonight. It wasn’t necessarily just a traditional leg lift and a pitch and the timing was all the same. Trying to disrupt the timing is the whole art of pitching.”

So Hill isn’t as succinct as Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. (Hitting is timing, pitching is destroying timing.) But he sure pitched and sounded just as smart. Especially facing the heart of the Nats order three times, bringing them up empty, and surrendering only three hits overall during his six splendid.

Maybe the Nats helped the Mets’ cause by some rather uncharacteristic basepath mistakes. But if pitching is disrupting or destroying timing, then winning in large enough part is making the other guys pay for their mistakes. Usually, this year, the Mets have paid through the nose (and any other orifice) for theirs.

Enjoy it while it lasts. However long it lasts. Seeing the August Mess come back to life for even five games was still a pleasure. They might (underline that) even have a few more surprises in store when they come home from their current trip to the division swamps.

“Every game is really huge at this point of the year,” Alonso said. Stick to that attitude, Mets.

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