Mets must make their NL East stand now

The Mets will be a first-place team for 90 days. Can they make it 91?

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Edwin Diaz threw a couple of slices of high cheese past an overmatched Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder named Daulton Varsho and that was that: there were 7,880 folks inside Citi Field that afternoon — May 9 — right up against the reduced-entry capacity, and they stood and cheered and saluted the Mets as they walked off the field 4-2 winners.

Out in left field, there was already another happy recap posted on the out-of-town scores: the Braves had roughed up Aaron Nola and the Phillies, 6-1, in Atlanta. So as the Mets walked off the field that afternoon, and as their fans scooted back to their cars and to the 7 train, they did so knowing something splendid about themselves.

They were a first-place baseball team.

All alone. First place, NL East. The record was only 16-13. They had already fired a hitting coach, and still weren’t exactly knocking the cover off the ball. Jacob deGrom had left the game early, so there was that concern. But hey: a win’s a win. First place is first place.

That was 90 days ago.

The lead has ballooned as high as five games on a couple of occasions, most recently June 26. It has been shaved a bit, frittered as small as a half-game on May 16, when the Rays completed a three-game sweep in Tampa and the Mets, afterward, had two-thirds of their lineup on the injured list.

Javier Baez walks to the dugout after striking out in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Marlins.

The team directly in back of the Mets has switched a couple of times, Phillies to Braves to Nats, back to the Braves, back to the Phillies.

But Friday, for the 90th consecutive day, the Mets will wake up, alone, in first place.

Will it be the last?

There are two gale-force winds in the East now: the Mets, who can’t get out of their own way, and the Phillies, who simply can’t seem to lose anymore. When they meet Friday night they’ll be separated by a skinny half-game. The Mets added onto their pile of misery losing again to the woeful Marlins in Miami, 4-2; the Phillies scored four times with two outs in the ninth to take a 7-6 win from the Nats.

Thursday’s loss may have been the most dispiriting of all the 51 that came before it. The Marlins are a last-place team mostly interested in peeks at the future now. Didn’t matter to them, or the Mets. The outcome was probably determined the way too many Mets games have been this year, early, in the first inning.

The first three men reached base: infield single for Jonathan Villar, walk to Pete Alonso, single for Dominic Smith. The Marlins were begging to be taken out early. Rookie pitcher Braxton Garrett, on his 24th birthday, had nothing. Good teams bury bad teams here, take all mystery out of the game, sprint for the airport with a four-game split.

The Mets didn’t score.

And you knew. Right there, you knew.

“We still expect it to come together,” said Michael Conforto, whose fly ball ended the first after Garrett struck out both J.D. Davis and Javier Baez. “We still expect to score a lot of runs and we’ll keep showing up with that attitude.”

But there was a genuine lack of conviction in his voice, same as there has been a genuine absence of confidence for the Mets lately. Their lead was still as high as four games after Sunday, but it’s a cushion built mostly on the kindness of the Phillies, Braves and Nats, none of whom have been able to sustain anything all year.

But the Braves have caught a little fire in St. Louis. The Phillies have welcomed the Nats’ mass talent exodus and feasted on their bullpen multiple times in the past week alone. For a while it seemed like pixie dust, paper clips and Elmer’s glue might be enough for the Mets. For 90 days, it has been.

Starting tonight?

Jeurys Familia hands the ball to manager Luis Rojas as he is relieved during the eighth inning.
Lynne Sladky/AP

“We’ve been doing it all year,” Conforto insisted. “So many ups and downs in this season. We flush it when we lose. This wasn’t the way we wanted this series to go, we’ll be set for a little bit, get in the plane and be Philly bound. It’ll be out of our minds when we get there.”

When they get there, they will play their first hypercritical series of the year. Ninety days the Mets have figured things out, with makeshift lineups and random heroes.

Can they make it to 91?

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Mike Vaccaro

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