October 2, 2022

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The Mets rushed to the top of their game, about to 'challenge'

The Mets rushed to the top of their game, about to ‘challenge’

They opened the house by beating the brave, and they ended up strangling the elephants. In the middle, they outperformed the Reds.

The Mets are at the height of their power. They locked down Phillies in the final 18th round of the series while allowing two in total to a loaded lineup, albeit without Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper. They’ve gone 9-2 over the past 11 days in Queens, scoring five or more runs nine times while allowing two or fewer in eight of those games. They’ve gone 17-3 since dropping the first two after the All-Star break.

They are at the peak of their power.

“This is a real competitor,” Chris Bassett said afterwards. He threw five rounds of lockdown on a day when nothing was but picture perfect. “No doubt about it.”

Everything seems possible even if it’s only in the middle of August. Now, though, the club is embarking on a 10-game wild ride starting Monday that includes four in Atlanta, four in Philadelphia and two at Yankee Stadium where the Mets won’t be much of a catch as big as the catch.

“We know we’re up for the challenge,” said manager Buck Showalter, whose 75-40 side edges the Braves. “Let’s line them up and take it one by one and see what happens.

“These guys get it. They take it day in and day out with a lot of maturity.”

Mets are red hot at the height of their strength.
Jason Szenes

The Mets scored 60 points at home but only hit 10 home runs. This is their way. They’re a contact team, and if the soft guys fall, well, that’s not necessarily lucky, but more of a design leftover to get the bat on the ball. They hit less than any team in the NL other than Washington.

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“Bats are tough,” said Jeff McNeill. “Good things happen when you put the ball into play.”

Good things happen when you put the ball into play. Like basic runners. Equally good things happen when you are vigilant on the essential tracks. Like stealing runs.

That’s what McNeil did in the fourth inning that extended 5-0 against Zach Wheeler, coming home in the last 90 feet after initially stopping at third base on RBI’s James McCann style who fell into a short position but then increased his pace. Back when quarterback Brandon Marsh swept the ball first and then accidentally tossed it to second baseman Jean Segura, who wasn’t paying all that attention.

“When you get to third, the first thing is to find the ball,” McNeil said. “We want to put pressure on the defense and have them kick us out.”

Bassett didn’t have a sharp lead through this matter. He delivered one hit to only 12 of the 21 hitters he encountered and fell behind 11 of them. But he had enough to extend his streak to 24 straight runs without allowing a gain by closing the Phils when they had first and second with none in the fourth and then in the fifth, when there were men in second and third without outs.

Jeff McNeill celebrates after scoring in the fourth inning.
Jeff McNeill celebrates after scoring in the fourth inning.
Jason Szenes

“He doesn’t panic,” Showalter said of the 33-year-old right-winger acquired in March from Auckland in exchange for GT Jane and Adam Oller. “He is a professional who loves to compete. He does not want to let anyone down.”

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Over the last eight games of this stretch at Citi Field, the Mets bowlers have allowed in seven earned runs in 56 ²/innings for an ERA of 1.11. Since Max Scherzer exited IL on July 5, his rotation ERA is 2.10 over the last 35 games.

“There is no secret to how good our presentation team is,” Bassett said. “It’s hard to score on us. We have five veteran players who are very tactful and are able to throw a lot of zeros. It’s like passing the baton.

“It’s kind of what we were built for.”

Chris Bassett's reaction during the Mets' victory over the Phillies.
Chris Bassett’s reaction during the Mets’ victory over the Phillies.
Jason Szenes

Bassett takes the wand from Jacob Degrom, who took the wand from Scherzer. In this way, Bassett is the Mets’ Claude Austin, the left-handed man who followed Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the Dodgers’ turn in the mid-1960s.

“It is a nice. “I see greatness every time,” Bassett said. “I have one of the best seats in the house keeping an eye on them.

“Everyone knows Max. Jake is an alien.”

The Mets are playing out of this world. Now they are trying to occupy Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Bronx.

“I think we’re very short-sighted,” Bassett said. “We are not looking forward.”

They don’t look back either.