“How can I stay mad at you?”
— Homer Simpson, to a rancid sandwich that nearly killed him.
MIAMI — The injury-depleted Mets dropped a 3-1 decision to the Marlins Saturday evening, here at the ridiculously spelled loanDepot park, when Garrett Cooper smoked Drew Smith’s two-out, ninth-inning, full-count cutter over the wall in left-center field, scoring Brian Anderson along with him. So ended yet another nail-biter for Luis Rojas’ group, their fifth straight game, all against National League East opponents, settled by one or two runs. The Mets are 3-2 in that stretch and will go for their second straight series victory Sunday.
Look, this can’t last for the long term. They need enough of their core players to return to active play. They need $341-million man Francisco Lindor, quietly improving offensively, to be louder with the bat.
Yet at a time when they could collapse, the Mets are not merely winning sufficiently. They are producing a throwback, enjoyable style of baseball in the process, and you can see how much they revel in each triumph. How much they enjoy, deservedly, the great moments even if the final result goes against them.
“It’s really showing the character of this team. It’s a ton of fun,” said Dom Smith, who delivered the Mets’ one RBI on the day as well as a highlight defensive play. “All these tight games it’s really helping us prepare for the postseason.”
Smith dove to his right to spear Miguel Rojas’ grounder, throwing from his tuchus to get the ball to Miguel Castro in time to end the eighth inning. The very next Marlins batter, Jesus Aguilar, led off the ninth with a blast to right-center field that Johneshwy Fargas stopped with a dive and a snow-cone catch, prompting Drew Smith to exclaim, “[Bleep] yeah, baby!” That the game ended minutes later should take away some, but for sure not all, from those moments.
The irony is, if all goes according to plan, only two or three guys who played Saturday — certainly Lindor and Dom Smith, perhaps catcher Tomas Nido — would start in a playoff Game 1. The Mets as put together by Sandy Alderson and his deputies will ride the home run to success or the lack thereof to failure.
Nevertheless if I may be the first person to ever offer this thought, the baseball season constitutes more of a marathon than a sprint. You can’t anticipate all of the adversity along the way. You must adjust. These Mets have adjusted.
“Yes it’s different than what we had,” Luis Rojas acknowledged. “We haven’t been this fast as a team. Now we can create some things.”
(Tying together the mention of Rojas as well as the season being a marathon: Nope, I’m not going all in on the “Rojas should’ve kept Joey Lucchesi in the game longer!” argument. Lucchesi entered the game with a 9.19 ERA. He hadn’t clocked more than 3 ¹/₃ innings. For him to craft four brilliant innings, striking out eight and walking one? Let him go out on a high note and bring that into his next outing. Besides, his successor Sean Reid-Foley allowed just one run in 2 ¹/₃ innings himself.)
The Mets could leave the ballpark knowing they’d still occupy the NL East penthouse no matter how the Phillies did in their night game against the Red Sox. That they once again had not cheated themselves. That their bullpen, the unit that has led to the downfall of more Mets seasons, continues to shine overall, Smith’s final pitch notwithstanding. They can’t all be gems like Friday night’s 6-5, 12-inning win here.
“That’s what keeping us in games, the pitching and defense,” Rojas said. “We put ourselves in position to win a ballgame today. It just didn’t happen.”
I get it: They’re a major league ballclub with the industry’s richest owner and they lost a game Saturday. If the losses leave you laughing, though, then you’re probably doing something correct. If you’re going to field a Quadruple-A team, you could do far worse than the Mets right now.