Sports

With a ‘Special Group,’ the Mets Find Ways to Win

The Mets packed up their duffel bags late Thursday afternoon, winners again, and slipped into their uniform for the flight to Denver: a black T-shirt with Eduardo Escobar’s face on the front and “Diez Años” across the back, above the number 10.

Escobar is new to the Mets this season, signed as a free agent after stints with four other teams. He reaches 10 full years of service time on Friday, and the Mets presented him with a signed bottle of Cordon Negro before Thursday’s game. A decade at the top of the profession carries a special significance.

“It’s the dream for a player,” Escobar said after the game, a 7-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings. “But most important, when you respect the team and play hard every day, you can play for a long time.”

Escobar had just played his worst game of the season. He was hitless in four at-bats, leaving five runners on base. He made two errors at third base, and kicked a grounder in the ninth inning when a clean play could have ended the game.

It didn’t matter. The Mets were buoyant as they left town. The forecast in Denver calls for rain and snow with temperatures in the 30s. The way things are going, it will somehow turn into a warm spring weekend.

This feels like one of those years, doesn’t it? The kind that makes up for so many also-ran seasons — some self-inflicted, some just rotten luck. The kind where the Mets throw a no-hitter and come back from being down six runs in the ninth inning. The kind where they lose another multiple Cy Young Award winner and send their fans home with a 447-foot game-ending blast by Pete Alonso.

All of Thursday’s problems melted away when Alonso connected with a pitch from Giovanny Gallegos.Credit…Al Bello/Getty Images

The baseball gods are still flinging lightning bolts at the Mets. This season, though, they can’t pierce the happy force field over Flushing.

“Sometimes you have a bad game — especially me today, on defense — but Pete supports us and we come back for the win,” Escobar said. “When you have a team that plays together, I think you have a lot of chances to continue to win and make the playoffs. We have a special group here, man. It’s a lot of fun.”

It wasn’t so fun for Max Scherzer on Wednesday. In the middle of a showdown with a future Cooperstown teammate, Albert Pujols, Scherzer motioned to the Mets dugout: he was done. He had felt a painful sensation down his left side and had the good sense to know his physical limits.

“I’ve had different body parts where you get zings in the middle of a game and you think you can go out there and throw another warm-up pitch and it’s going to be OK — and it’s not,” Scherzer said, adding later, “Once your body goes, then you can’t pitch. There’s nothing I can do.”

It was the same way for Scherzer in 2019, with the Washington Nationals, when he missed a start in Game 5 of the World Series with severe neck spasms. He recovered in time to start Game 7 and help Washington win the championship.

No such miracle this time: The Mets announced in the middle innings Thursday that Scherzer would miss six to eight weeks with a moderate- to high-level internal oblique strain. He joins Jacob deGrom, who has not pitched since last July 7, on the injured list. DeGrom has a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade and has not begun throwing off a mound.

With Scherzer and deGrom, that’s five Cy Young Awards and about $70 million on the injured list, along with Tylor Megill, the young right-hander who started the no-hit relay against Philadelphia on April 29. Scherzer and Megill have combined to go 9-3 with a 3.31 earned run average in 15 starts. They will be hard to replace.

Max Scherzer was frustrated with discomfort in his side on Wednesday. On Thursday the Mets announced that he would be out for six to eight weeks.Credit…Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

“We have the depth to withstand this,” said Chris Bassitt, the former Oakland All-Star acquired in a March trade by General Manager Billy Eppler. “This is why the front office and Billy brought me in and brought Max in, to really shore up the staff. When things happen — because they happen to everybody — we’re able to still win games. We didn’t lose him for the year.”

Even without Scherzer, deGrom and Megill, the Mets’ rotation is respectable: Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Trevor Williams and David Peterson. And they have built themselves a margin for error; at 26-14, they are the only team with a winning record in the National League East. The roster, as it looks today, should be strong enough to hold up for the next two months.

That is the hope now: just don’t implode. Don’t turn this into 2018, when the Mets started well but lost 29 of 37 from mid-May through the end of June. Summer was over before it really began.

That was Mickey Callaway’s first season as manager — not just with the Mets, but anywhere. The Mets kept hiring managers with no major league experience — Carlos Beltrán, Luis Rojas — before landing in December on Buck Showalter. Some 3,000 games in the dugout gives a manager perspective.

“Like I’ve said a hundred times,” Showalter said on Thursday, “people don’t care about your problems; they’re glad you’ve got ’em.”

Last summer, Atlanta capitalized on deGrom’s absence, and the Mets’ second-half tailspin, for a comeback division title on the way to a championship. Several trades helped propel the Braves, and this year’s market has yet to develop.

The Mets will surely be active; how could they not? They are the only team in the majors whose position players and pitchers both average more than 30 years old. Yet they play like a younger team, or perhaps one from an earlier era — aggressive base running, bunting, even a decent batting average: .252, second in the majors to Colorado.

The Mets will bring roster reinforcements this weekend, filling the spots of Scherzer and their other injured players. They’ll see them again eventually, and probably keep winning in the meantime.

“We’ve got some rough estimates about when we’ll start getting some of these guys, but usually baseball throws you another curve somewhere along the way,” Showalter said. “You just keep ducking and dodging and see if you can get to the endgame.”

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