The Mets packed up their duffel bags late Thursday afternoon, still victorious, and donned their uniform for the flight to Denver: a black t-shirt with Eduardo Escobar’s face on the front and “Diez Años” in 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 reached 10 full years of service 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 has special significance.
“It’s a player’s dream,” Escobar said after the game, a 7-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings. “But most importantly, 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 committed two errors on third base and grounded a runner in the ninth inning when a clean play could have ended the game.
It didn’t matter. The Mets were buoyant leaving town. The forecast in Denver calls for rain and snow with temperatures in the 30s. The way things are going, it will turn into something of a warm spring weekend.
It looks like one of those years, right? The kind that makes up for so many equally run seasons – some self-inflicted, some just rotten luck. The kind where the Mets throw a no-hitter and come back after dropping six runs in the ninth inning. The kind where they lose another Cy Young Award winner and send their fans home with a 447-foot late-game blast by Pete Alonso.
The baseball gods always throw lightning bolts at the Mets. This season, however, they can’t break through Flushing’s happy force field.
“Sometimes you have a bad game – especially me today, in defense – but Pete backs us up and we come back for the win,” Escobar said. “When you have a team playing together, I think you have a lot of chances to keep winning and making 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. Amid a confrontation with future Cooperstown teammate Albert Pujols, Scherzer waved to the Mets dugout: he was done. He had felt a painful sensation in his left side and had 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 over there and throw another warm-up pitch and you’ll be fine – and that’s not the case,” Scherzer said, later adding, “Once your body goes, you can’t throw. There’s nothing I can do.”
The same was true 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 mid-inning 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 started since July 7, on the injured list. DeGrom has a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade and hasn’t started throwing a mound.
Along with Scherzer and deGrom, that’s five Cy Young Awards and around $70 million on the injured reserve list, along with Tylor Megill, the young right-hander who started the no-hitter stint against Philadelphia on April 29. Scherzer and Megill combined to go 9-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 15 starts. They will be difficult to replace.
“We have the depth to withstand this,” said Chris Bassitt, the former Oakland star acquired in a March trade by general manager Billy Eppler. “That’s why the front office and Billy brought me in and brought in Max, to really strengthen the staff. When things happen – because they happen to everyone – we can always win games We haven’t lost him all year.
Even without Scherzer, deGrom and Megill, the Mets rotation is respectable: Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Trevor Williams and David Peterson. And they built themselves a margin of error; at 26-14, they are the only team with a winning record in the National League East. The list, as it stands today, should be strong enough to last for the next two months.
That’s the hope now: just don’t implode. Don’t turn that into 2018, when the Mets started well but fell 29 of 37 from mid-May to late June. Summer was over before it really started.
It was Mickey Callaway’s first season as a manager – not just with the Mets, but anywhere. The Mets continued to hire managers with no major league experience — Carlos Beltrán, Luis Rojas — before landing Buck Showalter in December. Some 3,000 games in the dugout give a manager’s perspective.
“As I’ve said a hundred times,” Showalter said Thursday, “people don’t care about your problems; they’re glad you have them.
Last summer, Atlanta took advantage of deGrom’s absence and the Mets’ second-half freefall for a comeback division title en route to a championship. Several trades helped propel the Braves forward, and this year’s market has yet to grow.
The Mets will surely be active; how could they not? It’s the only major team whose players and pitchers average over 30 years old. Still, they’re playing like a younger team, or maybe one from an earlier era — aggressive base running, bunting, even a decent batting average: .252, second in the Colorado majors.
The Mets will bring in roster reinforcements this weekend, filling the spots for Scherzer and their other injured players. They will see them again eventually and will likely continue to win in the meantime.
“We have rough estimates of when we’ll start hiring some of these guys, but usually baseball throws you another curveball somewhere along the way,” Showalter said. “You just keep dodging and dodging and see if you can get to the endgame.”