Edwin Diaz is such a dominant, open closer right now that Mets TV doesn’t even go on a commercial break when he comes on in the ninth inning. Instead, the camera follows him as he enters the field through the bullpen gate and walks to Pitcher’s Mound, out of the stadium speakers Blasterjaxx & Timmy Trumpet’s “Narco”, the majors’ best opening song.
As soon as these trumpets start playing, the crowd dances and claps. It’s as if the fans are already celebrating the impending victory, which is usually official within minutes and not infrequently with a swipe from Diaz over the side.
That was the case at Citi Field on Sunday. Following Jacob deGrom’s triumphant return in his first home start in 13 months, Diaz joined the Mets, who led the Braves 5-2, and beat the heart of the Atlanta lineup — Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson and Austin Riley — to 14th fields. The crowd erupted as Riley went down three courts and faced a 101-mile fastball for the final shot.
Yes, it’s fun when you finish great, it’s fun when you win, and it’s especially fun when you’re the Mets and the Braves are beating a straight four-of-five majors in the biggest series of the season yet. The Mets played in the shadow of their New York neighbors for most of the first half, with the Yankees on track to challenge the record for single-season wins. But with deGrom back and that statement series against the Braves, the Mets have proven they’re the best team in NL East — and maybe even the best team in New York.
After the Cardinals won a series against the Yankees, the Mets are now 70-39. The Yankees? 70-39.
Just as importantly, this streak was a chance for the Mets to prove they weren’t going to collapse like they’ve done so many times in the past. On July 23, the Braves, 10.5 games down in early June, had fought their way back down to just a half game; they were 3.5 back at the start of this series. Now they’re trailing 6.5 games against a Mets team that hit better, fielded better, managed better — and fielded deGrom in stunning peak form.
DeGrom was making his second start of the season, pulling back the first 17 batters he faced and knocking out 12 of them. The Braves sniffed the first 18 sliders they slammed down from deGrom and didn’t even touch one until Michael Harris II fouled two sliders in the sixth inning. In the pitch-tracking era since 2008, that’s the most consecutive swings and misses against a single pitch in a game. The Braves had no chance.
Buck Showalter knocked out deGrom after 76 pitches when he walked Ehire Adrianza and gave Dansby Swanson a two-run home run, but it was an exciting performance – a sign of what the returning ace has to offer down the line. “I felt good all day today,” deGrom told reporters after the game. “I just wasn’t able to throw in a few pitches when I had to, but I felt like I had more in the tank. It’s just smart to deal with now. Hopefully next time I can stay out a little longer.”
By the end of Sunday’s game, the Mets pitchers had a total of 19 strikeouts, tying the franchise record for a nine-inning game (the previous instances being individual play performances by Tom Seaver and David Cone).
“I just feel bad for anyone who has to face him,” Mets midfielder Brandon Nimmo said after the game. “He’s throwing 101, 102 up there and 95mph sliders and he’s locating everything. Kudos to him for recovering and coming back to us. He is prepared and ready to go and we feel good that he is going forward.”
DeGrom’s return to health and dominance is the main reason the Mets aren’t doing…well, what the Mets do so often, which is kind of grope their way out of first place or a playoff position. You know how they did it last season when they led by five games at the end of July and then went 21-37 in the last two months.
In his last 33 starts — about what you’d expect from a No. 1 starter over an entire season — deGrom is 14-4 with a 1.49 ERA, 303 strikeouts in 198.2 innings and a pathetic 0, 68 WHIP. Granted, we had to go back to September 9, 2019 to get down to 33 launches, but deGrom’s first two launches suggest this is still a vintage deGrom. Oh…and he’s really just the co-ace, as Max Scherzer is 8-2 this season with a 1.98 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 95.2 innings. In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, with a tired bullpen needing innings from the starter, Scherzer fielded seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and was so excited after the performance that he spent the next inning walking on the Mets’ dugout to go and chat with his other rotation buddies (and presumably tell them “that’s how you do it”).
Another big reason this Mets team is different: Buck Showalter. He gave a masterclass in management throughout the series. Witness:
In Thursday’s first game, when the meat of the Braves lineup emerged in the eighth inning and the Mets were 6-4, he used Diaz for a two-inning save. It was only the third time in his Mets career that Diaz had fielded two innings and the first two-inning save of his career. Showalter has said that this is the time of year to start thinking and managing something differently. He wouldn’t miss the first game.
The Braves won the second game when Taijuan Walker was shot at, but the Mets made it interesting in the middle innings. The Braves brought on left backup Dylan Lee in the fifth and Showalter countered with pinch-hitter Darin Ruf, who doubled in two runs. Eduardo Escobar hit and drove in another run and the Mets nearly recovered from an 8-0 deficit. A point was made: if Brian Snitker makes a move, Showalter now has the bats off the bench to counter it.
In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Braves rallied against the back of the bullpen in the ninth inning to go 8-3 with two runners. Again Showalter didn’t want to let the game get away and challenged Diaz for the last two outs.
In the eighth inning of game two, pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin was up 4-1 to put in a run and then Tomas Nido pushed in another. That gave the Mets some breathing room in the ninth game, so they didn’t have to use any of their top three assists (Diaz, Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo), all of whom served in the first game.
On Sunday, he stayed hot-handed, letting the much-maligned Joely Rodriguez throw 2.1 scoreless innings to deGrom’s relief — it was the longest outing of the season for Rodriguez, who has a 5.00+ ERA.
Would Showalter even use Diaz for the third time in four days? Of course. Those were big games.
“It was huge,” said Nimmo. “Five games in four days against a great team is no easy feat and the Braves are a great team, no question about it. But we were able to get four out of five and that really puts us in a good position.”
Yes, in years past the Mets have been in a good position and let it slip. But those teams didn’t have a 1-2 hit from deGrom-Scherzer, nor did they have the depth this team has now. They certainly didn’t have a rescuer like Diaz. He averages 18.9 little league strikeouts per inning and beats 52.9% of the batters he faces. He’s working on a streak of 18 consecutive goalless appearances in which he’s fanned 38 batters and conceded just one walk.
Let those trumpets sound. The Mets are the real deal.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34367018/with-statement-series-win-atlanta-braves-new-york-mets-prove-real-deal With a statement series win over the Atlanta Braves, the New York Mets prove they’re the real deal