Friday, October 16, 2015
Mets Savor a Moment That Doesn’t Come Along Every Day (or, Perhaps, Decade)
The future can always seem perfect, filled with pennants and parades. A roster has so many young and talented players, bound to get even better, with so many years ahead. For the Mets, this feels like the start of something.
Yet what if this is it? The Miracle Mets of 1969 never won another World Series. The swashbuckling champions of 1986 never won another pennant. The Mets of Mike Piazza, and later Jose Reyes, never quite scaled the mountain.
So enjoy this. Savor it. The Mets earned a spot in the National League Championship Series on Thursday when three steely pitchers, meticulously developed in the farm system, cut down the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-2. The Chicago Cubs are up next, at Citi Field on Saturday.
The Dodgers had the veteran aces, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. They had three games at Dodger Stadium. They had a critical call go their way, wrongly, in Game 2. And still the Mets won.
“It’s incredibly hard,” the Mets’ captain, David Wright, said. “You’re talking about the Dodgers having home-field advantage, with Kershaw and Greinke going four times in a best-of-five series. That’s about as challenging as it gets. That’s an incredible feat, and we should be proud of that.”
The Mets may well return to this stage many times. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia, who teamed up to throttle the Dodgers for the last eight innings Thursday, should have staying power, with Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey, who will start Game 1 against Jon Lester.
But the Cubs feel the same way about their own young stars. So do the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates and other rivals. Winning is never easy. When you have the chance, seize it.
“They say it’s about the journey,” said General Manager Sandy Alderson, after the players doused him in champagne. “When you get to this point — which is only an intermediate step — you reflect on the journey. We haven’t gotten there yet. Things are only fun and memorable in retrospect, and that’s true of this series now.”
The series will not be memorable for the Dodgers, again. For all of the money and talent that has floated through Dodger Stadium, they have not won a pennant in 27 years. This was their ninth unfulfilled trip to the playoffs since then, and on Thursday, they were undone by innovations that would have seemed foreign in 1988.
The replay review system reversed a call on the very first play of the game, allowing Curtis Granderson to be safe at first. Granderson, who might have been out easily had the Dodgers used a traditional infield alignment, scored the Mets’ first run.
Daniel Murphy scored their next run, in the fourth inning, after taking an extra base on a walk and moving up to third when the Dodgers — again in an exaggerated shift — left the bag uncovered. Murphy scored on a sacrifice fly, and his homer in the sixth may have been the last run Zack Greinke allowed as a Dodger.
Every team faces off-season changes, even the Dodgers, who must grapple with Greinke’s free agency, assuming he opts out of his contract. The Mets could lose Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard, among others. They will not return as the same team.
“There is always that thought,” Manager Terry Collins said before Game 5. “Obviously, we know we’ve got some guys that could go after free agency. But this game, and I truly believe this, it’s about having good starting pitching. If we get good starting pitching, it’s going nowhere. That right there, that point — the future is pretty bright still.”
Yet expecting a long run of playoff chances is dubious. This was supposed to be Year 4 of the Washington Nationals’ reign atop the N.L. East, but the pitching-rich Nationals have won just two division titles and no playoff series.
More than ever, the rules are tilted toward the worst teams, who get the most money to spend on amateur talent. Only the most poorly run teams stay down very long; the sharp front offices of the Cubs and the Houston Astros have built strong young teams that rose quicker than even they thought.
The Cubs also look sustainable, with a deep lineup of sluggers 26 years old or younger and plenty of money to spend.
“We hope,” said Theo Epstein, their president of baseball operations, after clinching at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. “Nothing’s promised in baseball or in life. We’re excited about all the tomorrows, but we have to go earn it.”
The Mets earned it this season by performing a delicate dance, managing the workloads of dynamic young arms (several having undergone Tommy John surgery) while asking them to pitch more innings — in more stressful situations — than ever.
Collins was concerned for their psyches, too, and worried openly before Game 5 about the long-term impact of Syndergaard failing in an unfamiliar bullpen role. Yet when the game began, and deGrom wobbled, Collins trusted the advice of his mentor, the former manager Jim Leyland, who told him to trust talent above all.
Syndergaard has talent, for sure, so he was summoned in the seventh inning, after warming up four times as deGrom wove in and out of trouble. He struck out Justin Turner, who had vexed deGrom, with this sequence: a fastball at 98 miles an hour, then 99, then 100 — and then a curveball at 82 m.p.h. Syndergaard earned his fist pump as he left the mound.
“I like our chances with the Cubs,” he said. “We’ve got a hot streak right now. I like the way we’re playing baseball. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Dodgers’ fun — with Kershaw and Greinke atop their rotation, anyway — could be over. They have reached one N.L.C.S. in three seasons together, but have gone no further.
Now the Mets have made it. Their pitchers cannot match the trophies or the paychecks of the Dodgers’ duo. But they are playing for a chance at something more precious: a World Series ring. Better grab it while they can.