David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
July 24. A fairly innocuous day on the calendar. No fireworks, no presents, no turkey. But circle that as the red-letter date of the Mets' 2015 schedule, and when we look back on this season, from wherever this team ends up, it will be known as the unmistakable launch pad for everything we've witnessed since.
The bold stroke of calling up Michael Conforto from Double-A Binghamton. Sandy Alderson grabbing Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Braves. The stirring of a team that needed only a few more nudges to get going, from the front office to the playing field. And now we're seeing what momentum truly looks like after the Mets' 12-3 smashing of the Rockies completed a four-game sweep Thursday at Citi Field.
"If that changed something," Johnson said of the chain reaction, "then that's what it was supposed to do."
The Mets definitely are transformed, and even Sandy Alderson couldn't have seen this blue-and-orange train coming. The GM deserves major credit for acquiring the right pieces, but who knew they would fit this perfectly? The new players have effortlessly slid into their roles, making the others around them better in the process.
In Thursday's win, the versatile Johnson started at second base, finished the game at first and went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs. The forgotten Juan Lagares, bounced from the regular centerfielder's job by Yoenis Cespedes, came off the bench to slug a three-run homer. The rock-steady Curtis Granderson, who's lately getting some time off against lefties, also went deep for his 20th home run and had a sacrifice fly.
Beginning with a 15-2 win over the Dodgers on July 25, the Mets have scored 101 runs, the most in the National League during that span, and averaged 5.6 per game. With their lockdown rotation, it's no coincidence that they're 14-4 in that stretch, and there's no reason to think the Mets' lead in the NL East can't continue to grow if the Nationals keep snoozing through September.
There's still more than two weeks left in August, but the cliché holds true. The first-place Mets control their own destiny. And they believe they're capable of winning the division. Better yet, they intend to do just that. "We win the next 49 and we don't have to worry about anybody else," Terry Collins said. "Take care of your own business and then you don't have to worry about what the scoreboard says."
We're not sure anything fazes the Mets anymore. They've already been to the brink this season -- multiple times -- only to somehow emerge stronger. Remember the three-game sweep by the Cubs at Citi that dropped the Mets to .500 (40-40) before they headed to the West Coast? We were a day or two away from sounding the sirens on a full-blown Terry Watch, but they rebounded to go 4-2 on that trip and blew up that narrative.
Even when we were ready to drop-kick the Mets for fouling up the Carlos Gomez trade, Alderson deftly landed on his feet by pulling off the Cespedes deal -- and Wilmer Flores wound up a folk hero. As much as we get paid to nitpick, it's difficult to find fault with these surging Mets, aside from a few issues currently percolating beneath the surface.
One is Lucas Duda's potentially troublesome back condition, which kept him out of the lineup for the third straight game and could land him on the disabled list. In usual Mets fashion, they had yet to give him an MRI. Collins said his concern was at "DEFCON 5" -- technically the lowest alert level -- but the manager didn't sound all that optimistic.
Losing Duda didn't slow the Mets against the Rockies, but he'd be a great bat to have this weekend at Citi, where he has 18 homers. Either way, Collins has other solid options -- Johnson, Daniel Murphy, Michael Cuddyer -- and everything seems to be working. "There's no egos," Johnson said. "Guys play hard. It's a good group."
Good enough to stay in first place. And for whatever else comes next.