David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Not that long ago, Tradition Field felt like a waiting room to oblivion this time of year. The place where dreams circled the drain weeks before Opening Day. The Mets seemed to have a better chance of landing on the moon than reaching the World Series.
Now, they expect to win it.
And many others believe the Mets will, too.StoryDeGrom’s World Series loss lingered
The primary reason for that was on display Tuesday at the team’s spring-training facility, where Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz stood nearly shoulder-to-shoulder during the morning’s bullpen session. The missing piece, Noah Syndergaard, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday from Texas while Zack Wheeler, still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, watched his teammates throw from behind the mound.
The Mets have had dozens of players working out at the facility since before the Super Bowl, despite stretching last season all the way until Nov. 3, when the Royals celebrated winning the World Series by partying on the Citi Field turf. Despite the not-so-happy recap, it still was quite an accomplishment for the Mets, who never could have imagined getting that far when they first showed up in Port St. Lucie that February.
But the days of talking about “meaningful Septembers” in spring training are now officially over. We’re fully through the looking glass with these Mets, who in the span of a calendar year have morphed from feisty division upstarts to World Series favorites — unless, like the Vegas oddsmakers, you’re swayed by the defections of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to Wrigley.
And the Mets, who swept the Cubs last October, seem to be fine wearing the bull’s-eye as NL champs. They’re not ducking the attention. Their only regret is not finishing the job, and they apparently can’t wait to get to work this season. After so many years of developing players and always talking about the future, these Mets are amped about the day-to-day battles, the arduous climb back to the top of the heap.
“I definitely think there’s a little more expectation,” DeGrom said Tuesday. “And I think we expect to make it back to the World Series and win it this time. That’s everybody’s goal here.”
Obviously, one trip to the Fall Classic hardly guarantees another. But there is value in having done it before, especially for a Mets’ team that relies on its core of young players, and a rotation with only two starters, deGrom and Harvey, who have pitched a full season. Syndergaard showed he had an attitude as fierce as his 100-mph fastball in his war of words with the Royals and Matz overcame a pair of nagging injuries during the regular season to get a taste of the intense October stage.
As disappointing as things turned out, the Mets are using the experience as motivation from the moment they drop off their duffel bags here in the clubhouse. In Tuesday’s conversation with deGrom, he mentioned how his Game 2 meltdown kept “popping up” on him during the offseason, like a case of indigestion. Only in this instance, it’s stayed with deGrom, and there’s just one way to erase that bad taste.
“I want to get back there,” deGrom said, “and get a chance to redeem myself.”
The Mets see no reason why that shouldn’t happen again. As pitching coach Dan Warthen supervised the throwing session Tuesday, he marveled again at the depth of talent — and, just as important, the health of the Mets’ staff. Harvey is free of the 180-inning leash that he wore coming off Tommy John surgery, and Warthen doesn’t anticipate having any limitations with the rotation — other than being smart with the workloads as they get later into the season.
With an improved bullpen that presumably will feature full seasons of Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins, along with the newly signed Antonio Bastardo, the Mets won’t need to ride the rotation quite as hard in some situations. And with plans to go deep into October, they’ll need the starters to maybe have a little more in the tank for a long playoff run.
Because that’s where we are with the Mets right now. At the start of spring training, the World Series isn’t a fantasy anymore. It’s the destination.