In nearly any other season, a day like Tuesday’s would have been one for jubilation: a doubleheader sweep, major contributions throughout the lineup and solid pitching.
But the Mets greeted their 100th win with a sort of wistfulness late Tuesday night — bittersweet resignation setting in sometime around the fourth inning of Game 2 against the Nationals, when the out-of-town scoreboard confirmed what seemed inevitable: Atlanta beat the Marlins, 2-1, clinching the NL East, and forcing the Mets into a three-game series against the Padres beginning Friday.
By the fifth inning of their 8-0 wallop of the Nationals in Game 2, a cruising Taijuan Walker was handing over the game ball to the bullpen, and by the sixth, Buck Showalter had pulled a host of his starters in the universal sign of a meaningless game 161. They won Game 1 on Tuesday, 4-2. It’s their first 100-win season since 1988, and the two other such seasons ended in a championship. The warring emotion is that it’s also a season in which they were in first place for 174 out of 180 days — just not the most important days.
“It’s a little tough,” said Jeff McNeil, who maintained his lead on the batting title with one game to go — going 3-for-8 over the two games with a home run. “We had an unbelievable year. A hundred wins is not easy to do. A lot of times, 100 wins will pretty easily win the division.”
It also means that Wednesday’s otherwise meaningless regular-season finale should be all about him (whether Buck Showalter plays McNeil or not is yet to be seen, or even how many at bats he gets). After Tuesday, McNeil is hitting .326 (.32645) while the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman was 0-for-4 on the night in Los Angeles, putting him at .322 (.32237). McNeil is riding a 10-game hitting streak and would be the only Met to win a batting title other than Jose Reyes, who did it in 2011.
“It’s kind of fun,” McNeil said. “It’s that one award — it’s the only award I can really look forward to. I’m never going to lead the majors in home runs and stuff like that, so it’s attainable for me.”
He was also part of a rare Mets’ power display, as they hit five homers over the two games, including two from Brandon Nimmo and one from Francisco Alvarez. Alvarez’s 439-foot moonshot in the sixth inning of Game 2 made him the 16th Met to have his first major-league hit come via home run. He also doubled.
In fact, Game 2 started off with a bang (bang, bang), as Nimmo, Francisco Lindor and McNeil led off the first with three straight homers, the first time in franchise history that the Mets’ first three hitters have hit home runs. Nimmo, meanwhile, went 3-for-5 in Game 1 and 3-for-3 in Game 2, and scored his career-high 102nd run.
Carlos Carrasco had a good-enough bounce-back performance in Game 1 and Walker was excellent in Game 2 before getting the hook about as soon as the Atlanta score became official. Walker allowed no runs on four hits in 4 1⁄3 innings, with no walks and 10 strikeouts, making a strong case for becoming the fourth playoff starter.
If there can be a bright side to losing the division — and to be clear, for a team that was once up 10 1⁄2 games, there’s really not — it’s that, despite getting swept by Atlanta over the weekend, the Mets did not so much give up the lead as they had it pried from their hands. Atlanta is 45-22 in the second half (.673), earning them their fifth division title in a row.
All three wild-card games will be at Citi Field and with the division no longer in play, the Mets can save Jacob deGrom, whom they planned to pitch Wednesday if the NL East was within grasp. As it stands, then, the Mets will have deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt lined up for the series.
That presumably doesn’t free up deGrom until Game 2 of the Division Series, should they advance, though Showalter would not commit to pitching deGrom Friday. DeGrom has been dealing with a blister on his pitching hand, which could potentially be a factor, as is whatever gamesmanship Showalter might try to deploy.
Unfortunately for the Mets, these are all considerations that would be foreign to any other 100-win team, since the division winners don’t play until Tuesday.
“We knew it was a long shot when we lost that last game in Atlanta” last weekend Nimmo said. “But, you know, 100 wins is nothing to turn your nose up to. It’s only been done four times here and two of those teams are World Series champions . . . We’ve got an opponent Friday that wants to beat us, and we want to beat them and we need to rise to the challenge, otherwise you’re done.”