Maybe some small slice of redemption can still exist in a year like this. Even when your team is almost completely eliminated from the postseason, and even when exactly nothing has gone right for you in a fairly long time.
In Tuesday night’s 5-2 win against the Rays, that was typified by Pete Alonso, who woke up from a 54-game nightmare to recreate a vintage 2019 night. And, in a subtler way, it was represented by Seth Lugo — that pitcher who so much wants to be a starter, coming off one of the worst appearances of his career, and proving again that he has the mettle for the primetime role.
A start after lasting 1 2/3 innings, Lugo was everything the Mets could hope, pitching 6 1/3, and allowing one earned run on four hits, with a walk and seven strikeouts. Alonso, meanwhile, hit a homer and was 2-for-3 with three RBIs in what has otherwise been a (shortened) season to forget. All that means is that though the Mets are almost out of it, they're not quite there, being 2.5 games out of the wild card with five games to play and three teams between them.
"I feel like persistence will prevail — not just last year, this year, but every year moving forward" Alsonso said. "You can’t necessarily dwell on all the failures too much because, if I were to dwell on all the failure, I’d go nuts."
And though it’s statistically likely that won’t prove true this year, Alonso seemed to believe that both him and Lugo will prevail regardless. He called his starter’s work "artwork," describing a pitcher who researches more than most, and thinks through every appearance, start or relief. For himself, Alonso spoke about his low BABIP, his high exit velocity, and his steadfast belief that this tiny, painful sample size could be a blip in his career. "I never give up on myself," Alonso said. "I never give up on my teammates and until the last out is made, I’m busting it."
That was true enough on Tuesday's bounceback win. Willy Adames and Robinson Cano traded solo homers in the bottom of the first and top of the second, but the Mets finally made some headway in the fourth, when Alonso, who came into the game hitting .202, went the other way on Blake Snell’s 95.3 mph fastball for his 13th homer of the year. In the sixth, he tacked on, driving in Dom Smith with a two out single to left, to give the Mets the 4-1 lead — one they never relinquished. Guillermo Heredia also hit his first homer as a Met, a solo shot off John Curtiss in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Lugo continued to make the case for himself. Locating the fastball that abandoned him in his last start and using his secondary pitches to great effect. He doesn’t know if he’s fully made the case for a starter role next year, he said, but he did make the case for himself as a pitcher.
"The only case I made is that I’m willing to work, I’m willing to make adjustments and do what whatever I need to do," he said. "I think that’s all I can do."
Luis Rojas agreed, and both he and Alonso brought up the cerebral way Lugo approaches his starts. That meant he wasn’t overly discouraged by his last disaster. In fact, Rojas said, he was able to identify the pitches that worked for him and identified how to fix it.
"The thing that stands out with Seth is that he’s mentally tough," Rojas said. "He did a tremendous job tonight, using all his pitches…That confidence in his stuff is one of the things that allowed him to bounce back."
It’s a microcosm of what the Mets hope to be their future. And Tuesday’s victory means that future gets to be tomorrow and the day after that and, who knows, maybe even the day after that.