PHILADELPHIA — If there still was any doubt, any lingering fear that this year’s Mets are like last year’s Mets (who utterly collapsed right around now), allow the goings-on Saturday to quell those qualms: In splitting a doubleheader with the Phillies with an 8-2 win in the opener and a 4-1 loss in the nightcap, the Mets collected their 78th victory of the year — already topping the total of their immediate predecessor with 40 games remaining.
The reasons for the immense improvement are many, and some of them were on display in the opener. Jeff McNeil, amid a big bounce-back season, had three hits, two RBIs and a run scored. Francisco Lindor ripped an RBI triple and scored twice. First-year Met Starling Marte went 3-for-4 with a walk. Trevor Williams, approximately the No. 8 starter, tossed four shutout innings to outpitch Zack Wheeler.
“Success breeds success,” Williams said. “It’s a good group of guys in the clubhouse. What Buck [Showalter] has come in and done and expected from us, we’ve bought into. Everybody has stepped up and risen to the occasion, and that starts with Buck. And it’s a testament to the team that Billy [Eppler] has put together, knowing certain guys in their certain roles, and you also have leaders in the clubhouse like Lindor and Pete [Alonso], guys that are pushing everybody around them to greatness. It’s been fun to watch [from] afar from the bullpen, to see everything happen.”
Williams has spent much of the season in the bullpen, but part of what makes him so valuable — and so popular with Showalter — is his versatility. He hasn’t allowed a run since July 2, a streak of 24 innings, while working irregularly. In eight games during that stretch, he has made two starts and six relief appearances, including the first save and first hold of his career.
“I’m impressed with his ability to stay sharp,” Showalter said. “Not once has he ever put himself in front of what the team’s needs are.”
Williams added: “He trusts me in this role, and it’s something that I take pride in every time I touch the mound.”
Even as their NL East lead over Atlanta dropped to three games, the Mets (78-44) continued their ownership of the Phillies, including a 13-5 record and plus-36 run differential in the season series. They beat Wheeler, scoring four runs in 5 1⁄3 innings, a day after beating Aaron Nola. In games they started, the Mets went 9-0.
An early momentum shift came in the bottom of the fourth of the opener. Philadelphia (66-54) threatened to take the lead with runners at the corners and one out, but an attempted delayed double steal backfired. Garrett Stubbs struck out and Bryson Stott was out at the plate for an inning-ending double play.
Umpires reviewed the sequence, potentially to see if catcher Michael Perez blocked Stott’s path home, but ultimately confirmed the ruling. “Good plays like that make your team look crisp and sound,” Showalter said.
Perez said through an interpreter: “I received a good pitch that I was able to throw to second, but the throw that Lindor threw to me kind of took me off course and led me into that path . . . I had to make the play wherever the ball was.”
The next half-inning, Perez dropped a two-run single into rightfield for his first Mets hit and the first runs of the game.
For the second time in a week, Wheeler lost to his former team in part because of a string of soft hits. “We grinded the heck out of him,” Showalter said. “We also caught him on a little down night. He was just missing on a lot of pitches.”
Said Wheeler: “They just have some good hitters. Got good plate discipline . . . for the most part. They foul balls off, ground out ABs, put the bat on the ball. And when you put the bat on the ball and the pitcher is making his pitches, more likely it’s going to be soft contact. And it seems like it’s blooping in the right spots and finding the holes.”
In Game 2, Phillies spot starter Bailey Falter held the Mets to one run in six innings. They had only two hits after the first inning.
David Peterson lasted only 4 2⁄3 innings and gave up three runs, two on Alec Bohm’s double in the third.
It almost got worse in the sixth, but McNeil saved two runs by laying out in shallow rightfield to catch J.T. Realmuto’s pop-up. “Mac’s a baseball player,” Showalter said. “I was hoping it was one of those plays you look back on after the game and you’re like, ‘What a big play it was.’ ”
It wasn’t. In reflecting on the second game, Showalter said, “We had a good first game.”
But they’ve already topped the 2021 version of themselves with more than six weeks to go. “I’m happy where we are today, but that’s not the goal I’m here for,” Lindor said. “The goal is to be in the postseason and win a World Series . . . I’m so focused on the daily results that are going to lead us to the end results.”