CINCINNATI — Crawl through the desert, make a five-day journey on four days of water, and at the end of the ordeal there would be an oasis. This was the proposition that once faced the Mets.
It was the middle of August. Their percentage chance of making the playoffs had dipped into the single digits. Their roster buckled under the stress of attrition. Survive, and salvation would appear in the form of the softest September schedule in baseball.
The reward for braving that hardship couldn’t have been more obvious on a muggy afternoon, when the Mets did not play particularly well but summoned enough focus to beat the reeling Reds, 6-3.
“We’re in our own world right now,” Terry Collins said.
The Mets (74-66) moved into a virtual tie with the Cardinals for the second wild card, doing so by bullying competition that is dreaming of tee times. This is the plight of the Reds (57-81), relegated to playing out the rest of a lost season. For one day, they barely bothered with the pretense of hiding their resignation.
Three times, the Reds ran themselves into outs, stunting potential rallies against a shaky Noah Syndergaard. In one instance, they gave away a run.
Shortstop Jose Peraza was handcuffed on a routine grounder that should have ended the third. Pitcher Anthony DeScalfani compounded the mistake when he was slow to cover the plate on a wild pitch, allowing Jose Reyes to score.
Syndergaard (13-8, 2.48) took a step backward in what had been a turnaround. After lasting at least seven innings in each of his last three starts, he went only five innings against the Reds. It was a grind. He allowed six hits and walked four, a season high. But partly because the Reds torpedoed their chances, Syndergaard did not surrender a run.
“I definitely didn’t have my best stuff today, I definitely didn’t feel comfortable out there,” he said. “But it was a real ly, really good team win.”
The Reds briefly snapped out of their trance in the eighth. They threatened to tie it when Peraza just missed a grand slam. He settled for a two-run double off Addison Reed that banged two feet from the top of the leftfield wall. But Reed worked out of the jam, and the Mets added an insurance run in the ninth on Yoenis Cespedes’ double.
“Our guys are completely focused on what they’ve got to do and how they have to go about it,” Collins said. “I thought we showed that when they came back with the three runs. We came right out, got a guy on base, and got another big hit.”
The Mets have won five straight and 14 of their last 18, a run that has been powered by the long ball. In that span, they have hit 34 home runs, including three yesterday.
Reyes hit the first pitch of the game into the rightfield stands, his 24th career leadoff home run. Curtis Granderson hit his 25th of the season, a sixth-inning solo shot. In the eighth, Wilmer Flores hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer, tying his career high for a season with 16.
Now, history beckons. The Mets have 192 homers, tying the 1987 team for third most in team history. They are well within reach of eclipsing the franchise record of 200 in 2006.
The Mets have won 14 straight against the Reds, and the schedule will continue to help their push to the playoffs. After muddling through the summer, the road to October will be lined by rose petals, thrown by teams far out of contention. Yes, the Mets must still win the games.
But their competition has become a luxury. Seven games remain against the Phillies and six against the Braves, including a three-game set that begins tomorrow night in Atlanta. The lowly Twins also loom when the Mets return to Citi Field.
At long last, the Mets have arrived at the oasis.
Said Collins: “We’re fortunate to be where we are.”