The Mets’ offseason acquisitions of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco were the headline grabbers. Additions to the roster such as outfielder Kevin Pillar and infielders Jonathan Villar and Jose Peraza got less attention. But in the eyes of Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez that second collection of assets is the reason the Mets remain in first place despite the plague of injuries that has been visited on them.
The Mets were 37-31 and 3 1/2 games up in the NL East entering the game Wednesday night against Atlanta, which was to be proceeded by the 36th Game and Family Day of the N.Y. Police and Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund. The charity was founded in 1985 by the Mets’ Rusty Staub to provide immediate and ongoing financial support to the families of NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority Police Department personnel killed in the line of duty.
"The Mets have done remarkably well despite the amount of injuries that they’ve had — at one point 16 guys were on the (injured) list — and I can’t explain how that happened," Hernandez said. "Everybody talked about the Lindor and Carrasco moves, but the under-the-radar improvements to the bench have made their excellent pitching stand up ... They’ve had to score enough runs for the team to win and they’ve done a terrific job."
"Guys like Peraza, Pillar and Villar have put the Mets where they are right now," Darling said.
The list of Mets to lose time to injury this season is long and includes everyday players such as Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis. Their backups have done enough with the bats and played enough excellent defense to keep winning.
Hernandez said players like Pillar and Villar may lose playing time as the regulars return from the IL, but "they are professionals and will continue to contribute when they get the chance."
And the Mets need to get those hitters back, as evidenced by getting shutout in four of eight games going into Wednesday night’s contest.
"For almost all of the 30 teams, their big complaint is they can’t hit the baseball, just look at the Yankees," Darling said. "A lot of first place teams, including the Mets, feel they haven’t shown all the offense they’re capable of.
"They’ve been a courageous group to be where they are. They’ve played really hard, been really good defensively and pitched their butts off to be in first place. But to be a championship caliber team, the hitters have to hold up their end of the bargain. I’m not sure they can sustain all the things that put them in first — the pitching, defense and happenstance — without the offense picking it up. Before the season, people who are supposed to know what they’re talking about thought this might be the best Mets lineup ever.
"If the pieces come back and they hit, there is the chance to be a championship team," Darling concluded. "If they don’t hit, it will be a dogfight all the way."
Darling and Hernandez were at the very first Game and Family Day of the N.Y. Police and Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund, which was held in the picnic ground at Shea Stadium. Each was touched that Staub founded the charity that now goes by "Answer the Call."
"Rusty was an extraordinary man who always had a mind to do for others. It might have been part of a Jesuit upbringing for a fairly religious guy," Hernandez said. "He founded this particular organization maybe 15 years before 9/11. But he had this organization positioned to help."
"Rusty didn’t just take players under his wing and help them grow up in New York as ballplayers," Darling said. "He instilled in a guy a sense that you owe to the community that supports your team to give back. This charity is an example."
Youngsters Robert Cardona and Elina Murray threw out ceremonial first pitches and Matthew Ferrugia sang the national anthem Wednesday. Each had a parent in the NYPD or NYFD who died from complications of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.
Answer the Call also honored Amazon with its Spirit Award for donating electronic devices to all 522 families the charity is now assisting.