The Mets appreciate the wisdom in the baseball proverb, “Don’t trust what you see in March or September.” They know that false impressions can pop up at those spots on the baseball calendar. But September is all they have right now and they are determined to make the most of it.
So, they embrace a night like Saturday night, beating the Reds, 6-1, at Citi Field. It was their fourth consecutive win and one highlighted by another victory for Rafael Montero, standard bearer for a team full of players fighting for their futures.
“Even though we sit where we sit as far as records go, some of these guys are playing for something,” manager Terry Collins said. “And I think that means something, especially this time of year. They know that all eyes are on them and the better they play, the better the chances in the spring that they’re going to have a chance to make this club.”
Collins has been around long enough to recognize what makes old slogans so true. In September, youngsters fresh up from the minors are running on adrenaline and veteran players are running on fumes. So, the statistics can be misleading. What might be different here, he said, was that many promoted have been here since August. Theirs is a larger, more valid sample.
Montero (5-9) has been up for at least parts of four seasons and has consistently failed to distinguish himself — until lately. He has won three in a row and four of five decisions. In his past six starts, he has a 2.75 earned run average. He has struck out at least five in eight of his past nine starts (including five Saturday night).
Perhaps most telling is that he was not all that great Saturday night (four hits and five walks in five innings). His changeup was not working, so he relied more on his slider, and his command with that was not perfect, either. The point is, he showed confidence that had been sorely lacking earlier in the season, and before.
“Big-time,” said Kevin Plawecki, who caught him and gave him the winning margin with a two-run home run off Homer Bailey (4-8) in the second inning. “Confidence is everything in this game. When you get on the kind of roll that he has been on for the last month or so then you see him in a game like tonight when he maybe didn’t have his best stuff, his best command . . . He made pitches when he had to. Credit to him.”
Montero said, through a translator, “I threw a lot of pitches (97) but I know there are ups and downs. I’m going to keep working hard to get good results.”
As part of the karma, the batter who pinch hit for him, Phillip Evans, ripped a double to left for his first major-league hit. First base coach Tom Goodwin requested the ball from Bailey — a typical rite of passage for September.
The Mets had solid pitching after Montero, particularly the four-strikeout 1 2⁄3 hitless innings from Chasen Bradford. It also was a good game for Dominic Smith, who drew a walk to set up Plawecki’s homer then singled home a run in the sixth. He also made an excellent running catch on a foul pop in the eighth. “I think we’ve just got to be patient with Dom,” Collins said. “We tell him every day, ‘Just be yourself.’ ”
Nori Aoki hit a two-run single in the three-run seventh and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with his second double.
None of which means a thing in the grand scheme. It all could easily be written off as a September cloud, but its all they have right now. As Brandon Nimmo said the other day after a surprising two-homer game: “For us in our situation, the best thing we can do is be positive about the rest of the season and try to finish strong. This isn’t a lost season for the guys in this clubhouse.”