When the Turner baseball people last covered a postseason game, the Mets were wrapping up an NLCS sweep of the Cubs, seemingly poised for a return trip this season behind a phalanx of strong young arms.
Then stuff happened, and it appeared that with Fox taking its turn on the National League this fall the playoffs might be Mets-free, thanks to a devastating series of injuries to both pitchers and position players.
Then stuff happened again, and there they were with a one-game lead over the Giants and Cardinals for a home wild-card game as Turner analysts gathered in Manhattan on Tuesday for a pre-playoff preview luncheon with reporters.
Count them as duly dazzled.
“As a baseball person, I’m almost more impressed this year than I was last year,” said analyst Ron Darling, who is extra-qualified to talk Mets thanks to his regular gig at SNY. “Last year was exciting because you had great young pitching and you had [Yoenis] Cespedes, who carried the team on his shoulders. So there weren’t as many ancillary pieces.
“I hope that Gabriel Ynoa and [Robert] Gsellman and [Seth] Lugo and [T.J.] Rivera go on to have long and amazing careers. But you could honestly see that this could be their moment — the best moment they might ever have in a big-league uniform. So to me, you might get one guy who does it, but to get four, five or six guys, is just remarkable.
“Gsellman, Lugo and you can even conclude [Rafael] Montero, because he won his first two starts, their record when those guys pitch is more than you could ever ask from [Jacob] deGrom and the others. So as a baseball guy I almost like it more, because I know that I could have never done what they did — six, seven, eight years in the minor leagues, I just don’t have that in me. Couldn’t have done it.
“When I see people who can do it, I’m really attracted to watch them play and I’m glad that they have their time in the sun.”
Darling’s analyst partner in Turner’s No. 1 booth, Cal Ripken Jr., called the Mets’ run through the NL playoffs last year “the most fun I think we’ve had.” But like Darling, what is going on now has wowed him anew.
“It’s amazing to me,” he said. “I don’t understand how you can sustain that sort of injuries to your staff. You look at the reason they had the success they did last year, and I witnessed it firsthand, it was the young arms, great arms, great control. They were dominant.
“Then you say, OK, this is what you’re going to build your team around, this is our expectation, starting pitching is so important. When you have some injuries and they go down and you look at the staff now and you see Bartolo [Colon] as the No. 2 guy, it’s pretty amazing what he’s been doing.
“I’m starting to say, how does that happen? But I do believe once you’ve tasted winning as a team you kind of understand what the objective goal is, so there’s an intangible that you expect to win and try to find ways to win and other people step up and play their roles.
“So the story is pretty amazing right now, the position they’re in, jockeying for that last spot.”
Added studio analyst Gary Sheffield, “They’ve got veteran guys who can still get it done if the pitcher holds them to three or four runs. They have capabilities of going out and doing that, so it becomes a habit to win games in a different way.
“When you have your horses on the mound and they’re shutting teams out you scrap a couple of runs out here and there these guys will coax you on in. But when you have to win in a different way, they have the team to do that.”