Exhausted, their aching roster again stretched to the limit, the Mets gathered at home plate to celebrate the improbable. They shouldn’t have been standing there, preparing to unleash their joy, not with the patchwork crew they had leaned upon to keep their wild card hopes bubbling for yet another day.
But such is the singular power of Yoenis Cespedes.
Outmatched on the mound and outgunned on the field, the Mets nevertheless beat the Marlins, 2-1 in 10 innings Monday night, the winning run coming when Cespedes’ second career walkoff homer disappeared over the leftfield fence.
“I just don’t have any words,” Cespedes said, moments after finding himself in a crush of bodies.
A bad back kept Neil Walker out of the lineup and a sore knee limited Asdrubal Cabrera to pinch-hitting duty. Jay Bruce was relegated to a pinch-hitting appearance, his massive slump keeping him out of the lineup.
On the mound, the Mets gave the ball to Rafael Montero, a once highly-touted prospect who has fallen off the radar. He was tasked with dueling against Jose Fernandez, the fearsome Marlins’ ace.
Yet the Mets prevailed, with Jose Reyes sparking a rally in the eighth to tie it at 1 and set the stage for Cespedes’ heroics in the 10th.
“That’s why it’s baseball,” said Collins, who by game’s end had burned through every healthy position player on the roster.
The Mets kept pace with the Cardinals, remaining 2 1/2 games back in the race for the final wild card. They drew even with the Marlins, one of two teams they must pass for a return to October. Indeed, despite unyielding issues with health, the Mets have won eight of their last 11 games.
“Everybody’s got to pull on their end of their of the rope,” said Collins, who managed a roster that was a position player short, because the Mets demoted infielder T.J Rivera before the game.
Montero, 25, has spent much of the last year falling out of favor. By July, he struggled badly enough to warrant a demotion from Triple-A Las Vegas to Double-Binghamton. Facing lesser competition, the righty posted a 1.70 ERA in eight starts.
But he kept the Mets in the game. Though Fernandez tossed six shutout innings, Montero answered with five his own, even though he walked six in the process.
The game remained scoreless until the eighth, when the Marlins nudged ahead 1-0 with the help of a misplay by Cespedes. After Ichiro Suzuki doubled, Xavier Scruggs smoked a liner to left, rolling past Cespedes because he took an odd route.
But Reyes answered immediately. He led off with a double to rightfield, where Suzuki stumbled in pursuit of the ball.
After he slid into second base, Reyes clapped his hands hard, then implored the rest of the Mets to fight back. “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he yelled, his words blurring into the cheers of a crowd that sat through eight innings of frustration.
Soon, he’d take third on a flyout, and then dash home on a wild pitch to score the tying run. Covering the plate, pitcher A.J. Ramos lost his balance and fell. The pitcher’s right elbow crashed into Reyes’ neck, leaving him on his back in the dirt, wincing from the pain.
Reyes had sacrificed his body to breathe life into the Mets. Cespedes made sure it would count.
“He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants to,” Reyes said.
The Mets were lucky to have Cespedes, who had missed the previous game with a balky right quad that will require maintainence throughout the season. It would come into play again in the celebration. Reyes stood at the front of the jubilant pack at home plate, one of the first to greet the slugger.
But first, he had to deliver an important message.
Said Cespedes: “Reyes told me to take it easy.”