Consider May 17 as the date the Mets finally had to admit they were officially out of answers. How do we know?
Mark Vientos, at long last, appeared in the clubhouse Wednesday at Citi Field.
This was the moment the Mets’ decision-makers had stubbornly resisted for weeks, despite their worsening offensive funk and Vientos destroying Triple-A pitching since he left Port St. Lucie. Ultimately, those loud noises from Syracuse couldn’t be ignored anymore, especially with this lineup’s deafening silence in Flushing.
And Vientos brought some of that thunder Wednesday night, smashing a 414-foot homer off Rays righty reliever Ryan Thompson in the seventh inning. The two-run rocket (103.6 mph) knotted the score at 2 — albeit briefly — before the Mets later needed another tying shot with two outs in the ninth, this time by Francisco Alvarez, whose three-run blast into the leftfield seats forced extra innings, where Pete Alonso won it in the 10th inning with a walkoff three-run homer for an 8-7 victory.
If only Vientos had been summoned earlier. Just this past week, the Mets collectively went more than five whole games -- a stretch of 56 innings -- without a home run. That’s incomprehensible with the way this year’s Titleist-quality baseballs are flying. Meanwhile, it seemed like Vientos was going deep on a daily basis (in reality, it was one every three games or so).
For those wondering why Vientos wasn’t called up much earlier, as the Mets were in the midst of losing 10 of their last 14 games, you had company at Syracuse. Vientos felt the same way. When I asked him before Wednesday’s game if he thought his promotion was coming soon, based on the damage down there, Vientos smiled.
“Yeah, I would hope so,” he said.
No kidding. For all of the Mets’ qualifiers about Vientos having to “conquer” Triple-A before getting another call-up, those words were becoming more meaningless with every one of his swings -- and their snowballing pile of losses. Is Vientos going to revive these Mets and help kick-start a dramatic turnaround? Possibly. No one knows that for sure, even with Vientos’ gaudy numbers at Syracuse: 13 homers, 1.104 OPS, .333 BA.
But giving the Vientos gambit a shot was definitely overdue, based on a few factors, not the least of which was all the lost time waiting for the current roster to suddenly play up to their reputations. Why the Mets have been so inept offensively is a mystery, but standing pat with the 19th-ranked OPS (.704) and scoring 4.16 runs per game (that’s 23rd) wasn’t going to reverse the trend.
At some point, there has to be a shakeup, and Vientos’ arrival for Wednesday’s game served that purpose. Not only was the popular veteran Luis Guillorme demoted to Syracuse, but manager Buck Showalter definitely got some people’s attention by starting Vientos at third base and Eduardo Escobar at second as part of his platoon attack vs. Rays’ lefty Josh Fleming.
Just as the underperforming Escobar was pushed to the bench when Brett Baty was promoted on April 17 -- more than three weeks late, we might add -- having the bat-first Vientos grab a glove for his ’23 debut had the bonus effect of putting people on notice. How he’ll be used going forward remains to be seen. But the expectation was that Vientos is here to bolster a DH spot that is among the most anemic in baseball, with the fourth-worst batting average (.213) and fifth-worst OPS (.677). They also have just five homers (in 160 at-bats) from their DHs, and that includes one from Alonso.
Casting Vientos as a savior would be foolhardy. So far, no one else on this $375 million roster has been able to lift these deadweight Mets on their shoulders for a meaningful stretch. But we’re still 2 1/2 months from the trade deadline, and the current misfiring group wasn’t getting the job done.
“I know one thing,” Showalter said. “We’ve been very patient.”
To a fault, actually. And Showalter has been around long enough to realize that it gets late early with a sub.-500 team that began the season as a World Series favorite. Guillorme was the guy who lost his job Wednesday. But he won’t be the last if the Mets don’t reverse these negative trends, and the boos that echoed through Citi Field during Justin Verlander’s stinkbomb Tuesday night become more the norm than a shocking aberration.
The Mets’ current brand of uninspired baseball, and undertow of ugliness it creates, can swallow a GM or manager, especially with Steve Cohen’s record cash layout for this season. Having Vientos join the team’s other top prospects Baty and Francisco Alvarez on the major-league roster is a happy distraction for a frustrated fan base, but leaning on them to bail out the Mets’ highly-paid (yet disappointing) All-Stars is not a great look for the franchise. This is not how anyone drew it up for May 17, but the Mets are open to suggestions, and Vientos is clearly the best one for now.
“Obviously he’s been swinging the bat well at that level, and that level of pitching,” Showalter said. ”We’ll see if it plays up here.”
The Mets need that to happen. They’re running out of alternatives.