The worst team that $290 million could buy?
The Mets haven’t earned that moniker yet, but they’re getting perilously close to wearing that label after Friday night’s 7-1 stink bomb of a loss to the Padres in Game 1 of their NL Wild Card Series. And it was Max Scherzer, three-time Cy Young Award winner and highest-paid player ($43.3 million for 2022) in the sport, who lit the fuse.
Scherzer was booed off the mound by the sellout crowd of 41,621 at Citi Field only two outs deep into the fifth inning after serving up four homers and seven earned runs — the most ever by a Mets pitcher in a postseason game.
It was truly a shocking development, probably the most stunningly soul-crushing performance by a future Hall of Famer in Flushing since Tom Glavine torpedoed the Mets’ flickering playoff hopes by serving up a seven-spot to the Marlins on the final day of the 2007 season.
And now the Mets are staring into the abyss of a rapid exit from the playoffs after a 101-win season in which they spent 175 days atop the NL East. It’s all unraveled at breathtaking speed, too. A week ago, the Mets traveled to Atlanta with a chance to clinch the division title. Now, after being bounced in the opener of the Wild Card Series, they’re 24 hours away from a long, frustrating winter of regret.
This isn’t about validation anymore. When Jacob deGrom takes the mound for Saturday night’s Game 2, it’s about survival for the Mets. And pride, self-esteem, maybe even avoiding the tag of colossal underachievers.
After the Mets’ faceplant in Friday night’s opener, it’s almost comical to think that manager Buck Showalter actually considered saving deGrom to pitch in the next round against the Dodgers in the Division Series. Now he’s got to save them from another humiliating sweep.
“We have a very resilient club here,” Brandon Nimmo said afterward. “We’ve been able to come back from deficits before where people didn’t think that we could. I expect everybody to be ready to play tomorrow. You’re facing elimination, so that always makes your emotions and focus heightened a little bit. I can guarantee you the guys will be ready to go.”
Nothing is guaranteed with these Mets, however. And no matter how much they tried to convince us that getting into the playoffs was a worthy accomplishment, it clearly is nowhere close to sufficient.
Remember all that new swaggy gear Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso raved about, the stuff with the postseason logos? If they fail to rebound Saturday night, it’s going to be a case of the Mets going to the playoffs for the first time in six years . . . and all they got were those lousy T-shirts.
“We’ve just got to dig our heels in and be ready to fight,” Alonso said. “I know that we will. I know we have our work cut out for us, but I’m confident that we’re going to be ready to go.”
And we thought last weekend’s Atlanta sweep was a disaster. At least that was at the hands of the defending world champs, another 101-win team and a longtime NL East nemesis. Getting bounced by the 88-win Padres, on their home turf, would be inexcusable.
As far as guarantees go, remember when Scherzer was considered as close to a sure thing as there was on a mound? Those days could be over for 2022, because he appears to be crumbling before our eyes.
Josh Bell took Citi Field’s sellout crowd out of the game early with his two-run homer in the first inning, but that was only a taste of what would follow. No. 8 hitter Trent Grisham hammered a 401-foot shot over the rightfield wall with two outs in the second. In the fifth, Jurickson Profar (three-run shot) and Manny Machado went deep, the latter prompting Showalter to fetch the baseball from Scherzer, who was loudly booed as he stalked toward the dugout.
Scherzer’s seven earned runs were the most he’s allowed in 21 career postseason starts. According to ESPN, he’s only the second pitcher in MLB history to surrender seven earned runs and four homers in a postseason game (the other was the Reds’ Gene Thompson against the Yankees in the 1939 World Series). Counting that Atlanta collapse, Scherzer has given up 16 hits, 11 earned runs and six homers in his last 10 1⁄3 innings, encompassing two of his biggest starts in a Mets uniform.
“Baseball can take you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” he said. “This is one of the lowest of the lows.”
The fact that the Mets were even playing in the wild-card round was a disappointment in itself. There’s no other way to spin their regular-season fate, and the Mets mostly have themselves to blame — aside from giving some credit to Atlanta for its relentless pursuit since about mid-June.
Losing the division title to a team as good as Atlanta is one thing, but the Mets are out of second chances now. This season can’t end with a participation trophy. They have to prove that what we witnessed over the last six months wasn’t a mirage. Saturday night could be their last chance.