Mets' Brandon Nimmo celebrates with teammates after scoring during the...

Mets' Brandon Nimmo celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, May 27, 2022. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

For Mets loyalists, a quick glance at the NL East on Memorial Day this year stirred conflicting emotions. Never before has this franchise held a 9 1⁄2-game lead in the division at the unofficial start of summer, the first real measuring stick of a team’s progress, as the Mets did after Monday’s 13-5 dismantling of the Nationals at Citi Field.

On one hand, it’s exhilarating. To think that not even the mythical ’86 champs were able to create this much separation at such an early date suggests the stars could be aligning for this 2022 edition. The Mets are a season-high 16 games over .500 (33-17) for the first time since October 2015 — the springboard to their last World Series trip — due in large part to crushing the cream puffs on their schedule.

Through 50 games, 36 have been against sub-.500 teams (24-12). The other 14 involved the Cardinals and Giants — the only two winning clubs — and the Mets went 9-5.

The flip side, however, conjures some apprehension when you consider the Mets’ not-too-distant history with fast starts and big leads. Just last season, they built a 5 1⁄2-game edge by June 26 and spent 114 days on top of the NL East before crumbling in August (9-19) and ultimately finishing 11 1⁄2 games out.

So how do the Mets feel about creating the largest cushion of any division leader on Memorial Day?

“Enjoy means you’re satisfied,” manager Buck Showalter said after the 16-hit barrage extended the Mets’ winning streak to a season-high four games. “And there’s only one really happy team at the end of the year. The challenge is to win your division and we’ve got over 100 games left, so you can flip-flop the 50 games we just played very easily. The word satisfaction isn’t used. That’s not the mentality any of our guys have. They punch the clock.”

And knocked out the Nationals, even without Brandon Nimmo, who already had missed two games with a sore left wrist (injected with cortisone) before the Mets decided to rest him again Monday. They certainly didn’t need him. After falling behind 3-0 in the first inning, they rallied for a dozen unanswered runs, including homers by Starling Marte (3-for-4, four RBIs) and Nick Plummer, whose three-run shot Monday came roughly 24 hours after his game-tying blast into the Coca-Cola Corner for his first major-league hit in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 5-4, 10-inning win over the Phillies.

Afterward, I asked Marte if the Mets even flinch when they fall behind early. He laughed.

“Sometimes we like being down,” he said, smiling, “just so we can come back.”

Turns out, the Mets had more than enough healthy bodies to handle the Nationals in taking a 12-3 lead by the fourth inning. Francisco Lindor already was 3-for-3 with two RBIs, giving him 40 total, which ranked fourth overall in the majors. Luis Guillorme — subbing for Nimmo in the leadoff spot — continues to look like (the pre-Flushing) Roberto Alomar, raking again at the plate Monday (2-for-4, three runs, one RBI) and turning spectacular double plays. Pete Alonso smacked his 13th homer overall and 11th this month, moving him past Carlos Beltran for the franchise record for May.

“It’s kind of just the DNA of this club,” said Plummer, who joined Steven Matz as the only two Mets to record a four-RBI game within his first two starts. “Passing the baton. Having a no-give type of mentality.”

Despite being knee-deep in health issues lately, the Mets don’t come off like a team in crisis mode. As of Monday, they had nine players on the injured list, including three-fifths of their rotation, a pair of late-inning relievers and the starting catcher. That doesn’t count Drew Smith’s dislocated right pinkie finger — injured Sunday when he tried to field a comebacker — Nimmo’s wrist and Jeff McNeil’s vague but concerning “leg issues” (he went 0-for-4 Monday in his first DH start).

These are all significant pieces, and it’s hard to imagine the Mets possibly starting off any better, taking a buzzsaw to the NL East (17-7) and losing only two of 15 series this season. They’ve dropped back-to-back games just twice, are 4-0 in extra-inning games and already have three walk-off wins.

Being in first place doesn’t matter much unless you’re there on the season’s final day. But that’s not to say humiliating the Phillies wasn’t fun. Now they should get a chance to recharge against the pitiful Nationals, with a huge 10-game West Coast swing (Dodgers, Padres, Angels) starting Thursday.

That SoCal trio is a combined 36 games over .500 (90-54). Getting that division lead up to double-digits first might not be a bad idea. Just to be safe.


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