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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets can take plenty of positives from opening series vs. Nationals

It looks as if Mickey Callaway has plenty of resources for the long run. The early contributions from Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso are especially promising.   

Mets manager Mickey Callaway in the seventh inning

Mets manager Mickey Callaway in the seventh inning of the MLB baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. on March 28,  2019.  Credit: ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutte/ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON

Eventually, the Mets were going to fall off their 162-0 pace, and the fact that it happened Sunday, in a 6-5 loss to the Nationals, will be mostly forgotten in the course of the next six months.

Did Mickey Callaway stay too long with Justin Wilson, who teed up the walk-off homer to Trea Turner? Should the Mets have started Jeff McNeil, coming off his four-hit performance, even though lefty Patrick Corbin made his Nationals debut?

Maybe, possibly. In the bigger picture, it ultimately won’t matter that much.

But if we’re going to dissect small sample sizes, the Mets left D.C. with plenty to feel good about. Not only did they beat the Nationals twice, but they featured threats from nearly every spot in their lineup and came within a swing or two of toppling them for a third time.

After Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman created 4-1 and 5-2 holes, the Mets clawed back to tie it in the eighth with RBI singles by Amed Rosario, pinch hitter Wilson Ramos and Juan Lagares, who entered in the sixth on a double switch. Closer Sean Doolittle allowed two inherited runners to score in the inning.

The rally ended on a pop-up by Brandon Nimmo, who had the worst weekend — 1-for-11, seven strikeouts — among the Mets. But forcing Dave Martinez to desperately burn through his bullpen again and putting a scare into Doolittle’s attempt for a five-out save should be counted as a moral victory of sorts.

And with Pete Alonso leading off the ninth, who wasn’t thinking first career homer for this storybook start?

Alonso already had been lighting up Statcast with his triple-digit exit velos, and he dented the walls again Sunday with his third double, so elevating a few more feet didn’t seem too much to ask. He bounced harmlessly to second, though, and the ninth-inning rally fizzled beyond Robinson Cano’s one-out single.

“We’re a resilient bunch and we fight to the very end,” said Alonso, who has a 1.321 OPS after three games. “That’s a really good characteristic for a team.”

After watching Alonso this weekend, it’s hard to believe we spent months debating the service-time perils of putting him on the 25-man roster, or his readiness for the job. And Alonso’s defense, supposedly his Achilles’ heel, hasn’t been an issue. He’s handled the routine plays and even showed a surprising ability to stretch when needed, not the easiest thing to do for someone built like a 245-pound linebacker.

“He knows he belongs,” Mickey Callaway said. “This is playing with everything he’s got.”

So check the box on Alonso, along with J.D. Davis and McNeil, three young players who began this season with a ton to prove. Even Keon Broxton reached base three times and twice stole second.

Davis kicked one ball at third base this weekend but also made a few excellent plays, including Sunday, when he ranged deep behind the bag for a nifty backhanded grab and long throw. He doubled and scored Sunday after delivering the go-ahead RBI in Saturday’s 11-8 win.

As for McNeil, he showed that last season was no fluke. He fell a home run short of the cycle Saturday, and the decision — yes, above Callaway — not to start him Sunday was a bit of a head-scratcher. McNeil struck out on four pitches with two on in the eighth.

Still, Ramos picked him up by poking a soft liner for an RBI single and Lagares smoked a line drive to tie it at 5. Having the resources to deploy options like that will be a strength of this team, even if it didn’t deliver a victory Sunday.

“Our depth came through,” Callaway said. “They gave us a chance to win. Everybody’s contributing, and we feel like that will continue to happen.”

Chances are good. Wins are better, and the Mets will get the only softy in the NL East when they visit the Marlins this week for three games. Based on what went down in D.C., this small sample size has real potential to grow into something bigger.

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