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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Wild, wacky win might be an indication the Mets are for real

Mets' Michael Conforto (30) and Dominic Smith (2)

Mets' Michael Conforto (30) and Dominic Smith (2) celebrate as they return to the dugout after scoring on Corforto's two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, July 18, 2021.  Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

The Mets outdid themselves this weekend in Pittsburgh.

When it comes to chaos and turmoil, the bar is high for Flushing’s baseball franchise. But over the span of a particularly stomach-churning 24 hours by the Allegheny River, the Mets lost Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom to injury for indefinite periods, watched two of their best bullpen arms spontaneously combust and also committed a darkly comical act of on-field negligence that a Little League team would be ashamed of.

All against the backdrop of dropping the first two games of the series to the Pirates, the fourth-worst team in the majors, according to winning percentage.

Yeah, it was a lot, even by the Mets’ standards.

 

So naturally, they responded in a way that few outside their own clubhouse expected them to do Sunday at PNC Park. After Pittsburgh literally ran up a 6-0 lead as the baseball sat untouched in the grass (more on that later), the Mets chipped away to set up unlikely hero Michael Conforto, whose two-run homer in the ninth delivered an improbable 7-6 win that had to be among the most important of the season.

Does one victory wipe away all the havoc that immediately preceded it? In the case of Lindor and deGrom, certainly not. And let’s wait and see about Seth Lugo and Edwin Diaz, who teamed up to torpedo Saturday’s six-run lead after the seventh inning (teams were 314-0 in those situations before that implosion).

But we do know this: Fighting back to beat the lowly Pirates was infinitely better than the alternative, and again helps reinforce the belief that maybe these Mets can overcome almost anything. Because if Sunday’s first-inning calamity wasn’t rock bottom, the Mets could absolutely see it from there. And after peeking into the abyss, they clawed back from the edge.

"We’re going to continue to expect to win," said Conforto, who personally stranded six through the first six innings. "We’re going to continue to show up and play to win, regardless of the guys that we don’t have. That’s just the culture that we built. Obviously we have some adversity we have to face, but up to this point, it feels like we’ve thrived on that adversity."

What happened Sunday was hard to explain. The first inning wasn’t adversity. Those were self-inflicted wounds. Hours after deGrom landed on the injured list with right forearm tightness — his second stint this season — the Mets turned to their No. 2 starter, Taijaun Walker, the team’s only other All-Star, for a desperately needed confidence boost. Instead, Walker gave them something new to worry about, as six straight Pirates reached base before his inexcusable brain cramp.

Actually, it wasn’t all on Walker. The other Mets were hardly innocent bystanders. When Kevin Newman slapped a swinging bunt that hugged the third-base line, Walker shoveled the baseball toward the Pittsburgh dugout, thinking it was on the foul side of the chalk. But plate umpire Jeremy Riggs signaled fair, and rather than chase down the ball, Walker argued with Riggs while three Pirates came around to score. Third baseman J.D. Davis even stepped aside to let a runner pass, but still stood there, until Walker finally hustled over to collect the baseball.

The surreal scene was reminiscent of David Cone’s infamous 1990 snap, when the Mets pitcher kept yelling at the first-base ump — ball in glove — while two Braves scored. That’s always been considered an all-time classic. On Sunday, however, the Mets’ obliviousness let in three runs before they retrieved the ball.

"I thought I had flipped it into the dugout," Walker said. "I didn’t even realize it was still in play."

The ruling wasn’t reviewable, since it occurred before the third-base bag, and manager Luis Rojas became furious when Riggs refused to ask for help from the other umpires. Not only did his coaches try to restrain him, but the umps did as well, and his repeated physical contact with the crew could result in a suspension of some sort.

"One play like that can make a huge difference," Rojas said.

But his ejection wasn’t the only motivating factor for the Mets who remained. Reliever Aaron Loup later told how he walked through the dugout, firing up his teammates, who would eventually climb back into the game on pinch hitter Travis Blankenhorn’s three-run blast in the fourth inning and ride 8 2/3 scoreless innings from the bullpen. Loup escaped his own bases-loaded, none-out jam in the sixth by whiffing the top three in Pittsburgh’s order. Trevor May nailed down the save after a leadoff walk in the ninth.

"I told the offense, things aren’t going our way right now," Loup recalled from his dugout pep talk. "But we might as well have some fun while we’re here instead of being miserable for the next six, seven innings."

By game’s end, the Mets had succeeded in making an otherwise terrible weekend considerably less so. Fun, even. Such was the power of one win, and rising above some gloomy circumstances to earn it.

New York Sports