The Mets are doing it again.
Just when you had Zack Wheeler shipped off to Minnesota or Atlanta or the Bronx, Tuesday night happens at Citi Field.
Just when the Mets get ready to plant the For Sale sign at 41 Seaver Way, to look ahead to 2020, to have rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen begin the entire do-over, they tease everyone into thinking that, hey, hold on a minute.
By making the mighty Yankees look mortal, the Mets tried to entice you into believing — yet again — that anything is possible by virtue of their stirring 4-2 comeback victory in Tuesday’s Subway Series opener.
If only the rest of this season could be tuned out, erased from the memory banks, this win would be easy to cling to. Because Tuesday night was the blueprint of how it was supposed to be for the Mets, back when Brodie was staking his winter claim to the NL East throne.
Wheeler stifling the Yankees into the seventh inning, striking out eight and allowing only two earned runs to a team that had scored 29 against the Red Sox over the weekend in London. J.D. Davis homering off James Paxton, then tying the score on a rocket RBI double against the lethal righty Adam Ottavino.
Michael Conforto, having already bounced into a pair of double plays to deepen a 1-for-24 funk, ripping the first pitch from Zack Britton for a two-run double that put the Mets ahead to stay in the eighth inning.
The Yankees had been 47-1 when leading after the seventh this season, thanks to what had been a virtually unbeatable bullpen. And the Mets conquered it, inspiring the type of postgame conversation that fans so badly want to embrace despite getting burned too many times over the past three months.
“These guys stay positive every single day,” Conforto said. “They play hard for nine innings.”
We’ve seen it often enough. The Mets just haven’t been rewarded for those efforts, because of a porous bullpen that failed them way too frequently to stay in anywhere close to contention. So of course, just as we’re writing off 2019, with the Mets barely staying ahead of the Giants for 13th place in the National League, the bullpen performs according to plan against the Yankees, who entered Tuesday with the best record in the AL.
Van Wagenen flipped over the relief corps before the game, activating Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia while calling up Luis Avilan, then transitioning Steven Matz to the bullpen through the All-Star break. Wilson did his job to perfection, getting the last two outs of the seventh, Seth Lugo pitched a scoreless eighth and Edwin Diaz struck out a pair for his 18th save.
“It’s a good win,” Wheeler said. “Against a good team.”
But why now? And how did it look so simple, so by-the-book, as if the Mets were on the level of an elite, World Series contender like the Yankees? Are we really supposed to think that adding Wilson for a night could change everything?
Of course not. One night is a happy diversion for the Mets, an opportunity to forget all the misery that came before it. Or maybe to wonder what could have been.
“It makes me yearn for more,” Mickey Callaway said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been missing.”
The Mets just need too much of it. They’re 11 games behind the Braves, so the division is over. And the wild card is fool’s good, even before July 4, when you’re 6 1/2 games out but chasing nine teams. When I asked Davis — who has a 1.083 OPS at Citi — if the Mets’ victory made him question why there wasn’t more of that this season, he couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It’s been a roller-coaster,” Davis said. “But we’re never out of the fight. I think that’s who we are.”
The numbers, the standings — pure logic — all say the Mets are indeed out of it. And it would take a miraculous turnaround, in incredibly short order, to convince Van Wagenen to hold on to his movable pieces for the rest of this month. He has to proceed as if that’s not realistic and get what he can before the July 31 trade deadline, starting with one of Tuesday’s heroes.
“My mind is here right now,” Wheeler said. “I want to win here.”
Beating the Yankees showed how great that can be in Flushing. It’s just that the Mets’ timing, as usual, is terrible.