Only in Metsville does a steep early-season plunge, due to a misfiring young lineup, take a back seat to another day of debate over Yoenis Cespedes ghosting the team.
It’s never bad enough when the Mets strand runners in bunches, or Edwin Diaz loses his closer’s job, or Pete Alonso turns to smashing bats rather than baseballs.
Things can always get worse, which is what happened Monday night, when Jeff McNeil (back) was scratched during batting practice, Amed Rosario (quadriceps) left in the third inning and Robinson Cano (hitting .412) was gone by the fifth with groin tightness. J.D. Davis was bothered earlier in the day by stomach problems — a coronavirus symptom — but tested negative and actually went the distance at DH.
Somehow, the Mets found a way to strip a fair amount of joy from Jacob deGrom’s first W, a 7-2 victory over the Braves that snapped a five-game losing streak. Monday was vintage Mets — end one crisis, then have a handful more pop up in its place, like an evil version of whack-a-mole.
“The fortunate thing is we got the win,” said deGrom, who had a season-high 10 strikeouts.
It was a semi-happy ending to a mostly nightmarish visit to Atlanta that took a detour through the absurd in Cespedes’ case. And that’s where the Mets wound up again Monday afternoon, when Brandon Nimmo — perhaps the most loyal yet honest voice in their clubhouse — suggested that maybe the team’s official version of Cespedes’ opt-out in the middle of Sunday’s game wasn’t the truth.
If this was anyone but Nimmo, the homegrown Met with Wyoming roots, I’d suspect more nefarious intentions. But when asked Monday about Cespedes’ no-show and the midgame alert to team officials, he simply let us know what was circulating among the players.
“There’s two sides of the story,” Nimmo said. “We’ve heard the side where they were let known before the game and we’ve also heard the side where they weren’t let known until the eighth inning. So I honestly don’t know which one to believe. And I’m not going to try and figure that one out.”
Nimmo could have just backed up general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s account, or even the one given by manager Luis Rojas. Both insisted that Cespedes went AWOL and that the Mets weren’t notified of the opt-out until his agent called during the late innings of Sunday’s 4-0 loss to the Braves.
So far, Cespedes’ reps at Roc Nation have stayed silent despite attempts to reach them. But they do have other clients in the Mets’ clubhouse, which probably helps explain where Nimmo was getting his information from.
Neither side handled Cespedes’ departure particularly well, and you can divvy up the blame however you want. It’s just another drama the Mets didn’t need, at the worst time, executed with the usual lack of diplomacy.
“Ultimately, whichever story is the right story, it all ended with the same result — and the same result is that Cespedes is gone,” Nimmo said. “We have to find a way to win without him.”
The Mets didn’t win very often when they did have Cespedes, who was hitting .161 with two homers and 15 strikeouts in eight games. Their 3-7 start was tied for fifth-worst in franchise history, last done in 2010, and the Mets entered Monday hitting .172 (10-for-58) with runners in scoring position during the losing streak.
Factor in Cespedes bailing and the Mets already were reaching a critical point in this truncated season. “We have to get out of this skid,” Rojas said before Monday’s game.
Rojas talked about the Mets keeping “laser focus” rather than looking too far ahead. Getting caught up in the sprint nature of this 60-game season can lead to a “panic-mode type of deal,” in the manager’s view. And having an important slugger in Cespedes bolt can be a shock to the system.
“I was kind of caught off guard,” Alonso said. “But it’s his choice and I respect it. If anyone felt unsafe for what’s going on right now, I wouldn’t hold it against them.”
Cespedes’ comeback was supposed to help protect Alonso, whose frustration bubbled over this weekend as he dipped to .175 (7-for-40) with a homer and 15 Ks. Now the Mets have to shrug off Cespedes’ bizarre departure. The good news? They have plenty of experience playing through the circus.
“This is part of New York,” Nimmo said. “This is what you get. You have to be able to juggle the off-the-field with the on-the-field.”
The trick for the Mets is not to have it all come crashing down around them.