It was one of those perfectly accurate images — the type of thing that goes viral the minute it shows up on the Twitter timeline simply because it taps into this Mets season better than words ever could: Pete Alonso staring out into middle distance, then closing his eyes in agony before tossing his head back in defeat.
It happened in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 5-4 loss to the Giants — moments after Alonso had committed an error and immediately after David Robertson had given up a go-ahead three-run home run.
“I’m having, technically, the worst month I’ve ever had in the big leagues,” Alonso said.
The Mets fully feel his pain: It was their 13th blown lead this month. They’re 10 games under .500 for the first time since 2019. They went 7-19 in June, going from four games out of first place in the division to an almost certainly insurmountable 18 1⁄2 games back.
Above all — and probably most damningly, if you’re the sort that likes improbable comebacks — they look broken, beaten and lost in a way that screams of confidence shaken.
“When I first got to the big leagues, the biggest surprise that I had was the lack of confidence that established, really good major-league players that have done it over a long haul,” Buck Showalter said before the game — at that point referencing a slumping Jeff McNeil, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs Friday. “All of a sudden, one little thing can create some doubt.”
“Doubt” is a good word for it.
Granted, you don’t become the worst team that money can buy just because you don’t believe in yourself enough. It’s also the lack of pitching and the lack of hitting and the unforgivingly sloppy defense.
But let’s not be naive: A distinct sense of doom has permeated the clubhouse in recent weeks. Last year’s swagger is missing, and though it’s true that “intangibles” usually are overvalued, it’s still extremely hard to win over the course of a brutal 162-game season if your brain is beating you before the other team ever gets the chance. And right now, it feels as if even the small mistakes lead to disaster.
“Over the past, I would say, five or six days, I’ve been having decent at-bats and then when I hit something hard, it always seems to find a glove,” Alonso said. “I demand better from myself.”
He’s far from the only one who feels that way. There’s the aforementioned McNeil, and Starling Marte and Mark Canha are struggling, too. The bullpen has been unforgivingly porous of late. Robertson has been solid, but he wore his hairshirt on Friday after a bad pitch to Patrick Bailey cost the Mets the game.
“It just seems like nothing is going our way,” Robertson said.
This issue will extend far beyond this season if the Mets don’t find a way to exorcise the sense of doubt that somehow has extended into the Steve Cohen era. To be blunt: Despite the payroll, despite the stars, despite the giant scoreboard, the Mets right now appear . . . Wilpon-esque.
Last year, even with a deficit, it felt as if they would find a way to win. This year, even with a lead, the opposite is true.
There are a few ways to tackle this. It likely wouldn’t hurt to have mental health professionals around the team (there’s no such full-time position on staff). But there need to be ways to alleviate the pressure on individual players.
That doesn’t happen when Edwin Diaz goes down with a likely season-ending injury and Billy Eppler chooses not to further bolster the bullpen. It doesn’t happen when the answer to last year’s lack of power hitting was . . . what, exactly? It doesn’t happen, either, when slumping athletes feel as if there are no answers to why things are going as badly as they are.
“That’s how people get into ‘why does someone who throws a baseball really well all of a sudden get the yips?’ ” Showalter said. “Which is first, physical or mental? Everything in life, your mind plays games with you. That’s why you try to stay strong, and the thing I’ve been proud of is the guys who stay together. There’s a lot of influences that will take you out of that if you let them. You control it. Play better.”
That’s the paradox, isn’t it? To feel better, you have to play better, and to play better, you have to feel better.
The Mets aren’t doing either and the strain is showing. On Friday, it looked like Alonso shutting his eyes, as if he couldn’t watch this play out anymore.