There was no ignoring it, no matter how much anyone tried.
For all the talk the Mets do about focusing only on themselves, of not worrying about Atlanta, it was late Wednesday evening when the scoreboard and the crowd at Citi Field ripped the blinders off by force.
Francisco Lindor had popped out to short, stranding the winning run on second base and sending the game to extra innings, when a hum started going through the crowd. The out-of-town scoreboard read that the Nationals had taken Atlanta to extra innings in Washington, too — two games, an Amtrak ride apart, telling the story of a divisional race that will not let up.
It was only a little later that the hum turned to a roar. Atlanta had lost. And minutes after that, when Eduardo Escobar hit a game-winning single in the 10th, his fifth RBI of the game, that the roar erupted into pandemonium.
“I have to intentionally not look,” Buck Showalter said of the scoreboard. “It’s a little like whistling in a graveyard.”
“I knew right before [my] at-bat,” said Escobar.
“I wasn’t until the crowd started screaming,” said Drew Smith, who pitched a scoreless 10th.
It's playoff baseball a little early, and as the Mets opened up a one-game lead in the division after their 5-4 comeback win over the Marlins, it’s proving to be a fantastic ride, and one that will get even more intense as they head to Atlanta for a three-game series.
In line for a 100-win season, the Mets should be coasting, but Atlanta is just that good. And that simple fact has helped highlight issues that they’ll absolutely need to address if they want to have a deep postseason run.
Before Escobar’s two-run, game-tying single in the eighth Wednesday, the Mets hadn’t had a single runner in scoring position. Various offensive swoons have underlined the fact that general manager Billy Eppler didn’t do enough at the trade deadline — Darin Ruf isn’t the righthanded bat that’s going to solve their power vacuum, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon — and it’s clear the Mets desperately miss Starling Marte. You can’t always rely on Pete Alonso, Lindor and Jeff McNeil to carry the load, either.
But though they’re far from perfect, the Mets are pesky, formidable foes that haven’t crumbled in the face of Atlanta’s second-half dominance. Escobar is batting .330 this month after a disappointing first half, Lindor is riding a 13-game hitting streak, and, despite early trouble, starter Taijuan Walker said Wednesday he was the sharpest he’s been all season.
That alone should make this upcoming three-game series must-watch TV, but it’s so much more than that. Even winning one game in Atlanta means the Mets will own the season tiebreaker. There’s the fact that the division could ostensibly be decided by Sunday; oh, and there’s the hurricane barreling down on Georgia, set to hit Friday evening.
In addition to the obvious damage a weather event like that can do, there are lesser ramifications — ones that very much affect the Mets and their postseason posturing.
There are ongoing discussions on whether to move Friday’s game to the afternoon, according to sources, and if Saturday’s game is scrapped, the two could play a split doubleheader Sunday. All of that is better than the third scenario: A game on Oct. 6, the last day of the regular season — a situation where the loser could see themselves catapulted into a three-game wild card series beginning on the very next day.
Going into this series with a lead, though, helps take an iota of the pressure off (though not very much), as does knowing that the Mets plan to line up Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt against Atlanta, moving deGrom up a spot (he’ll be on regular rest). It also provides a measure of stability to a very unstable situation.
Already, the Mets are taking extra care with their taxi squad: Marte seems no closer to returning from his broken finger, injuries happen, and they could need a 29th man in the event of a doubleheader. All of that is exacerbated by the fact that bad weather means flying someone in could be impossible. In other words, every decision, even minor ones, could have significant ramifications.
And until first pitch, a lot of it is up to the home team. You know, the one with a very vested interest in seeing the Mets fail.
“It’s going to be huge, honestly,” said Smith, mercifully giving up all pretense of downplaying the series. “It’s pretty much deciding the division. I’ve never been a part of the playoffs and I’m sure it’s going to be as close to a playoff atmosphere as you can get without actually being (there). I’m looking forward to it.”
And hey, at the very least, the only score the Mets will have to pay attention to over the next three games is their own.