Before the New York Mets took on the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Five of the NLDS, Mets manager Terry Collins said, win or lose, the Amazins season was already a good one. In fact, Collins went as far as saying anything more than pushing LA to a winner-take-all game would be “gravy.” That comment didn’t sit well with many Mets fans.
But after eliminating the Dodgers and then sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS, Mets fans not only have their gravy, but the icing on the cake. Now, it’s time for some flat out binge eating in a very unexpected trip to the World Series.
Game One of the fall classic is set for tonight in Kansas City with the defending American League champion Royals hosting these underdog Mets. New York invades KC with a strong starting rotation anchored by the young arms of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey. Add veteran Bartolo Colon out of the pen and dominant closer Jeurys Famila and the Mets are a force to be reckoned with. Success like this has been a long time coming. The Mets last playoff appearance was pre-Obama. Their last pennant was pre-Bush 43. They haven’t won it all since Reagan. To say they’re hungry in Queens would be an understatement.
When the Mets won in 1986 they cruised to the division crown before facing a postseason crucible against the Astros and Red Sox. The 2015 bunch followed a different path. After being only two games over .500 in mid-summer, no one expected a light-hitting team like the Mets to make much noise in the pennant race. However, after some shrewd trades and the return of some injured vets, the Mets caught fire. New York blew past Washington in the NL East and secured the division crown. After a competitive division series, the Mets blasted Chicago in the NLCS. Not once did the Mets trail in a single game against the Cubs. Not once have the Mets trailed a series this postseason. The ball club is hitting on all cylinders when it counts the most.
Howard Johnson is one of the most beloved Mets of all-time. Hojo was a part of the last Mets squad to capture the World Series and he told Breitbart Sports that there are definite similarities between the 1986 Mets and today’s group. “The chemistry there right now is probably on par with what we had in ’86,” said Johnson. “Everybody is on the same page. They’ll do whatever it takes and play any role.” You can see it.
Starting pitchers like Colon and Jon Niese have been moved to relief duties. Michael Cuddyer has been replaced by a rookie. Yet, it’s all smiles in MetsLand.
While Johnson sees some of 1986 in this group of orange-and-blue clad ball players, there is one big difference. Unlike HoJo’s Mets that won 108 games in the regular season after coming tantalizingly close to the division crown in 1984 and 1985, the 2015 Mets came out of nowhere. “It’s like getting [unexpected] presents under the tree,” Johnson said.
The 1986 Mets were anchored by a supreme rotation that included Dwight Gooden, Bob Ojeda, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, and Rick Aguilera. The current Mets are also winning the arms race and one starter has been particularly key.
“The emergence of deGrom has taken the pressure off of the other guys,” Johnson told Breitbart Sports. “Anybody can pitch when you have your stuff but when your command’s off and you can win that really separates you and puts you over the top.”
DeGrom was electric in his NLDS Game One win over the Dodgers. But perhaps more impressive was his gutty Game Five performance in the series when he had less than his best stuff yet persevered and got it done. DeGrom also notched a victory over the Cubs. The long haired hurler has the arm that fits his age but he seems to have the brains and poise of someone much older.
DeGrom is not doing this alone of course. “The bullpen is solid,” Johnson said. “They’ve got depth and it paid off this year.”
The Mets have also been able to show their patience. “The team weathered the David Wright back issue and now they’re riding high off of Daniel Murphy,” said Johnson. Murphy has captured the imagination of the baseball world by blasting a home runs in six straight postseason games—a Major League record. But whether it be Wright, Murphy, or Yoenis Cespedes at the plate, the guys on the hill have made the true difference. “The one constant has been the pitching staff,” Johnson said.
The addition of Cespedes—the hard hitting, rocket-armed outfielder changed the Mets fortunes drastically. The club went from one of the worst hitting teams to one of the best after adding him to the roster. “That was a great trade by the Mets,” Johnson said. “That’s the piece that put them over the top.”
While the Mets are flying high right now, there’s no doubt that Kansas City is a formidable foe. “The Mets haven’t really been tested as far as having to comeback in a playoff game,” said Johnson. “The formula has been to score early. That might not be quite as easy against the Royals. Kansas City has a heck of a team. I doubt the Mets can handle them like they handled the Cubs.”
Probably not. New York slammed the not ready for prime time Cubs, who, if you ask HoJo, were suffering from a “Cardinals hangover” on the heels of topping St. Louis the round before. But Johnson points to a possible big bright spot in the match up with Kansas City as well. The Royals’ top pitchers are old National League guys that the Mets have seen before. Johnson contends that should give New York confidence against them and a possible advantage.
While an ultra-young pitching staff (the ageless Colon aside) anchor the Mets, Johnson also points to the experience and leadership of some of the position players. “Wright, [Curtis] Granderson, Murphy, Cespedes, [Juan] Uribe, Kelly Johnson—these guys have been on the big stage,” Johnson said. “They prepare the right way and they give you confidence.”
The Mets 2015 postseason run started off with a bang in deGrom’s stellar NLDS Game One performance and then was followed by a break the next night. Chase Utley’s infamous takeout slide in Game Two of that best of five left Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada with a broken leg. Emotions ran high after the controversial play. But Johnson believes the situation may have also taken some of the pressure off of some of the Mets. While everyone was talking about Utley, the Mets went out and played good baseball. They’ve only lost once since the Utley game. As far as Tejada’s replacement—so far so good. Wilmer Flores has stepped up.
“Up to this point there’s been no harm from that,” said Johnson. But HoJo warns Flores and all the Mets to be ready to make the plays in the field in the World Series. “Kansas City is the type of team that will make you pay if you make a mistake,” Johnson said. The Royals are not the Cubs.
In a city used to seeing the Yankees do well, the electricity in New York is special when the Mets make a championship run. “It’s great for baseball and great for New York,” Johnson said. “When the Mets find themselves in the playoffs it has a different feel to it. Fans are not used to that kind of success. You don’t expect it every year like Yankees fans do.”
For nervous Mets fans, their old third baseman has some words of encouragement. “These guys have shown a tremendous ability to go through hot streaks and stay together,” Johnson said. “They took care of Washington, they won some games that they had to win. Their pitching staff will keep you in any game.”
Plus, they’re suddenly an offensive team too. These Mets have beaten huge names like Lester, Arrieta, Kershaw, and Greinke in these playoffs. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Not only is Howard Johnson rooting for these Mets as a former New York star but he also has another personal connection. Johnson worked as a coach in the Mets organization and he has had a relationship with several of the current players. He keeps in touch with many of them. “I’ve had some of these guys in the minors and majors,” Johnson said. “You feel like you’re a little part of something since they’ve developed under you.”
“It’s going to be a very interesting series but you have to hand it to New York,” Johnson said. “They’ve done everything they had to do to get here.” Four more wins and they’ll be forever amazing—just like the unforgettable 1986 bunch that HoJo was a part of.
The Mets have always been an intriguing organization and this year they went for it. It won’t be easy to flush the Royals but one former Mets star believes it can certainly happen. And, after all, ya gotta believe.