Carlos Beltran took a curveball from rookie Adam Wainwright for strike three to dash the New York Mets’ hopes in 2006. The strikeout in the bottom of the ninth ended Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and propelled the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series, where the 83-win team disposed of the Detroit Tigers.
The following eight years have been miserable for Mets fans, but in 2015, the team has a shot at redemption.
The 2006 Mets returned to the playoffs for the first time since losing to the cross-town Yankees in the 2000 World Series.
Despite winning a league high 97 games and a highlight reel catch by Endy Chavez in the elimination game, the Mets could not hold off the pesky Redbirds, but the future looked bright for the team from Queens. Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes were to be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come.
An epic collapse in 2007 and a close second in 2008 were disheartening, but not the end of the world. What happened next was enough to lose all faith in the Mets organization.
Team owner Fred Wilpon lost a substantial amount of money by being involved in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. In the following years, the poorly run Mets routinely embarrassed themselves on and off the diamond.
The Mets entered the 2015 season with an abundance of young pitching talent and potential stars. They had their work cut out for them though, with the reigning division champions, the Washington Nationals, adding the best offseason free agent, Max Scherzer. The Nationals appeared a safe choice to run away with the east but the Mets had their own thoughts.
The Mets sprinted out of the gate and earned an early division lead in April due in part to an eleven-game winning streak. Sub .500 months of May and June made the race tougher but by rebounding in July, the Mets were able to be buyers at the trade deadline. Within the week before the July 31 deadline, the Mets acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves and reliever Tyler Clippard from the Oakland A’s. By trading for two bats and an arm, as well as bringing up outfielder Michael Conforto from the minors, the Mets fortified their roster but were still missing punch in the lineup.
During the Mets’ July 29 game, rumors swirled that Wilmer Flores and Zach Wheeler had been shipped to Milwaukee in exchange for Carlos Gomez. Flores stayed in the game and, while playing shortstop, teared up at the thought of leaving the organization that had signed him on the day he turned 16 in 2007. The deal fell through because the Mets were worried about Gomez’ health despite refutations that his hips were not “sexy.” When the Houston Astros nabbed Gomez and Mike Fiers, who pitched a no-hitter on August 21, in a trade with the Brewers the next day, the non-move looked like another chapter in the Mets storybook about head-shaking moves.
Minutes before the deadline came, the Mets went all-in and nabbed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the third time he was traded since last season. Later that night, the Mets opened a three game set with the Nationals. Flores, recently showered in appreciation by fans, walked-off with a 12th inning home run, initiating a three-game sweep that put the teams into a tie atop the division.
The Mets continued an extended run of success in August by having its first twenty-win month since 2000 and setting a team record for home runs in a month. By adding Cespedes who has slugged his weight in gold since arriving in Queens, the Mets lineup has become one of the strengths of a team that had relied so heavily on its pitching staff.
The Mets have had their share of disappointments this year. Jenrry Mejia was injured before throwing a pitch on Opening Day, was suspended for 80 games, returned and soon after received a 162-game suspension for a second failed drug test. Zach Wheeler missed the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Matt Harvey recently upset team brass for implementing his own innings limit. Add in a typical dose of injuries and underperformance from a slew of players. To have so much go wrong and still be ahead of the pundits’ preseason darlings is rewarding for a franchise that has encountered years of tumult and turmoil.
With a win over their division rival on Monday, the Mets improved to five games better than the Nationals. The Mets are in a good position to make the playoffs. Even if they do, the horrid memories of the last decade will not be erased, but they have become legitimate contenders ahead of schedule. To make the season truly amazing, the Mets could even knock off the Cardinals, who own the best record in the majors this season, in a rematch of the epic seven-game battle in 2006.