The Mets have done a remarkable job of surviving for 75 games. They played terrific ball right out of the chute, and they were enabled by the rest of the NL East enjoying an extended siesta during April and May. It was an excellent combination that allowed them a nice, big lead, afforded them to care more about the players who are here instead of fretting those who aren’t.
Even after getting body-slammed by the Astros Tuesday night at Citi Field 9-1 — third straight loss to the Astros, who appear to be punching out of a higher weight class right now — you’d have to say, with certainty, if you’d told the Mets April 1 that they’d be four games clear of the field in the East on the next-to-last day of June, this would’ve been the unanimous reply:
“Where do we sign?”
Still … there are some days when those absences sting more than others. Wednesday will be one of those days. Wednesday afternoon the Astros go for the four-game season sweep and they’ll do it with Justin Verlander on the mound, an old-school, old-fashioned ace who after two years off is 8-2 with a 2.22 ERA and an 0.873 WHIP, averaging just about a strikeout per inning at age 39.
Max Scherzer will pitch Wednesday, also. Normally that would be an excellent piece of news for the Mets, and it might’ve meant for an electric busman’s special at the ballpark for an afternoon clash between first-place teams. But Scherzer will not be plying his wares at Citi Field. He will instead be pitching for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies against the Hartford Yard Goats 111 miles away at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Connecticut.
As he said in Miami last weekend: “I want to be in the big leagues, not be a Rumble Pony.”
The Mets surely endorse and embrace that sentiment, but they have also opted to err on the side of caution with Scherzer, actually pushing his start from Tuesday to Wednesday to be extra careful.
There had been some talk he’d pitch for the Mets Sunday in Miami, but they decided to play the long game. It is a prudent course, even if it seemed before the game that Scherzer might’ve been annoyed by having to wait — he waved off reporters, admitting he was in a foul mood and didn’t want to say anything he might regret later.
“Max will do whatever. For the most part,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s physically trying to present himself back in this picture. You’ve got to be careful. This is an injury that if you go too fast, you’re right back where you were again.
“We’re going to take every precaution possible. I think Max understands that and appreciates it even though it can be frustrating for a guy who is as competitive as him.”
But it’s frustrating for the Mets, too. Look, they could’ve had Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan on the active roster and it wasn’t going to rescue Carlos Carrasco from taking a second straight pounding by Houston Tuesday. These games happen. And these first 75 games have happened, even with deGrom missing all of them with a bum shoulder and Scherzer missing almost half of them with a balky oblique.
DeGrom is throwing live BP now, with a few rehab starts in his immediate future. Scherzer gets what he hopes will be the final few innings of his career as a Rumble Pony Wednesday, then could make his return as soon as next week in Cincinnati. They are close.
Close enough for the Mets to return to the days of March, in Port St. Lucie, when so much of the talk was how much fun the season would be with deGrom and Scherzer pitching every two days out of five. That was before deGrom’s shoulder turned an MRI tube into a pinball machine, before Scherzer walked off the mound against the Cardinals May 18.
The Mets have survived to now. They have adapted. Mostly, they’ve been smart, and patient, trying to let the long season work in their favor.
Still, when they see Verlander take the mound at Citi Wednesday afternoon, a part of them will have to be thinking: we have two of those, locked away in a safe-deposit box. Soon enough, they will be back. Maybe just soon enough.
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