Pete Alonso is right, of course.
He wasn’t being brash the other night, caught up in the giddy rush of a winning streak. He wasn’t speaking merely with the unknowing enthusiasm of youth (although, sure, maybe there was a dash of naïveté in his words; no capital crime in that).
This was after one of the games on the electric seven-game homestand the Mets just completed, a 6-1 blur that was an unmitigated joyride right to the end, when the Mets were three runs down in the ninth inning and the people still refused to evacuate Citi Field until the very end because they had all started to wear their belief like those impossibly gaudy Hawaiian shirts the Mets had given away Saturday night. Alonso was asked a simple question, about how well the Mets were playing.
He gave a simple answer that also seemed to raise the antennae of everyone else who have noticed what the Mets have done these past few weeks, friend and foe alike.
“It’s been awesome,” Alonso said. “I think we have a chance to really do something great. We’ve got some really tough games ahead of us, but let’s say we keep this up and win all six, or win five out of six, that’s going to put us not just in wild-card talks, [but will give us a] chance to win the division. We’ve got a really awesome chance to do something really special and make a hell of a run towards the end. We’re just going to keep playing ball and see what happens.”
The first reaction, of course: Take a deep breath, kid. First things first. Keep playing good baseball. Keep winning series — keep winning two out of three.
The Braves are still out there on the other side of the mountain; keep your ambitions modest and your goals reasonable. Worry about the wild card first, last and foremost.
But then you take a step back, you see what the Mets have done lately, and figure: Why not?
Why not keep dreaming? Why not keep your sights set on the holy grail? Why not think that first place is still a worthy goal?
The Mets begin a series in Atlanta on Tuesday night that even a week ago seemed like it would feature two teams riding very different tracks. The Braves have been comfortably in control of the NL East for two months, they’ve been the class of the division for two years, and if the Mets have suddenly started to figure out ways to merely sneak into the postseason, the Braves have been similarly plotting a pathway toward toppling the Dodgers at the very pinnacle of the National League.
Even now, some eight games separate the teams, a substantial amount for what is now the middle of August. Mets fans with sharp eyes, of course, will notice the difference in the loss column is seven — and if those clear-eyed fans also have reliable memories, they know just how quickly a seven-game loss-column lead can evaporate (sometimes in as few as 17 games). The Braves are catchable. Tuesday is the first of nine games between the clubs from now until the end of September. The arithmetic may well be on the Braves’ side but it also doesn’t eliminate the Mets. Not yet.
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“You’ve got to slay the giant, so to speak,” Alonso, the Mets’ slugging rookie first baseman, said. “You’ve got to go through these tough teams in order to get to the playoffs and when you get to the playoffs, it’s just going to be that much harder. We just need to keep grinding it out and I feel like if we keep playing the way we are, keep hitting well, our defense has been awesome, our pitching has been lights out. I think that’s going to be a really tough combo for our opponents to handle. We just need to keep rolling.”
They do. That part is non-negotiable. Perhaps they can get away playing at less than the .938 clip they were playing at in the 16 games before Sunday, but .667 — two out of every three, which across the season’s final 44 games equates to 29-15, which would get them to 90 wins — ought to be a reasonable goal. Ninety will almost certainly be enough to win a wild card, and utilize the wild card as what it’s supposed to be — a safety net. If you get to 90 and finish three games behind the Braves but still in the money, that’s a reasonable consolation prize.
But if they really do approximate now what they’ve been the last 28 games when they’ve actually won three of every four? That would be cooking with gas.
Is that reasonable? Starting Tuesday, we’ll know for sure. The Mets, carried lately by their own starting pitching, will face Max Fried, Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran, one of their great nemeses, so they’ll be jumping with both feet into the deep end of the lake. If they make it to Kansas City by the weekend two games closer to 90, they’ll surely take it.
If they get there still feeling, together, the way Pete Alonso verbalized it?
All the better.