Listening to New York radio over the past couple of days has led me to the conclusion that Yankee fans are more pissed off that the Mets are 13-3 and hold baseball’s most prestigious win-loss record, than they are about their own 9-7 team. A team that despite being in a three-way tie for first in the AL East, looks more fragile and pedestrian than powerful and prepared to assume MLB’s top perch in October.
The Mets on the other hand, are finally reaping the benefits of their patience, player development and prudent (scared?) financial decisions following The Bernie Madoff disaster. Madoff’s all-time debilitating ponzi schemes not only contributed to the Wall Street washdown of the mid-2000’s, but his financial and personal associations with The Wilpon Family temporarily destroyed one of baseball’s proudest franchises and put a hold on all future expenditures. While the Yankees continued to throw money at free agents and tried to stay championship caliber if only on paper, the Mets laid down and decided to take a million steps back to move forward.
So as the Yankees kept it funky and bartered the future, the Mets invested in their farm system and developing young players who would one day lift them out of the abyss and into the NL driver’s seat.
That day has come.
The Mets are on an 11-game winning streak as they enter the first game of tonight’s Subway Series against the Yankees. What we will see on display is two teams who are complete opposites, slugging it out on even ground for NYC baseball supremacy.
Not since 2008 have the Yankees and Mets faced off during a season in which both teams were playoff contenders. Of the Mets' 25 players, 16 came through the organization through drafting or international free agency. The grand total for the Yankees: four.
This Subway Series is the first of the “new” era in NY Mets baseball. They are no longer the hunted victims in MLB’s version of "The Killing Fields." And for the first time in years, they don’t have to take a backseat to the Yanks on the newspaper’s back page.
So many Mets fans felt like they were being sold broken promises the past few brutal years, but Mets brass is chilling like Hannibal Smith of the A-Team right now, loving “when a plan comes together.”
I’d hold off on the celebratory cigar, but pumping some Gangstarr at the stadium should be in order.
"We're all excited for the '15 season because we felt like it was hopefully going to be the beginning of something," said Paul DePodesta, the Mets' vice president of scouting and player development. "It was hard to say exactly when it's going to kick in. Even after 11 in a row, it's awfully early. It's not like we've arrived. What we're excited about is it shouldn't just be one year. We feel like we're hopefully just embarking on a multi-year run of being very competitive. And hopefully it starts now."
Chasing superstars was something the Mets just weren’t going to do. Instead they selected wisely, endured fan ridicule about “being too cheap,” criticism about how they ran the team and questions about their dedication to winning.
Three major building blocks of this long-anticipated "Mets Renaissance" will be on display this weekend. The opening game kicks off tonight at Yankee Stadium with reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom (2-1, 0.93 ERA) on the hill against Yankees spitballer Michael Pineda (2-0, 5.00).
“It’s going to be awesome,” a reinvigorated Alex Rodriguez said Thursday. “The Stadium should be rocking. Our fans are ready and their fans are ready, too. It’s fun for the players and even more fun for the fans.”
Staff ace Matt Harvey will go on Saturday and Niese will spit on Sunday.
Since winning 97 games in 2006 and coming within a Carlos Beltran knee buckle of going to the World Series and then winning 88 ad 89 games respectively the following seasons (2007-08), the Mets have finished no higher than third in the NL East and have won no more than 79 games.
SLOW BURNING & BUILDING
The slow brewing dynasty tea actually started a decade ago, with a seventh-round draft pick named Jon Niese. Niese sparked the flame that what would become these piping-hot, pitching maniac Mets. He was followed a year later by Daniel Murphy (13th round), two years after that by ball-wacker Lucas Duda (seventh) and rotation mainstay Dillon Gee (21st), and after that by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Eric Campbell, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Erik Goeddel. Highly-touted catcher, 26-year-old Travis d'Arnaud (injured) came in the R.A. dickey trade in 2012.
Add in international signings Ruben Tejada, Juan Lagares, Jeurys Familia, Wilmer Flores and Hansel Robles, and there are 14 current Mets drafted or signed during the tenure of former general manager Omar Minaya. The 2010 draft will go down in Mets lore as the one that produced VIP hurlers “Dark Knight” Harvey and deGrom.
It seems that Mets GM Sandy Alderson, assistant GM John Ricco and DePodesta did know what they were doing after all. Also, the additions of vets Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer showed a slow willingness for Mets brass to venture into free agent waters. It wasn't the big splash NY fans desire. Getting to this point was a hard plan for Mets brass to execute in the fast-paced, “Win now”, NYC sports atmosphere. The word “rebuild” to a New Yorker is equivalent to using language that can get you convicted of a hate crime.
Not too many Mets fans expected their squad to be baseball’s ultimate diamond warriors at this juncture. Everyone knew Harvey was coming back and if he was healthy, you had one of the game’s best hurlers toting the rubber every fifth day for you. The pitching wasn’t a concern, but nobody expected this squad to be the second-highest scoring offense in the National League. It remains to be seen if they can sustain this offensive potency. It's not a bad sign that Team MVP David Wright has been on the DL during most of it.
So while Yankees fans hold on to yesteryear with puzzle pieces that haven’t fit more than once since 2000 and the memory of Derek Jeter begins to crystallize into a mythical mountain of "remember when?", the Mets fans have much to look forward too over the next couple of years. And as long as they can cast some Queens sunshine on their big-brother's Bronx baseball shadow and rack up some wins in the process, Mets fans can enjoy the ride and be pleasantly surprised for a change. The Miracle Mets are back in effect.