Mets Starting To Look For Real

Published on: 3rd July, 2012

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New York – Make no mistake about it. The New York Mets are getting very close to being taken seriously as a threat to win the National League East championship.

Tonight, this young, frisky team continued to astound the baseball world, if not their own locker room and coaching staff, by dismantling the once-powerful Philadelphia Phillies, 11-1. They played a nearly perfect ballgame, offensively and defensively, while getting a gem of a pitched game out of Jonathan Niese, their young lefty who seems to be growing surely and steadily with each start.

There were several stars in attendance on the field tonight. David Wright, the backup third baseman on the National League All-Star team with his .351 batting average, slammed a 425-foot home run to dead centerfield in the sixth inning to pass Howard Johnson for third place on the club’s all-time home run list. But that wasn’t all. Wright’s 193rd career big fly also gave him 10 home runs this season, a franchise-record ninth season with double-digit home runs. Previously, Mets greats Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, and Ed Kranepool had tied for eight such seasons. Wright also drove in four runs, increasing his season total to 54.

The starting third baseman in next weeks’ Stars game, Pablo Sandoval of the Giants, is batting .302, with six homers and 25 rbi’s. Who said give the voting back to the fans?

But Wright wasn’t the whole story. Not by a long shot. Daniel Murphy, struggling mightily with the bat until very recently, had lost 68 points on his batting average over a five-week period, from a high of .337 on May 15th to a season-low .269 on June 24th.

Murphy is no longer struggling. He has now hit in six straight games and with tonight’s 4-5 performance, including two doubles and a triple, he also drove in a season-high four runs. The second baseman, whose fielding prowess necessitates he maintain his status as a premier hitter in the National League, is now up to .288 for the season, moving up with a bullet, along with 42 rbi’s.

But Wright and Murphy weren’t the whole story, either. There was Niese, who tossed a season-high eight innings, allowing just one run and a measly three hits. Yes, the Phillies are missing their All-Star first baseman, Ryan Howard but they still have the core lineup of players who had won the last five N.L. East championships. Niese’s craftiness and control, to go along with a consistent 91-92 mph fastball, kept the Phils off balance all night.

But Wright, Murphy, and Niese weren’t the whole story, either. Ruben Tejada finished 3-5 and made several sparkling plays at shortstop tonight. Since coming off the disabled list, Tejada has not only solidified the infield defense but is hitting .385 (15-39) over a span of nine games. The second-year player, just 22-years old, is batting .324 for the season. If you haven’t looked lately, Jose Reyes, the previous Mets shortstop, is mired at .272 after tonight’s Marlins loss to Milwaukee. Perhaps, Reyes plays better in the walk year of his contract as he did last year in winning the National League batting title. Or, maybe general manager, Sandy Alderson really does know what he’s doing when it comes to judging talent and character.

Even Murphy made a sparkling play tonight, leaping high in the air (okay, maybe not that high but high for Murphy) to snag a blistering line drive off the bat of Chase Utley. You knew it was going to be the Mets night, after that bit of athleticism from the sometimes clunky second baseman.

But those guys aren’t the whole story, either. You see, the Mets fan base has not been turning out in sellout numbers this season, still taking a wait-and-see view of what this team of youngsters and not-so-old veterans can accomplish before they plunk down their hard-earned cash at the ballpark.

Tonight’s game, undoubtedly helped along by the draw of the hated Phillies as well as a post-game fireworks display, brought Mets fans out in droves. In fact, an all-time attendance record for four-year old Citi Field was set tonight, with 42,516 persons rolling through the turnstiles. Those numbers may pale next to the sellout figures this franchise used to garner at Shea Stadium, where the seating capacity was over 56,000. But, it’s a start for a franchise that has been so moribund in recent years, not to mention close to broke.

It was the first time this season the Mets actually had a home-court advantage, the noise their fans were making as electrifying as anything heard at this stadium, short of Johan Santana’s no-hitter. You get the feeling if this team stays in the race, the atmosphere around this ballpark is going to be electric.

The Mets improved to 44-37, remaining 3½ games behind Washington, which won tonight over the Giants.

The biggest question of all is, how many of you predicted before the season began that this team from Queens would be in the discussion for a division championship as late as the fourth of July, right at the mid-point of the season? C’mon, I know there’s a couple of you out there. But not many.

In the very near future, the phrase, “it’s still too early to judge this team” won’t be applicable. For some teams, like the ten games below .500 Phillies, it’s already gotten late. For others, like the Mets, the fun may just be starting right now.

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