10 Days That Changed The Course Of The NL East – Part 3

By: Paul DiSclafani

Mike Zarrilli / GETTY Images
Mike Zarrilli / GETTY Images

What a week it’s been for the Mets. They bring up a Double A kid and make a trade for two veteran players to wake up a moribund offense. But their suspended former closer gets suspended again, they botch a potential blockbuster trade for a much-needed bat based on the advice of their medical staff and upset one of the most loyal players to the point of tears.

The events of the last 48 hours have cost them two full games in the standings as the First Place Nationals come into Citi Field for a weekend showdown with a three game division lead and a brand, shiny new closer in All-Star Jonathan Papelbon.

This is the third and final installment of this series.  Use these links to read the other installments:

Part 1 – Worst lineup ever; The Double A rookie; A trade for veteran ballplayers

Part 2 -The trade that wasn’t; There is crying in baseball; Trade deadline is approaching

 

DAY 8: Friday, July 31

Dave Zalubowski / AP
Dave Zalubowski / AP

Tick, Tick, Tick…

With the non-waiver trade deadline looming at 4pm, lots of speculation on ESPN and the MLB Network about who is going where. Talk of the Mets getting Upton and/or Bruce continue into the afternoon, but nothing is happening yet. Everyone else seems to be getting the pieces they need. Yesterday, the Blue Jays got the Ace they needed in stud David Price from Detroit. SS Troy Tulowitzki, on the Mets radar since the beginning of the year, also went to the Jays the day before. And the Royals got the outfielder the Mets desperately wanted, Ben Zobrist from Oakland.

The early word was that the Mets were close to a deal with Cincinnati, getting Jay Bruce for Zach Wheeler, but the Reds backed out of it. Around 2pm, word was getting out that Detroit was working with three different teams, including the Mets, on slugger Yoenis Cespedes.

Mets fans know Cespedes as the winner of the 2013 All-Star Home Run Derby at Citi Field, when he put on one of the greatest displays of power ever seen at the ballpark. Cespedes hit three balls into the third deck in left field and his monster home run to win the Derby not only cleared the “home run” apple in Center field, it bounced three-quarters of the way up the black batter’s eye wall behind the apple – almost 500 feet. Cespedes is certainly not afraid of hitting at Citi Field.

By 3:30, word out of Detroit was that the Giants and Angels had backed off Cespedes, leaving only the Mets. Could this really be happening?

With 10 minutes left before the deadline expired, ESPN began reporting that the Mets and Detroit seem to have agreed on a trade for Cespedes that included Zach Wheeler. But the MLB Network said it was two minor league pitchers, top prospect Michael Fulmer and another minor league pitcher, Luis Cessa.

With all of New York holding its collective breath, reports began flooding into both networks, confirmed by the Commissioner’s Office, that the teams had indeed completed the trade (for the two minor league pitchers) with just 13 minutes left in the deadline. Cespedes was a Met!  And we didn’t have to give up any major league talent – including Wheeler.

Jerry Seinfeld tweeted, “Oh My God. I can’t believe I can actually say this, but is it true that there is now ‘A Cespedes for the rest of us?'”

Sandy Alderson commented that “You always love to get another player because every game that you lose seems to reveal a flaw. I don’t know if the team appears complete, but I think we’ve significantly improved the team over the last week or 10 days”. Talk about an understatement.

With the extra added excitement of Cespedes joining the team, the Mets still had to get ready for their weekend series against the first place Nationals that started later in the evening. Unfortunately, Cespedes wouldn’t arrive until Saturday.

Mike Stobe / Getty Images
Mike Stobe / Getty Images

A Friday night in late July at Citi Field with the new-look Mets smack dab in a pennant race and facing the team they are chasing, the Nationals. 36,164 turned out for the opener of the three-game set to see The Dark Knight, Matt Harvey against Gio Gonzalez. And Harvey was up to the task.

He retired the first 16 Nationals while nursing a 1-0 lead provided by of all people, Wilmer Flores, who returned to the starting lineup. Flores got multiple standing ovations each time he came to bat and suddenly became a folk hero. He showed he wanted to be a Met and the fans appreciated and understood his loyalty.

Harvey got the first two outs in the eighth before he faltered, allowing a game tying single that sent the game into extra innings, tied at 2-2.

The teams played into the 12th inning when in a script that could have only been written in Hollywood, Flores took Felipe Rivero 407 feet into deep left center for a game winning home run. As he rounded third and headed into the mosh pit of joyous teammates awaiting him at home plate, Flores tugged at the front of his jersey, signaling to everyone that he was a Met and this was for all the Mets and their fans. Loyalty, what a concept!

The Mets took the game, 2-1, and cut the Nationals lead to two.

DAY 9: Saturday, August 1

Rich Shultz / Getty Images
Rich Shultz / Getty Images

The newest Met, Yoenis Cespedes, made a deal with Carlos Torres for his number 52 and took possession of the Mets 2015 season at the same time. 42,996 showed up to see the post-game fireworks, but also the debut of Cespedes in the Orange and Blue. And he made his presence felt without even taking the bat off his shoulder.

With the game tied 2-2 in the eighth inning, Nationals manager Mike Williams made a curious decision to intentionally walk Cespedes with Curtis Granderson on second and first base open to face Lucas Duda. Duda had already hit two solo home runs in the game, but he was so afraid of letting Cespedes beat him, he would rather face Duda.

What other Mets batter would have caused him to make such a rash move? The answer is none of them. Already having Cespedes in the middle of the lineup is paying dividends for the Mets. Duda lined a double to the opposite field, scoring Granderson and the Mets beat the Nationals for the second straight night, 3-2.

Cespedes Mets debut was nothing to write home about on the score sheet; 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout. But it was his presence in the lineup that made all the difference.

“The stadium was just how I like to play”, Cespedes said after the game, “It was full. It was full of energy, a lot of screaming fans so I enjoyed that”.

This was going to change everything. The Mets knew it, the crowd knew it and now the Nationals knew it, as they saw their three-game lead reduced to one.

DAY 10: Sunday, August 2

Rich Schultz / Getty Images
Rich Schultz / Getty Images

ESPN chose to nationally televise the final game of the series, moving an afternoon start to 8:20pm, causing the Mets to alter their family friendly “Dyna-Mets-Dash” promotion for kids to run around the bases after the game. Instead of a beautiful Sunday afternoon, it would be well past the bedtime of the age group targeted. I don’t think anyone minded staying up late.

With rookie Noah Syndergaard on the mound, the Mets trailed 1-0 against their nemesis Jordan Zimmerman when lightning struck in the third inning. Zimmerman walked Kevin Plawecki and after Syndergaard sacrificed him to second, Curtis Granderson hit a 2-2 pitch over the right field fence and the Mets had a 2-1 lead.

With the Home Run Apple still upright, Daniel Murphy connected with the next Zimmerman pitch deep into the Pepsi Porch and suddenly it was 3-1 with the crowd going insane. Two pitches later, Cespedes got his first hit as a Met, followed by Lucas Duda launching the next Zimmerman pitch deep into the night for his ninth home run in the last eight games, stunning the Nationals and giving the Mets a 5-1 lead. They hit three home runs on five pitches.

Syndergaard, scattered seven hits and walked none, getting his final batter of the evening and ninth strikeout, Bryce Harper, on a 99 mph fastball that caused the slugger to look at Syndergaard and shake his head.

The Nationals had won 18 of their last 21 games at Citi Field coming into this series and after the Mets completed the sweep, they were tied for First Place in the NL East. It’s a spot they never relinquished the rest of the season, clinching the most improbable of Division Titles on September 26. The Mets won 21 games in August and came from three games behind the Nationals to nine games in front of them.  And they never knew what hit them.

The Nationals, picked by many pundits to not only win the NL East, but to cruise to the World Series, packed their bags and slunk out of New York with their tails between their legs. They knew all about the Mets vaunted pitching staff (as did most of the league by now), but they saw firsthand how dangerous the Mets are now with that lineup.

A lineup that just 10 days ago had John Mayberry Jr batting cleanup with a .164 batting average.

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