The Mets didn’t need to throw any punches on Monday night. Instead they let their bats do the talking. Against a stony-faced, Ivan Drago-esque Chase Utley and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Mets showed what true character is. They glowered determination by immediately rebounding from a rough start, and they displayed an unrelenting desire to win by piling on the runs late. It was a big win not just because it was Game 3 of the National League Division Series, but because it taught the Mets how to be champions.
It certainly didn’t start pretty. Matt Harvey surrendered three runs early on to a series of singles in the second inning. The Dark Knight was expected to be the vengeful savior to make up for the injustice done to Ruben Tejada. Harvey had to settle for a role more like that of Alfred the butler, tending the home fires while others did the heavy lifting. Harvey himself did settle after that rough second inning, thanks in part to a run-saving leaping stab by David Wright that could have added another log to the top of the inning bonfire. But Wright stepped up, literally, and took that momentum away with one hand.
Then the show really got started. The Mets struck back with four singles of their own to get on the board in the bottom of the second. The first run plated by Travis d’Arnaud and his suddenly warming bat. Two outs later Curtis Granderson did what he’s done all year for this team, he put them on his back. With ducks on the pond, Granderson hit a first pitch double to deep right center, clearing the bases and rejuvenating the Flushing Faithful. Suddenly the Mets had all the mojo back in their corner and Citi Field was rocking like it never has before. Harvey came back and recorded three Ks to work around another threat, while d’Arnaud struck yet again in the bottom half with a home run to left. Another short inning for Harvey and the Mets started to pour it on, capped by a Yoenis Cespedes no-doubter that made it to second deck in left. 10-3, and the game was essentially over by the fourth inning.
That Erik Goeddel surrendered three runs without recording an out in the top of the ninth was almost barely a talking point. By that time the Mets had scored 13, and the game was not in question. All Jeurys Familia had to do was come in and shut the door on the upstart Dodgers, trying to make something happen like the fools they are. That Wright didn’t record a hit mattered not. He collected a run on two walks, and saved Harvey’s bacon with that early leap. That Lucas Duda struck out four times was nearly laughable, as no amount of slight disappointment could impede the joy that coursed through the Jackie Robinson rotunda.
And how fitting that was. It didn’t matter that the losing team was the only one Robinson ever played for. And it didn’t matter that by the time he retired, the Mets didn’t even exist as a franchise yet. What mattered was that a team which prides itself on playing the game the right way, beat the snot out of another team that had to take advantage of questionable play to win the previous contest. It was the Mets honoring Robinson, honoring Tejada, and in a way even honoring Utley. Because they took care of business on the field, the way Utley has in the past.
The past couple of days have been very emotional. People get angry, and when they get angry things escalate very quickly. A quick internet search of the terms “Utley” and Tejada” and you immediately were bombarded with images of not just the slide on Saturday night, but of memes suggesting violence, fans touting disgusting language, and even genuine intolerance for Utley’s continued existence as a baseball player. Let’s not forget, this man is an all-time great player. He has always played the game extremely tough. After all, anyone who’s been hit by a baseball at home plate 179 times over his career has to be. But he made the wrong play at the wrong time, and pissed off the wrong team. It’s part of his legacy, but it should not define it.
It wasn’t even so much Utley people were mad with. At least not this writer. The biggest problem with Saturday’s game was that Utley was allowed back on the field as a reward for his slide. It’s the umpiring crew and their ridiculous judgement call that should be to blame for the mess the Mets had to clean up last night. A mess that baseball has allowed to continue. Whether it’s instant replay “getting it right” (except it’s not), or just general rules about how much contact is allowed in a non-contact sport, baseball always seems to stumble through these escapades. Joe Torre looked like a White House Press Secretary on his first day of work answering questions about why Utley was allowed back on the field, looking to his left for some help from MLB stooges on what rule was upheld while another was blindly bypassed. It was an embarrassing moment for baseball in general that this took place. And it was up to the Mets to make it right.
The Mets demanded justice on Monday, and they sought it out the only way they knew how. They won because they demanded it. So what that the Dodgers did their best to make a mockery of Harvey’s first postseason appearance. Both he and the team rebounded, collected themselves, and hit back. Hard. That is how teams of destiny force their way into the winner’s circle. It’s how champions are forged and hardened. Bumps in the road only make the story a better tale to tell. “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor” and an easy win never made a champion great.
The Mets showed they were the better team on Monday, in more ways than one. But they have to do it again. And again. And again until nothing stands between them and the title they hold so dear. Tejada is still going to be missed, and the Dodgers are still dangerous. But Monday proved one thing above all else, that this team knows how to fight.