Yes, yes, I know. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as the old cliché goes. It’s April 12. It’s only 11 games. When the inevitable “crash” comes – by “crash, I mean something along the lines of a three-game losing streak — it will feel lousy. But hot damn does this start put a smile on a Met fan’s face.
10-1? It even sounds ridiculous. Any time, at any point in the season. You hear about a team getting hot at the “right time,” say, mid-September and they go 10-1 to salt away a playoff spot, you’re impressed. You hear about a 10-1 streak in early-July that vaults a team into first place, you take notice. Even now, 10-1 to start the season is noteworthy – the last time anyone started 10-1 was 2013 NL Eastern Division winning Atlanta Braves, who jumped out 12-1, ended up winning 96 games and were out of first place for exactly one day. Most fans would sign up for that, I think.
So, yeah, the record is pretty impressive, but even more striking is the way in which they’re piling up the wins. In exactly half of their 10 victories, the Mets have had to come from behind. While that, in itself sounds impressive, in four of those wins, the rally came right away: when the opposition put up a run or more in an inning, the Mets put up one or more of their own. In these first 11 games, when the Mets have not had a lead, they haven’t been without it for very long. This trait is reminiscent of another famous, surprising Mets squad. Fans of a certain age will know what I’m talking about. There was a team that had never won anything, that had been a National League joke for seven years. Suddenly, they got good. They had a mix of terrific young pitching, a young-but-veteran offense and every last one of the 25-plus men in the dugout contributing. One of their most pleasing traits was an ability to come off the mat and deliver the knockout blow. Sound familiar?
Most Met fans are loath to compare any team with the legendary 1969 squad, with good reason. But sometimes, what’s right in front of your face cannot be ignored: these guys look an awful lot like those guys, don’t you think? There’s a spirit here, a real feeling of everyone rowing the same way. New manager Mickey Callaway has a lot to do with that, of course, but the players, the 25-plus men in the dugout have to buy in. In 1969, they bought in because their manager, Gil Hodges, epitomized calm, strong leadership and a certain sinewy toughness. As Casey Stengel said of him, “That feller’s so strong, he c’n squeeze yer earbrows off.” Callaway has none of that gravitas – he doesn’t have Hodges’s track record as a ballplayer or a Marine: remember, Hodges fought in the South Pacific – but his players have bought in, it seems, because he listens. As he said in his introductory press conference back in October, his aim is to provide each individual player in his charge with whatever it is they need to succeed. It helps when you have veterans like Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Asdrubal Cabrera on your side – players who have been through the slog of a pennant race. Callaway is making the most of it, “maximizing his assets,” in the current parlance.
10-1… Who’d have thought it?
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