BY AARON GENUTH
On an emotional day in Flushing, the Mets responded to the looming end of an era with a day of inspired baseball. Or at least inspired enough to sweep a doubleheader from the Marlins, a team 10 games worse in the standings than the Mets are.
Prior to the first game of the doubleheader, a press conference was announced. David Wright, along with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, would address his status vis-a-vis playing this season and beyond. Before the press conference began, the consensus was that Wright would announce his plans to play again this season and retire at the end of it. And that’s what happened, mostly.
With Mets players, coaches and staff gathered in support – including Omar Minaya and Jose Reyes seated front row – Wilpon spoke first. Addressing the elephant in the room, he almost immediately asserted that insurance and finances had nothing to do with the decision around The Captain’s return, a rumor that has been accepted as fact by much of Mets fandom, who will likely not be swayed by Wilpon’s claim. (The Mets are reimbursed 75 percent of Wright’s salary when he is unable to play during injury, and speculation is that this savings has factored into his continued absence from the field in late-season 2018. Furthermore, should he take the field in September, a Mets beat reporter told WFAN sports radio that Wright’s insurance policy would not take effect again until the 61st day of next year’s regular season).
After many of the expected – and deserved – homages to David Wright as both a baseball player and a person, he shared the expected news that, while Wright won’t physically recover enough to continue beyond this season, he will be reactivated on the roster September 25 and start at third base against the Marlins on September 29.
When Wright spoke, he reaffirmed much of what Wilpon said, also individually thanking his teammates, coaches, management, family, and friends. There were some tears, many reflections, and a decent joke about being blindsided that this press conference wasn’t about a contract extension. What there wasn’t – in nether Wright nor Wilpon’s statements – was the word “retirement.”
When questioned afterward whether he was “not officially retiring, but unable to continue to play at a Major League level,” Wright agreed. It was obvious, however, that he avoided any mention of total finality. It remains to be seen whether this decision will also be framed as “not at all financially or insurance based,” considering that Wright is owed $27 million over the next two years.
With the drama of the imminent end of an era on pause, the Mets and Marlins took the field for a doubleheader necessitated by the rain earlier in the week. In the first game Steven Matz gave up back-to-back home runs in the second inning, before tying it up in the bottom half on his own first career professional home run with Kevin Plawecki aboard. The two homers would be the only hits Matz would give up until the seventh, when a bloop pop up by Marlins rookie Brian Anderson dropped in front of Brandon Nimmo and bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. After Matz got Lewis Brinson to fly out, reliever Drew Smith was brought in and promptly allowed an RBI single to Peter O’Brien.
Righty Sandy Alcantra was impressive in seven innings of work, not allowing a hit after the Matz homer. The Marlins held that 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, when Michael Conforto blasted an upper deck moonshot to right field to tie it with two outs. Three pitches later, Todd Frazier lined a 94-mph fastball into the left field bleachers to seal a 4-3 Mets win in walk off fashion. It marks the first time in team history that the Mets have tied and then won a walkoff game on back-to-back home runs.
In the second game, Jason Vargas got the nod against rookie Jeff Brigham, with the Marlins rookie making his second Major League start. Brigham continued Matz’ trend with an offensive milestone of his own; his first MLB hit in the third inning. It would come back to haunt Vargas the very next batter, when Miguel Rojas launched a two run jack to center field. Like Matz in the first game, Vargas settled down after the homer, and went six innings, giving up only three hits and two walks, notching seven strikeouts.
The Mets offense would reward him in the fifth, with Tomas Nido hitting his first home run of the season, and Michael Conforto driving in Vargas and rookie Jeff McNeil with a double. Vargas, on with a single, apparently noticed that one of the day’s themes was pitchers helping their own cause. Conforto would add to his productive Thursday by driving in Amed Rosario with a single in the seventh.
An RBI groundout by Dom Smith added another insurance run in that inning. Seth Lugo dominated, striking out the first five Marlins who he saw over two scoreless innings. Robert Gsellman gave up a walk but no hits, notching his eleventh save on a charging, game-ending, shoestring catch by Conforto – a nice exclamation point on his three-hit, four-RBI day.
While much is yet to unfold with regard to David Wright’s ride into the baseball sunset, on the day he announced his official departure, the Mets responded with two emotional comeback wins. An inspired day of baseball in a season that has been marked by few highlights outside of Jacob Degrom’s ERA.
On Friday, the Mets followed their doubleheader sweep of the lowly Marlins with a 8-0 shutout of the league’s best team – the Boston Red Sox – and now have a record of 69-78. In their last 40 games the Mets are 25 – 15 and among the highest scoring teams in the league over that span.