MIAMI — A chant of “Let’s Go Mets” briefly broke out during the fourth inning Saturday night as the visitors scored eight runs, and a sense of relief enveloped the Marlins’ loanDepot park, which at times like these seems more like a southern precinct of Queens.
The Mets and their traveling or transported band of fans can exhale after their 11-3 victory over the Marlins. The somewhat routine win felt very important after the Mets’ inconsistent September play dropped them, at least temporarily, out of first place in the NL East, which had seemed for many months to be their permanent residence.
Yes, the Mets needed this one.
And you had to know they enjoyed that seemingly endless fourth inning, in which they scored the most runs they have in an inning this season. The outburst was punctuated by a grand slam from Mark Canha, an underpublicized star who has come up with more big hits than any Met not named Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor or Starling Marte.
The Mets are notoriously ineffective against left-handed pitching, and Marlins manager Don Mattingly had just called upon rookie southpaw Andrew Nardi when Canha hit the homer into the Marlins’ bullpen in left field to clinch the victory early. The first six Mets reached based that inning off Marlins starter Pablo Lopez, the first being Canha, who opened the inning of relief (for the Mets) with a walk.
By the end of the game, everyone eventually got into the act, not just regular stars Lindor (who homered) and Jeff McNeil (who had two hits and continues to challenge Triple Crown threat Paul Goldschmidt for the batting title), but also down-the-order guys Eduardo Escobar and James McCann, who are finally heating up.
“It feels good,” Lindor said. “We were able to execute and help the pitchers today.”
Lopez was at the center of much trade talk at the deadline, and he’s expected to shopped around this winter because the Marlins need to peddle pitching for much-needed bats. This outing won’t help the Marlins with those plans. Lopez ended the day with an ERA of 4.04 after starting the season looking like one of the better pitchers in the league. While Lopez is a solid mid-rotation starter, the Yankees appear wise to have passed on the talk of Lopez plus shortstop Miguel Rojas for Gleyber Torres and top shortstop prospect Oswald Peraza.
The Mets only care now about getting back on the track that kept them in first place for the better part of the season, and while one win won’t solve anything, they had to feel better about a game that had all but ended soon after it started. Their closing schedule, while the easiest in the majors, has been giving them unexpected trouble. This win, though, in conjunction with the Braves’ loss in Seattle, has the Mets back atop baseball’s most competitive and interesting division.
“We’ve got to keep playing every single game,” McNeil said. “It’s not going to be easy. No one said it was easy. The Braves are doing what they need to do. It’s going to be a fight until the end.”
It shouldn’t get any harder, though. The Cubs and Pirates follow the Marlins on the Mets’ September calendar from heaven. And the signs are there that they could be back on their game after starting 3-4 in the softest part of their September slate.
That’s badly needed now, after Marte was placed on the injured list Saturday with a finger fracture, and there is no guarantee he’ll be back when eligible at the end of next week. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte wasn’t able to do any baseball activity yet.
There was some excitement over the call-up of hard-hitting rookie Mark Vientos as Marte’s replacement. He should especially help versus lefties. Vientos had a 1.140 OPS against left-handers for Triple-A Syracuse when he got the call, so he’s a natural to take some DH at-bats from Darin Ruf, who has pitched better than he has hit so far for the Mets. The blame for the mini slump shouldn’t all fall on Ruf, though, as he’s only a part-time player on a team of stars.
The call-up of Vientos stirred up big social media interest for fans of the team, which has been struggling uncharacteristically, but the Mets seemed unaware before the game, seemingly ensconced in a college football game that was on TV in the clubhouse. Even the characteristically focused Showalter, an Alabama fan from the Florida Panhandle who’d been recruited by Bear Bryant as a baseball and football player and who knows Nick Saban, took a peek.
Yes, there are positive signs the Mets remain more relaxed than fans and media about their recent mini-slide, which came against the alleged underbelly of the National League, including the Nationals and Pirates before they came down to Florida to play the Marlins. If it felt as if the Mets were wasting an opportunity against these reputed weaklings, they don’t seem to be stressing over it. And that’s a good thing.