It was inevitable, but after some tense moments in the ninth inning that required the help of Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets finally did it. They clinched fourth place in the National League East with their 6-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. There were no mounted police present, making it easy for jubilant fans to run across the field.
Of course, those jubilant fans were just kids running the bases after the game in the Mr. Met Dash. The mounted police and their horses were in the parking lot making sure to leave deposits behind for me to step in after I left the game (bingo…). Despite the lack of pomp and circumstance, the Mets can still feel good about their latest victory, one that gave them only their second series victory since late July.
Another thing they can feel encouraged about is the performance by John Maine over his five innings of work. Maine held the Nationals hitless through the first four innings and earned his first win since May 31.
The Mets got hits early and often, as they scored four runs in the first three innings off Nationals’ starter Garrett Mock. Daniel Murphy played a big part in the early scoring. He tripled to lead off the second inning and later scored on an infield single by Josh Thole. In the third inning, Murphy hit a long double to center, scoring David Wright and Carlos Beltran.
The game remained 4-0 until the eighth inning, when Wilson Valdez tripled to right field, scoring Jeff Francoeur and Josh Thole. In addition to Murphy and Valdez, Angel Pagan provided some offensive punch. His three hits raised his batting average back over .300. He is now hitting .304.
After being held to only two hits through the first eight innings, the Nats made one last attempt to prevent the Mets from clinching fourth place. Two runs and three hits later, it was time to call in closer extraordinaire Francisco Rodriguez. With the fans ready to continue the time-honored tradition of shooting silly string after their team clinches fourth place, Rodriguez froze Cristian Guzman on a 1-2 pitch and the party was on at Citi Field.
Not to be lost in today’s clincher is the second straight pain-free and effective performance by John Maine since his activation from the disabled list. In his two starts, Maine has pitched eight innings, giving up one run on only four hits. He has also exhibited better control, walking only two batters in the starts. Since he kept his pitch count low (70 pitches in five innings), he was able to stick around long enough to qualify for the victory.
Just because fourth place is clinched doesn’t mean the Mets should play lackadaisically for the remaining two weeks of the season. (Who was that in the back of the room who said “they’ve been doing that all season so why change now?” Don’t think I didn’t hear you just because I have silly string stuck in my ear.) The Mets can use this time to continue to see how the players who have come back from injury (Carlos Beltran, John Maine) fare and they can also use these last 12 games to see if Josh Thole is ready to be a major leaguer or if he needs more minor league seasoning.
The Mets will open up a series against the red-hot Atlanta Braves at Citi Field Monday night. Although the Braves just lost two out of three to the Phillies over the weekend (after winning seven straight, including a three-game sweep over the Mets at Turner Field last week), they’re still mathematically alive in the wild card race. They stand 5½ games behind the Rockies for the National League wild card berth. If the Mets can regroup from their post-clincher hangover, they can put a serious crimp in the Braves’ run for the postseason. Pat Misch will square off against Derek Lowe in the 7:10 PM start.
Useless stat of the day (because I didn’t get to run on the field during the Mr. Met Dash): Each of the last two times the Mets finished in fourth place in the five-team NL East (1996 and 2004), they recovered with winning seasons the following year. In 1996, the Mets finished 71-91 and improved to 88-74 in 1997. Similarly, in 2004 the Mets also finished 71-91 and followed that up with a 12-game improvement in 2005 (83-79). None of this means anything when it comes to the 2010 Mets, which is why it’s the useless stat of the day.