Here is the difference between this year and past years:
The Mets issued a progress report on Jacob deGrom before the first game of their old-school single-admission doubleheader with the Cardinals Tuesday, and while general manager Billy Eppler said the team was “pleased” with the news, it is clear that whatever the best-case scenario was for deGrom’s return, we are now onto Plan B.
Now, let’s not even dwell on the fact that for an awful lot of seasons one Mets brass’ diagnosis of “pleased” on a Tuesday wound up as near-amputation by Thursday. That’s part of it. But the biggest issue is this:
The Mets are winning — and won again in the opening game Tuesday, topping the Cardinals 3-1, before falling in the nightcap 4-3 (despite their usual ninth-inning dramatics). And when you are winning, people tend to be in good moods. And there are a lot of good moods at Citi Field these days: on the field, in the clubhouse, in the stands, in the front office. And you know what’s easy to have when you’re in a good mood?
Patience is easy to have.
Last year — really, pick your year — the first and, frankly, only reaction among the rank-and-file in Mets Nation would be deflation. That’s actually not a criticism, it was just reality. In those years the Mets drew so much of their oxygen off deGrom, even on days he wasn’t pitching. For now, deGrom is one name on the roster — well, for now, one name on the 60-day IL — so the notion that the new best-case is probably July 1 can be taken in stride.
In past years, the teeth of the pregame statement issued by the team — “Jacob deGrom underwent follow-up imaging [Monday] that revealed continued healing in the scapula” — would have been studied and examined and analyzed inside out and upside down.
Using Mets-ese Rosetta Stone that would translate, at the start, from an unprintable spasm of disappointment that deGrom isn’t throwing off a mound yet to despair that in the interim the Mets are cooked to, at day’s end, arriving at a final verdict: “See you (somewhere) in 2023.”
Instead, common sense prevails. Patience is indeed a virtue. And the present Mets’ brain trust is so tightly ensconced in the fans’ circle of trust that when Eppler says, “Right now it’s just a matter of letting him step back further and throw harder and then treating the patient more than anything else,” his words are taken for what they are. And believed.
It helps, of course, that more often than not the Mets have figured out their rotation to such an extent that Tuesday’s first-game fill-in for Tylor Megill — journeyman righty Trevor Williams — threw four spotless innings, allowing the Mets to chip away at St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas and build a 3-0 lead to hand over to the bullpen.
“I’m happy to contribute,” Williams said. “It’s what my job is, to save he bullpen, and I’m glad I was able to do that.”
“A real shot in the arm,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Last year was an extreme example of how much deGrom has been the sun in the Mets’ solar system since he became the consensus best pitcher in the business in 2018. They were in first place when deGrom threw his last pitch of 2021. They finished in third. Their rotation was a mess. Their confidence was shot.
Now, part of the reason for the new-look Mets is a new outlook that seems to pervade the clubhouse. The Mets have already encountered their share of issues, even discounting deGrom; Starling Marte went to the bereavement list Tuesday and could be gone as long as a week. Brandon Nimmo fouled a ball off his quad and will probably need to miss at least a game or two.
And still they salvaged a split.
“There’ll be something else around the corner, too,” Showalter said. “Guys have to perform … it’s a never-ending proving ground.”
So far, the Mets have checked most of the boxes. That inspires confidence among the constituents, and faith, and maybe even a little bit of patience. Baseball is supposed to be fun, after all. Good moods are allowed.
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