Despite his team winning 13 of 14 games and surging toward an unlikely playoff berth, Mets Manager Mickey Callaway has still not noticed any uptick in enthusiasm for his squad near his residence in the city.
“I go to the field and I go to my apartment,” he said Wednesday at Citi Field. “I don’t ever see anybody. I eat every meal here and then go to sleep. I need to rest.”
It is getting harder not to notice what is going on in Queens, though, and his team shows no signs of slowing. In beating the Miami Marlins, 7-2, Wednesday afternoon, the Mets (59-56) won their sixth straight, completed a four-game sweep and improved to 19-6 since the All-Star break.
Having closed to within a game of a wild-card berth thanks to their remarkable run, the Mets will get an off day Thursday before a home weekend series against the Washington Nationals (60-53) — who happen to occupy the top National League wild-card spot. The Mets are aware that the competition will be stiffer after devouring a steady diet of minnows — next week they head to Atlanta to face the N.L. East-leading Braves — but they are starting to envision bigger things.
“If we keep rolling the way we are, we’ve got a really awesome chance to do something really special and make a hell of a run,” the rookie first baseman Pete Alonso said after hitting his 37th home run of the season and driving in two runs.
The Mets remain eight and a half games behind the first-place Braves, but contributions are now coming from all corners of Callaway’s lineup. In addition to Alonso’s bat, the starting pitching, bullpen and outfielder Michael Conforto have all improved their level of play in recent weeks.
The result: For the first time since 2016, the Mets are playing meaningful games in August.
“That’s what it takes to sustain a streak like this: somebody else stepping up every night,” Callaway said. “And we’ve been getting that.”
For much of the season, Alonso has been a rare bright spot, breaking team rookie records for home runs and runs batted in, while many of his teammates underwhelmed. He won the home run derby in Cleveland, but after the break, his power seemed to have run out. During one stretch, he went nine games without adding to his home run total.
Still, the Mets showed that they could win without Alonso’s moonshots. And over the last three days, Alonso’s power returned and the Mets built even more momentum with timely hitting performances. On Wednesday, Alonso hit his third home run in as many games with a two-run shot in the first inning. In N.L. history, only Frank Robinson (1956), Wally Berger (1930) and Cody Bellinger (2017) have hit more home runs in a rookie campaign.
“It’s a constant game of adjustments,” said Alonso, who had been focusing on his swing efficiency in the batting cage between games. “I’m going to work on just staying more consistent.”
No Met, though, has been more reliable than Jeff McNeil. He has played left and right field, as well as second and third base while boasting the best batting average (.339) in the majors. On Wednesday, he added a home run of his own against the Marlins, but it was a pair of homers from Conforto — one to right field and one to left — that best displayed the team’s resurgence.
Conforto has hit seven home runs in his last 11 games, and his first shot on Wednesday was the 100th home run of his career. After the game, he carried around a ball with the seams torn off it, with jokes thrown around the clubhouse that it was the first ball he had hit out of the yard that day.
“As you can see, we’re still having fun out here,” Conforto said.
While the offense plowed ahead in playoff form, starting pitcher Steve Matz limited the Marlins to two earned runs in six and two-thirds innings. He noted that the most important thing he did was take a step back: Known to lose control when opponents start to hit him or he misses his spots, Matz knew when to retreat from the rubber to pick up the rosin bag on a humid afternoon.
Justin Wilson relieved him to get the final out of the seventh inning, and Jeurys Familia followed with a scoreless eighth before Luis Avilan finished the Marlins with a scoreless ninth. For Callaway, it was the surest sign of his roster having turned a corner.
“Our bullpen’s performing,” he said. “In the past, our bullpen might have struggled through that game tonight, and it would have cost us. We’ve always felt we could be this team, but our bullpen’s struggles hurt us.”
There were 26,349 fans in the stands for the afternoon win, and they serenaded the team in the ninth inning with “Let’s go, Mets!” chants.
Conforto took note of the growing excitement. He knew what he was hearing, and started to anticipate what he might see on Friday night and beyond.
“That playoff atmosphere,” he said. “It’s been too long.”