Injury storm just an obstacle Mets have to weather
By Marty Noble
Heavy rain and large pieces of bad stuff fell from the sky six years ago in Pittsburgh. A 5-0 lead the Mets had forged in their first three turns at bat morphed into a disturbing 8-5 loss to the Pirates. And in the aftermath of that unbecoming defeat, Carlos Delgado wanted to know, "Why, in baseball and soccer and basketball, why when it rains ... does it pour?"
As rhetorical as the question seemed, Delgado wanted an answer that would satisfy his wonder and ease his pain.
That moment at PNC Park registered again Sunday afternoon when the site was Citi Field, and the Marlins were the Mets' opponents. On an otherwise clear afternoon, bad stuff rained and accumulated directly in front of the Mets' dugout.
Matt Harvey had been knocked around a bit, and the bullpen was being generous to a fault. The Marlins had scored five times in three innings, and what had been a seemingly comfortable lead for the Mets had dwindled to one run. The Marlins had the tying run on second base with two outs in the ninth inning, but the runner seemed closer than 180 feet because he was due to bat.
He was the menacing Giancarlo Stanton, a man who could one-hand a pitcher's pitch out of Citi Field at any moment. And he had gone almost two full games against the Mets without a home run. Two games without damage against that particular opponent would qualify as an aberration for the game's richest player.
And worse, before Stanton took his place in the box, the Mets had learned two of their key figures had gone down with disabling injuries. The field was dry, the sky was clear. And it was pouring.
Somebody had pulled the plug, and the good karma that had put the Mets on the doorstep of an eighth consecutive victory Sunday was swirling above the drain, about to disappear. Stanton was in position to provide a dividend on the Marlins' $325 million investment, and the Mets were about to ask, "Where had all the karma gone?"
The Marlins' slugger, the almost-MVP of 2014 swung and ... well, what happened wasn't part of a Fish story, but rather a quite playable bouncer to third base that morphed into the game's 27th out and one more day in the sun for the home team.
Eight straight, a 10-3 record and another 24 hours in the National League East penthouse. The season still is in its toddler stage, but a 10-3 record constitutes as heady stuff for a team that had found inertia a formidable foe for six seasons.
Still, the Mets, the first-place Mets, had lost Travis d'Arnaud and Jerry Blevins to the 15-day disabled list, making the prospects of an extended stay atop the standings less likely. A team that has lost its No. 2 -- ought to be No. 3 -- hitter, its No. 3 starter and now its catcher and its left-handed specialist to injury has every right to repeat Delgado's question with more than a touch of frustration.
The latest injuries, fractures, certainly obscured the glow of the 7-6 victory Sunday and the four-game sweeps of the Marlins. But the Mets resisted the forces that make four-game sweep infrequent as well as those that prompted Fred Wilpon's lament of 2010 -- "We're snakebitten baby." When Jeurys Familia retired Stanton, the serpent's fangs missed the last target.
The unavailability of critical personnel didn't undermine the Mets on Sunday, and it need not be their undoing as they begin the third week of their season. The Mets have prospered in this small sampling of 2015, partly because of the dominating talent of Harvey and Jacob deGrom, the routine brilliance of Juan Lagares, the unexpected 3-for-3 executed by Bartolo Colon, a productive start by d'Arnaud and the extra-base-hit bonanza produced by Lucas Duda. But they finished the weekend with the highest winning percentage in the league and the second highest in the game, mostly because they have made plays in the field and, using fundamental baseball, found ways to score.
The Mets haven't played beyond their talent -- even though theirs is not a talent-rich roster. But they have executed beyond the competition's performance. Neither the Marlins nor the conspicuously more talented Nationals haven't overcome inertia yet. The Phillies might have, but they're not particularly well-equipped. The second-place Braves may have played beyond their talent to this point. We'll know more about them come Friday morning after three games in the Citi.
Terry Collins has the Mets playing properly, and somehow, he has convinced them they should expect to win if they execute properly. He noted last week that his veterans -- David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson -- are more than willing to play the game as it was meant to be played. Cuddyer has aimed base hits up the middle and not swung for the still-distant fences in the big Citi. Granderson is taking pitches and walking at a rate that would make Eddie Yost envious. Murphy conspicuously hit behind the runner last week and enhanced a rally. And, until his hammy betrayed him, Wright was seeking singles and occasionally popping one.
And it was working well.
To this point, the Mets have performed like the 2002 Angels and last summer's Giants, using a dozen papercuts to bleed their opponents. They're not trying to muscle anyone. That can work even with the absence of their catcher and leading RBI guy. And now they have a new opportunity to turn this lemon into lemonade. Highly regarded catching prospect Kevin Plawecki is to ditch the understudy line and move from behind Anthony Recker to behind the plate. That can work, too. He's been properly nurtured.
But another downpour might undermine this team. Those with Mets memories may recall a sequence of injuries that occurred in the ugly summer of 1992. In a matter of 24 hours in early August, the Mets lost their two switch-hitting power guys, Howard Johnson and Bobby Bonilla, to the disabled list. Then 12 losses in 13 games ensued. The Mets sunk like a stone from five games behind to 14 1/2.
So beware of heavy precipitation.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.