NEW YORK -- As the Mets prepared for their most critical homestand to date on Thursday afternoon, a group of players clustered in the Citi Field batting cage, huddled around a television to watch Coastal Carolina defeat Arizona in the College World Series. Digging the Chanticleers' underdog story, the Mets whooped and hollered as they rushed the field, while starting pitcher Steven Matz -- a former Coastal Carolina recruit -- strutted around with the Mets' championship belt.
If big leaguers are not supposed to show the same type of emotion as their collegiate counterparts, nobody told Matz or Brandon Nimmo or anyone else in Flushing. Hours later, Nimmo -- a big leaguer for less than a week -- made no attempt to restrain his joy as he rounded third base in the seventh inning, all but floating home with the winning run of the Mets' 4-3 comeback victory over the Cubs. Elation radiated off Nimmo as he crossed home plate, grinning.
"That was fun to have that many people into just a single event," Nimmo said after his first career game at Citi Field, remnants of a whipped-cream pie still visible on his face. "It's hard to put into words. It's a dream come true. It's exciting. You can see how important it is for this fan base and for this city."
Perhaps it was Nimmo's RBI single in the seventh that snapped the Mets out of their recent doldrums. Perhaps it was Yoenis Cespedes' homer in the sixth inning, which made LaGuardia Airport seem reachable on the fly. Perhaps it was the John Lackey fastball that came within a hair of hitting Matz that woke up the Mets on this summer night.
The roots of the renaissance did not matter. What mattered was that somewhere along the line, the Mets woke up. And the 40,122 fans at Citi Field did so, too.
"[A win] that exciting," manager Terry Collins said, "we haven't had that in a while."
To the contrary, the Mets spent most of June sliding down the National League East standings, losing three straight in Washington earlier this week before returning home to the gauntlet: consecutive series against the Cubs, Marlins and Nats to close out the season's first half. With injuries and underperformance wreaking havoc on the roster he constructed, general manager Sandy Alderson cautioned before the game that a Cespedes-style big-splash trade might be out of the question this year. To win the Mets would need improvement from their current set of players.
Searching for some sort of spark to ignite that bunch, Collins chose to promote Nimmo from seventh to first in the lineup, then was rewarded when Nimmo played a central role in the comeback.
"I was just trying to keep calm," Nimmo said. "It's just another day, but man, it's fun. It's fun to get into that energy. And I thank the crowd for really getting into that."
In the ninth, that same crowd bristled when Jeurys Familia put the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with no outs. The fans held their collective breath, then exhaled as Familia struck out a pair en route to his 27th save, roaring off the mound with his own brand of emotion.
"When we play really hard," Familia said, "and everybody plays like that, it's different."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.