Mets Fight Through Long Trip and Come Home (Still) on Top

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Closer Edwin Díaz emphatically wrapped up the Mets’ 10-game West Coast trip with a five-out save to preserve a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday night. But it was a decidedly smaller moment in the series that spoke volumes about the chemistry and character of these National League-leading Mets.

It was Friday night in the sixth inning, the Angels had summoned reliever Jaime Barría with one out and one on, and he proceeded to strike out Francisco Lindor on three consecutive sliders. As Lindor walked back to the dugout, he paused to intercept the next hitter, Pete Alonso, leaning in for a few words before the first baseman stepped to the plate.

“I told him what I saw, what I thought he should have known about the ball,” Lindor said. “It’s one thing to see video. It’s one thing to read scouting reports. It’s another thing in real life and what’s happening in the moment.”

It is not unusual for players to share information and swap observations. But it is a rare to see such an earnest conversation conducted on the field, in the heat of the battle.

Lindor’s nuggets didn’t spin gold for Alonso. The Mets were winning by 7-2 at the time, and Alonso, who smashed five homers and collected nine R.B.I. during the road trip, popped a foul fly to the catcher. But toward the end of his team’s 10-game, 11-day trip, in a contest his team was leading by five runs, it would have been easy for Lindor to momentarily decelerate.

That did not happen.

Edwin Díaz’s five-out save on Sunday was a perfect end to a difficult 11-day road trip for the Mets.Credit…Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

“That’s why this team does very good so far,” Lindor said in a conversation the next day. “We communicate with each other. We help each other out. We don’t just rely on the hitting coach. We rely on each other’s input, too.”

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To get to where the Mets hope to go, they are going to need every dose of that daily communication, coaching, input and output. The exuberance of an earlier six-game winning streak — a streak that lifted their N.L. East lead to 10.5 games as they were heading out on the trip — was replaced by the wear and tear of the road.

Lindor smashed his finger in a hotel door to start the trip, Alonso and outfielder Starling Marte each had an injury scare that turned out OK. The Mets wound up going 5-5 against the Dodgers, the Padres and the Angels, still good enough to head back to New York with the second best record in the majors, trailing only the Yankees.

“It reaffirms what I think and what I’ve thought since spring,” Manager Buck Showalter said. “We have a really good group of people who care about competing.”

At the same time, though, Atlanta turned white hot, with Sunday’s 5-3 win over Pittsburgh pushing the Braves’ winning streak to 11 games. It is Atlanta’s longest streak since a 14-gamer in 2013 and the longest winning streak in the National League so far this year.

With the Mets’ division lead whittled down to 5.5 games, they will unpack on Monday and prepare for Milwaukee on Tuesday at Citi Field. The opening series of the upcoming homestand falls under the old baseball maxim of it’s not necessarily who you play, but when you play them. After leading the N.L. Central most of the year, Manager Craig Counsell’s Brewers have gone inexplicably cold, losing 10 of their past 12 games.

The paths of both Atlanta and Milwaukee are instructive: The ebb and flow of a season accentuates the extremes. But it’s the in-betweens that tilt things one way or the other, and in moments like the one shared by Lindor and Alonso, the Mets like their chances more often than not.

Alonso hurt his hand when he was hit by a pitch, but he ended up with five homers in the Mets’ time in California.Credit…Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“Barría’s got a unique shape to his breaking ball,” Alonso said, before continuing of Lindor: “Basically, it was him telling me the shape of the pitch, the pitch’s behavior. He’s helping me put together a plan so that I can execute and drive in the run.

“Eighty percent of the battle is knowing what a pitch does.”

Alonso explained that a hitter can watch all the video he wants, but the angles are different than actually seeing a particular pitch from a rival from the batter’s box. Though Alonso said that he just “mis-hit” the ball, he noted that the tips Lindor gave him the were good ones.

“It’s what we do here,” Showalter said of the Lindor-Alonso in-game exchange. “We talk about passing the baton, and that’s what you learn.”

Showalter said he liked the players on this team, personally, as much as any team he has ever managed. Their good attitudes and unselfish style are apparent, he said.

“And I don’t think people realize, because it’s under the radar, how good Eric Chavez is,” Showalter said of the team’s hitting coach. “That was a great free agent signing, getting Chavez in here.”

In Chavez, who played in the majors for 17 seasons, and assistant hitting coach Jeremy Barnes, who played four seasons in the minors and another two in independent ball and joined the Mets in January 2021, as director of player initiatives, the Mets have the combined best of both worlds, said infielder Luis Guillorme.

“Chavy played at the highest level and is good at in-game adjustments,” Guillorme said. “Chavy knows what’s wrong, while Jeremy figures out a way to fix what’s wrong. Jeremy is more technical. They blend perfectly.”

When teammates realized Taijuan Walker was tipping his pitches on Sunday, a quick fix turned the pitcher’s day around.Credit…Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Mets continued to lead the majors in hits (559), runs scored (316), batting average (.265), on-base percentage (.336) and R.B.I. (301) through Sunday despite the Padres outscoring them, 20-2, in the last two games in San Diego. That was just the Mets’ third series loss of the season, and the Mets still haven’t lost as many as three games in a row. They were tested by dropping the first two games in Dodger Stadium two weekends ago but came back to split that four-game series.

And, the hitters’ penchant for staying alert on each pitch extends far beyond “passing the baton” in the lineup. Taijuan Walker (six innings, one earned run) produced his best start of the season Sunday after the Angels tagged him for four hits in the first inning. It was left fielder Mark Canha, Walker said, who quickly identified that Walker was tipping his pitches.

So Walker huddled with Canha, Chavez and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner in the dugout, figured a few things out and wound up “keeping my glove close to me” in his windup for the rest of his game. He shut down the Angels over the next five innings, his best split-finger fastball of the year leading the way.

It was part of a continuing quest, both on the part of Walker and the Mets. In the road trip opener, it was Jeff McNeil who noticed the Dodgers were identifying pitches by seeing Walker’s grips when they were on second base. He cleaned that up, but the Mets lost, 2-0. Then in San Diego, Walker said, after one foul ball, Lindor was heading back to his position and he asked the shortstop, “What do you got for me here?” And Lindor was quick with a suggestion: “Splitter, down.’”

Walker said he threw two in a row, the second one producing a harmless pop fly.

“They’re aware of everything,” Walker said of this particular group of teammates. “They don’t miss a pitch. Francisco, especially, is very aware.”

And as the Mets push ahead, they expect good things to happen across multiple fronts. Ace Jacob deGrom threw his third bullpen session on Saturday, and the hope remains for his return sometime around the All-Star break. Max Scherzer is getting closer, too. Tylor Megill was activated and rejoined the rotation on Friday.

Short term, though, they were just happy to be heading east, their longest trip of the season in the books.

“We’ve been out here, what?” Showalter quipped. “A month?”

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