By Jason Keidel
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In one week, the Yankees have done a diamond reload and PR remake.
A season that started with such promise seemed to tank in June. But now, with a few wins on the field and a few deals off the field, the Yankees have once again rebranded themselves from pretenders to contenders, from a club in the middle of a rebuild to the win-now monolith that has defined them for, well, forever.
The acquisition of Twins starter Jaime Garcia was a nice move, a solid arm added to a sagging pitching staff. But now, with this deal for Oakland ace Sonny Gray, the Yankees (57-47) are now likely the favorites to win the AL East, where they currently lead Boston by a half-game.
Not only is Gray, 27, in his prime, he has a 1.37 ERA over his last six starts and is under team control through 2019. Even more importantly, the Bombers didn’t have to part with one of their prized prospects. Still in the fold are Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres. (Surely we all agree that Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have graduated from prospect status.)
Meanwhile, the Mets, who were supposed to be the Big Apple’s team, poised to bogart the bold ink and make another October run, were largely unsuccessful sellers at the trade deadline, unable to move Asdrubal Cabrera, Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson, a microcosm of their greatly disappointing season. The Mets are 48-55 and 14½ games behind the Washington Nationals. A game back of the Marlins, the Mets can’t even commandeer second place in the worst division in Major League Baseball.
Isn’t this the natural order? Even when the cards and stars are in the Mets’ favor, they find a way to surrender the standings and the back and front pages to their hated crosstown cousins.
To use a summer swimming metaphor, the Yankees just lunged off the diving board and landed like a cannonball into the MLB pool, drenching the sport. The Mets just flicked a pebble into the East River. But, hey, they traded Addison Reed to the Red Sox for … zzzz. And called up Amed Rosario from the farm. The Yanks are typical trade-market bulls; the Mets are bulls***.
Which is what the Mets have been in 50 of the last 55 years. They’ve won five pennants as a franchise, losing three World Series, once with a great Yankee (Yogi Berra) and once to the great Yankees. Not only do the Mets shoulder the burden of their forlorn history, but they are forever juxtaposed with the best team in American sports history.
Two years ago, the Mets not only reached the World Series, but also served notice to baseball and to the Yankees that they were the bullies on the block for the next five years. With up to five aces beaming from the Mets’ marquee, their ceiling seemed higher than those jets circling Citi Field every night. Long before Aaron Judge slugged his way to the cover of every baseball periodical, the Mets had Matt Harvey, who not only came with a bulging quiver of pitches but also a comic book handle bestowed on him by Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci — “the Dark Knight of Gotham.”
And Harvey was just the opening act in a quartet of fireballing starters, led by another superhero. If Harvey had DC Comics covered, Noah Syndergaard morphed into Thor, wielding a magical hammer for a fastball, the first pitcher in history to start a season over 100 mph. Not only were the Mets pitching deep and good, they were equal parts character and characters.
And the contrast is haunting, if not staggering, not only when compared to the Bronx Bombers, but also to themselves. Just 24 months ago, the Mets made the deadline deal of the decade, bagging Yoenis Cespedes, also from the Oakland A’s. Cespedes slugged and slid and galloped his way to the World Series, and into our hearts.
The Mets may have lost to the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 Fall Classic, but it was the rare time a team loses in five games and came away feeling like winners. They were ahead in the eighth inning of every game, and if not for a faulty bullpen, the Mets may have walked away with their third World Series ring. It was more than a brief series; it was a window into their glittering future.
Funny how that never works out, at least for the Mets. From their 1980s behemoth that, by all accounts, should have clubbed their way to three World Series titles, to Generation K, to this iteration of a laughable pitching surplus, the Mets have a way of bringing the ceiling down upon them. It’s hard to beat nature, either Mother Nature or our own nature. No matter the parts, players or pitchers, the Mets find a way to unravel when the core is solid and the chore is simple.
But nothing is simple with the Mets, except that they are simply second place in their own city.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel