By Jason Keidel
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In a sport long-saturated with steroids and juiced-up behemoths that synthesized the record books, the Mets have returned the game to its ancestral order.
The Mets have put pitching in italics and added the axiom back to baseball.
Jim Kaat once said the best pitch in baseball is a good fastball. And the Mets have three or four hurlers who can tickle triple digits.
And that stack of blessed arms, along with some timely hitting and a surreal Daniel Murphy metamorphosis, catapulted the Mets past Chicago in the NLCS in a stunning four-game sweep. And just like their dismissal of the favored Cubs, their season was just as surprising.
PHOTOS: Mets Win NL Pennant!
On July 24, the Mets were 49-48, and had scored just 331 runs, easily the worst in the National League.
Since then they’ve gone 41-24, outscoring their opponents by 90 runs. You can bump that record to 48-26 if you care to include the playoffs (which Mets fans will do most happily).
The Mets won with unity and utility and unselfishness, with a trident of young aces and an accidental beast in the bullpen who wasn’t even supposed to be the closer to start the season.
The Mets are about victory and vindication, a conga line of underrated and understated leaders, each one more modest than the next.
Pick a redemption story.
Terry Collins, who had managed more than 1,600 games without reaching a World Series. Over the last few years he had become equal parts punchline and caricature, the graybeard who saw the sport pass him by, the perennial .500 manager who would toil in eternal mediocrity.
David Wright, who splashed on the scene in tandem with Jose Reyes, a duet destined to bring several rings to Queens, only to suffer endless ignominy over the years on the diamond and then spinal stenosis off the field. Wright was so selfless and self-aware that he told Collins that he needn’t worry about playing him, that the team ethic trumps the team captain.
Daniel Murphy, whom Omar Minaya plucked and protected for years, keeping his head off the trading block in ardent anticipation of this year, when Murphy morphed into a comic book hero. Murphy said the best part about snagging the NLCS MVP was that it meant his brothers would be in the World Series.
Bartolo Colon, the pitching Weeble who continues to dent the scale yet defy the old-world maxims of age, wage, and weight. In the chessboard of young, tall, handsome stars on the mound, Colon rolls out like a rodeo clown, while still clocking 90 mph and bagging big outs from the bullpen.
The best part about this run is that no one expected it. There were times in June when the Mets trotted out a lineup with five or six players you never heard of, the baseball equivalent of redshirts on the old Star Trek, whom you knew would be reduced to salt cubes by the first commercial break.
You know the rest. Sandy Alderson finally got the proper blessing to buy some serious baseball groceries, most notably the filet mignon from Detroit, Yoenis Cespedes, who carried the Mets most of the summer. Even then, it took insurance money from Wright’s contract and deferred money from Jenrry Mejia’s suspension just to fund the moves.
Those who don’t live in New York City might see the Mets as a product of the city’s soaring skyline, just a big-budget production that made good on the epic war chest. They don’t know how long the Mets have been little brothers of the Big Apple, shrinking in the shadow of the monolithic Yankees, who have appeared in seven World Series since the Mets last won one, including the five-game dusting of the Mets in the 2000 Fall Classic.
The Mets have taken years to emerge from the small-market mentality and inherent insecurity of playing next to the most successful team in the history of sports, in America’s media vortex.
Some of that is their fault, of course. Beyond the misspent money — they’re still paying Bobby Bonilla, for instance — is the Velcro strap the Wilpon family wrapped around their wallet. Only this year did they make the requisite moves to insert themselves as bona fide contenders.
But they did it. Maybe it was late. Maybe it was interminable, making Mets fans wait all these years, shiver on those cold nights in April, bake in August, and bristle September, just to see a team tank before the All-Star Game.
But winning slaps the stench off a pungent history. The Mets are no longer a joke, a team in development, or a little brother. In one enchanted run, in a matter of two weeks, they’ve bogarted the front and back page from the Yankees, and are officially the core of the Big Apple, the new heroes of Gotham.
They even have a Dark Knight to prove it.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel