Todd Frazier has been on several bad baseball teams. Some were so bad, that by the middle of August, the club’s fans — and even its players — had already shifted their focus to football.
It happens to baseball teams every year, even some good ones: As August dwindles, N.F.L. games pop up on clubhouse televisions while chatter about fantasy football teams intensifies.
But with the Mets now in the heat of a playoff race, Frazier, the third baseman, wants to keep everyone’s gaze from drifting toward the gridiron for as long as possible.
“When the football season does come around, I’ll make sure those TVs are off so people focus on the task at hand,” Frazier said before the Mets’ game against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday. “I’ll tell them, ‘When the World Series goes by, and hopefully we were playing in it, that’s when the good-time football comes around.’”
The notion of putting the Mets in the same sentence with “World Series” would have been laughable just a few weeks ago. But with a solid second half and one remarkable winning stretch, they have vaulted themselves into a decent position, enhanced a bit by a 9-2 victory over the Indians Tuesday night.
That win was the beginning of perhaps the most critical stretch of the Mets’ season so far: a nine-game homestand against three teams that have realistic playoff aspirations of their own — the Indians, the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs. The Mets’ chances of making the postseason could hinge on this collection of games at Citi Field.
“These games are like playoff games, to be honest with you,” Frazier said.
ImageCreditMary Altaffer/Associated Press
Frazier helped the cause on Tuesday with a hit and a fine defensive play, but the big hits came from J.D. Davis and Michael Conforto, who each had two-run homers, while Steven Matz pitched six and one-third strong innings for the win. Pete Alonso also had a two-run double as the Mets broke the game open with a four-run seventh.
After the win, Davis echoed Frazier. “The playoffs started today,” he said.
The Mets went into the game with a 64-60 record, which placed them two games behind the Cubs in a race for the second National League wild-card slot. Cleveland held the top American League wild-card slot at 74-51. The Braves, who beat the Mets twice in their recent three-game series in Atlanta, went into Tuesday’s games at 74-52, putting them atop the N.L. East, and Chicago was 66-58, half a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the N.L. Central.
While this homestand could serve as measuring stick for the Mets as a group, there will also be increased scrutiny on Manager Mickey Callaway as he faces the pressure of a make-or-break stretch. In that regard, Cleveland is a distinctive test for Callaway, who was the Indians’ pitching coach from 2013 to 2017 under Terry Francona, one of the most accomplished managers in baseball.
Callaway said he had learned a good deal from Francona, who often goes by “Tito,” including the importance of a balanced and calm approach. Callaway noted his former boss’s reputation for treating playoff games as if they were regular-season games in May, and he said he hoped to transmit that same self-assured demeanor to his players.
“The games probably do mean more,” Callaway said. “There’s going to be more pressure on the players. You just have to keep a calm, relaxed atmosphere and allow them to perform to the best of their abilities. I think Tito does that better than anybody I’ve ever been around. I think it’s very important.”
Francona, one of the more gregarious managers in baseball, said that he remained good friends with Callaway. They spent some time together at Citi Field on Tuesday catching up, and while Francona did not reveal the specifics of their conversation, he later discussed with reporters the pressures that a manager faces in New York.
ImageCreditAssociated Press/Ross D. Franklin
“He hasn’t lost the ability to laugh at himself, which I think is important,” Francona said. “When you are in a market like this, if you don’t win you are going to get criticized or picked at when things don’t go the right away. As a manager, you do what you think is right, have enough confidence in the things you are doing, answer the questions and then move on. That’s the best way to do it.”
Callaway’s short tenure with the Mets has certainly included instances of heavy criticism, including last week’s questions about his pulling Matz from a start before the seventh inning and replacing him with Seth Lugo, who gave up a lead in a loss to the Braves. In addition to occasional managerial blunders, Callaway has made a few bizarre public comments and was embroiled in an ugly episode in which he yelled at a reporter in the clubhouse earlier this season.
But even if Callaway has detractors among the Mets fan base, he has led a team that has been one of the hottest in baseball in recent weeks. The Mets have won nine of their last 11 series and entered Tuesday with a 24-10 record since the All-Star Game, including their remarkable 15-1 stretch from July 25 to Aug. 10.
But many of those wins came against teams with records below .500. Now the Mets will have to prove they can do it against good teams, too.
“We put ourselves in a huge hole in the beginning of the year and halfway through it,” Frazier said. “We went 15-1, and we’re still not in first place in the wild card. That show’s you how big a hole we made. But it also shows you our resilience and our determination not to give up.”
That resilience was again on display Tuesday, and the Mets kept football at bay, for at least another day.
Danielle Allentuck contributed reporting.
SOURCE : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/sports/baseball/mets-playoff-race.html