Buck Showalter sauntered into Citi Field’s press conference room just past 4 p.m. Monday, only 12 hours after a chartered Delta jet landed at Kennedy International Airport. The plane had left New York a few days earlier with the first-place New York Mets aboard. The group who returned in the early hours of Monday were beaten, bedraggled and bound to finish in second.
Showalter spent a portion of his afternoon — as he does most days in this, his 21st season as a big-league manager — surveying the mood of his players. “You’re always taking a little snapshot of what’s going on,” he said. After a season-altering sweep by the Atlanta Braves, Showalter saw no reason to sugarcoat.
How was the group feeling?
“How do you think?” Showalter said. “Someone said: ‘Are they pressing?’ Of course they’re pressing. God, it’s a tough ride, a tough plane ride. I know how much they care. I know how much the fans care. You hate to disappoint people. It hurts.”
Only two months earlier, Showalter had sat in the same seat, at a time when October disappointment felt like a relic from a different era. On Aug. 7, the Mets completed a four-day demolition of the Braves to increase their advantage in the National League East to 6 1/2 games; the lead swelled to seven a day later. It would only shrink from there. Over the course of the next 57 days, a division would be lost and a marvelous summer in Flushing would be placed in peril of an early exit in the Wild Card Series.
The Mets won 100 games but denied themselves the customary champagne celebration when they clinched a playoff spot last month. They were saving the big bash for a division title. That party is now on ice after Atlanta downed the Marlins on Tuesday evening to complete the reversal, clinch a first-round bye and force the Mets to host an extra series beginning on Friday.
It would be uncharitable to call this a collapse. The primary reason for the Mets dropping in the standings was the unceasing ascent of the Braves. Atlanta played at a 118-win pace after that series in New York. The Mets managed a more commendable 93-win clip. On seven occasions in those 57 days, the two teams faced off. The Braves won six times, including the decisive series last weekend at Truist Park.