By: Paul DiSclafani
And now it begins.
After a roller coaster season that started with hope of a winning season and dreams of a Wild-Card berth, the Mets head out to Chavez Ravine in California as NL Eastern Division Champions to play the Dodgers for the NL Divisional Series in the first leg of the post season.
Everything that has happened between April 1 and October 8 is meaningless. An entire season of blood, sweat and tears over 162 games that earned each team the right to play in the post season is wiped from the books. Every error, every strikeout, every walk-off hit, every inning of every game. Everyone starts with a clean slate.
So why do we do these “preview” articles while citing chapter and verse as we refer back to the season that was? Because although you won 20 games in a season, or you hit 45 home runs, that doesn’t mean you are going to duplicate that success (or failure) in the playoffs. However, history is always there for us to refer to. You can’t change the past, but past performance is not indicative of future success (or failure). Didn’t I hear that on a commercial somewhere?
But the Mets and Dodgers do have a history that is not only linked on the field, but off the field as well. The expansion Mets were fashioned after their two National League parents, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, taking the Dodger blue and the Giants orange as their colors. Mets owner Fred Wilpon, a long time Brooklyn Dodger fan, was instrumental in designing the façade of the new Citi Field to resemble Ebbets field, home of the Dodgers, so much so in fact that the entrance rotunda is named after and dedicated to the iconic Dodger, Jackie Robinson.
In the early days of the Mets franchise, you could only count of big crowds a couple of times a year. Opening Day, and games against the Giants and Dodgers. Many baseball fans, who lost their beloved Dodgers and Giants to the Left Coast in 1957 embraced the expansion Mets in 1962 as their own.
Subsequent generations never had that connection to the Dodgers and Giants and now see their games as more of a nuisance when we go out to the West Coast with start times at 10:05. What games were more important to Mets fans this year than the ones against Washington?
And now the postseason is about to begin. As Hall Of Fame Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy used to say, “Fasten Your Seat-belts…”
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Mets (90-72) won the NL East during an incredible six-week hot streak that began in August. The Mets hung close enough to the Nationals during the season to make a run at them after obtaining five players before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline that reshaped their offense and shored up their bullpen. They ripped off 21 wins in August and had an 8-game winning streak in September that moved them to 9.5 games ahead of Washington and got the countdown started to their first postseason appearance in nine years. Suddenly the specter of Carlos Beltran taking a called strike three in Game 7 of the NLCS in 2006 and the subsequent collapses down the stretch of 2007 and 2008 became a distant memory. Although they are limping into the playoffs with just one win in their last six games, the Mets and their fans are ready for October baseball.
The Dodgers (92-70) took their time fighting off the Defending World Champion Giants, but won the NL West for a third straight season under skipper Don Mattingly. The Dodgers have been to the post season six times in the last 10 years. Under first year president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and new General Manager Farhan Zaidi, the Dodgers had the highest payroll in baseball this season, $285 million, but it paid off. They have not one, but two candidates for the Cy Young award in Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke and their sweep of the Padres in the final regular season series of the season earned them home field advantage in the NLDS. The Dodgers tied with the Cardinals for the most home wins in 2015, 55.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES:
The Mets had just gotten swept by the Cubs at home, dropping to 40-40, when they headed out for a 9-game West Coast road trip that started in LA. Noah Syndergaard and Kershaw matched pitch for pitch in a game the Mets won 2-1 with a run in the top of the ninth. Zach Grienke then beat Matt Harvey the next night, 4-3 before the Mets and rookie Steven Matz took the rubber game, 8-0. The series win gave the Mets a confidence boost as they finished the trip 7-2 just before the All-Star break.
Then the Dodgers came to town in late July and were the catalyst to the Mets turnaround. With Kershaw starting the first game of a four game series, the Mets put up a lineup that included John Mayberry Jr (.165) hitting cleanup and Eric Campbell (.176) hitting fifth. Kershaw dominated, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning. How the Mets managed three hits at all is still a mystery. The next day GM Sandy Alderson promoted AA outfielder Michael Conforto and traded for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. After another Dodger win, 7-2 on Friday, Johnson and Uribe arrived on Saturday and had an immediate impact as the Mets won the final two games of the series. Johnson hit a home run in his first AB as a Met and rookie Conforto went 4-4 in a 15-2 win (Mets had 21 hits) and the next night, Uribe drove home the winning run in the 10th, missing a home run by inches.
The Mets won the regular season series, 4-3