NEW YORK — When the game was on the line and the Mets trailed the Rays in the bottom of the ninth inning, it was up to the kids to create a spark. Not only did they light the match that resulted in an eruption of runs, but they may have just turned the Mets’ season around.
The Mets, badly in need of a win, trailed the Rays by three runs and managed to get two runners on base, bringing the tying run to the plate. With nobody out, the Mets had three chances to get it done. So of course, due up in the order were a trio of rookies: Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez.
Baty struck out swinging. Vientos, after homering in the seventh inning to tie the game at two apiece on the day he was promoted to the big leagues, flied out to center. Then Alvarez, down to the final out, crushed a game-tying three-run home run off Rays closer Jason Adam. As the homer clunked off the face of the left-field second deck, Alvarez, hopped, flipped his bat and saluted toward the Mets dugout.
For this trio of rookies that came up through the Mets system together, there was truly never any doubt. They relied on their experience in the minors to come up clutch in the majors.
“In the minor leagues, I hit behind Baty and right in front of Vientos,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “Back then, if one guy doesn’t do it, the next guy can. In this situation, I was the third guy up. If they can’t do it, I want the opportunity to be able to do it. It was really special for me to be able to come up big for the team.”
Once the game was sent to extras, none other than Pete Alonso put on the finishing touches when he walked it off with a three-run home run that put the Mets on top for good. New York beat Tampa Bay, 8-7, in 10 innings on Wednesday night at Citi Field. The dogpile that ensued once Alonso crossed home plate could only be described as frenzied relief. That was the team’s first walk-off win of the season.
It was a gritty victory sparked by the kids and finished off by the homegrown slugger, featuring the necessary ingredients to maybe, just maybe, get the third-place Mets rolling again.
As if Alonso’s towering home run wasn’t impressive on its own, Mets manager Buck Showalter later revealed that the first baseman was “sick as a dog” the whole game. Most players, Showalter said, wouldn’t have played. But Alonso, who prides himself on posting, wasn’t having it. If he’s physically able to play, Alonso later said, his priority will always be to help his team win. Not playing because he may have the flu, or a sinus infection, or just a plain old cold, was never an option for the slugger.
Alonso later credited Vientos and Alvarez for sparking the offensive outburst that allowed him to walk the game off in the 10th.
“Even though it sucks being sick, it’s always nice to be able to hit homers too,” Alonso said. “Today was awesome. Having Alvy and Mark come through in really huge situations … Our young guys are pros. They put together great at-bats consistently. Huge kudos to them. Those two guys were huge for us today.”
The Mets (21-23) finally gave Vientos an opportunity, and it turns out he can crush major-league home runs, too.
Vientos, after weeks of tearing the cover off the ball at Triple-A and after weeks of knocking on the door, was called up and out of minor-league purgatory on Wednesday afternoon ahead of New York’s tilt against the Rays. Now, apparently, was the time for his power bat to come help the Mets’ struggling lineup. Now, apparently, was when the Mets decided they needed his spark. In truth, they could’ve used it weeks ago.
Nevertheless, Vientos responded immediately. With Mark Canha on first base and the Mets down two runs against the Rays in the bottom of the seventh, Vientos turned on a Ryan Thompson hanging slider and belted it to center field. Crushed at 103.6 mph, the ball carried and carried and carried until it landed, 414 feet away, over the wall for a two-run shot. Vientos tied the game at two apiece for his second-career home run. Spark plug, defined.
“I feel like we give each other confidence,” Vientos said of his fellow rookies, Baty and Alvarez. “We see each other doing it. We grew up through the system with each other. We know each other like we’re basically brothers. It gives us the confidence that we can go out there and do our thing — just like we were doing in Triple-A. We were hitting balls over the fence, scoring runs. We can do that over here and that’s what we did today.”
For the next seven minutes, the Mets dugout was the most animated we’ve seen this season. Francisco Lindor and Baty stood up on the bench and slapped the railing in front of them, cheering for Vientos as he rounded the bases with a passion that had escaped this team for weeks. Asked before Wednesday’s game if Vientos can change the team’s energy, Lindor responded emphatically.
“100 percent,” Lindor said. “Different people have different vibes. Vibes are contagious. He wants to put on a show. He’s a showman, but not in your face about it. He has an edge.”
That edge, that spark-plug magic, offered a glimpse into the Mets’ future. Baty, Vientos and Alvarez are expected to help the Mets win games for many more years to come. But the thing is, the Mets need that rookie-driven confidence now more than ever to help cut the distance between the first-place Braves before the season completely gets away from them. They entered Thursday 6.5 games behind Atlanta.
The rookies have already helped the Mets get out of their funk. Their next task is to keep it up for the long haul. That may sound like a lot of pressure for a trio of kids who are just barely past the legal drinking age, but these are rookies who don’t lack confidence. Their determination to succeed and help the Mets get back on track might just be the missing piece to the club’s otherwise lopsided season.
“I know how painful this stretch has been for them,” Showalter said. “To have a moment like that, they deserve it.”
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three-and-a-half seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country or time zone he’s playing in. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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