NEW YORK – When the game was on the line and the Mets chased the Rays in the bottom of the ninth inning, it was up to the kids to create a spark. Not only did they ignite the game that resulted in a rash of runs, but they may have just turned the Mets’ season around.
The Mets, needing 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 do so. So of course there was a trio of rookies in the order: Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Francisco Álvarez.
Baty hit swinging. Vientos, after a seventh-inning home run to tie the game at two apiece on the day he was promoted to the big leagues, fired a shot to center. Alvarez then, down to the final out, crushed a game-tying three-run home run off Rays shortstop Jason Adam. When the homer fell off the face of the second deck in left field, Alvarez jumped, spun and waved toward the Mets dugout.
For this trio of rookies who came up through the Mets system together, there was never really any doubt. They relied on their experience in the minors to move up to the majors.
“In the minor leagues, I hit behind Baty and right in front of Vientos,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “In that era, if one guy doesn’t make it, the next guy can make it. In that situation, I was the third up. If they can’t make it, I want to have a chance to be able to make it. It was very special to to me to be able to reach the team”.
Once the game was sent to extras, none other than Pete Alonso put the finishing touches on it when he led off with a three-run home run that put the Mets ahead for good. New York beat Tampa Bay, 8-7, in 10 innings Wednesday night at Citi Field. The gasp that ensued once Alonso crossed the line can only be described as frenzied relief. This was the team’s first win of the season.
Pete Alonso hits three-run home run in extra innings as Mets defeat Rays 8-7
It was an emphatic, kid-fueled, home-run victory, with the ingredients needed to, maybe, just maybe, get the third-place Mets rolling again.
As if Alonso’s big home run wasn’t impressive enough on its own, Mets manager Buck Showalter later revealed that the first baseman was “sick as a dog” throughout the game. Most of the players, Showalter said, would not have played. But Alonso, who prides himself on posting, wasn’t having it. If he can play physically, Alonso said later, his priority will always be to help his team win. Not playing because he might have the flu, or a sinus infection, or just a cold, was never an option for the slugger.
Alonso later credited Vientos and Alvarez for sparking the offensive outburst that allowed him to exit the game in the 10th.
“Even though it’s bad to be sick, it’s always nice to be able to hit home runs, too,” Alonso said. “It was great today. Having Alvy and Mark in really big situations … Our guys are professionals. They put together big at-bats consistently. Big ups to them. Those two guys were huge for us today.”
The Mets (21-23) finally gave Vientos a chance, and it turns out he can crush major league home runs, too.
Vientos, after weeks of tearing up the ballpark at Triple-A and after weeks of knocking on the door, was called up and out of minor league purgatory Wednesday afternoon before New York’s tilt against the Rays Now, it seemed, was the time for his power bat to help the Mets’ struggling lineup. Now, apparently, was when the Mets decided they needed their spark. In fact, they could have used it weeks ago.
However, Vientos responded immediately. With Mark Canha on first base and the Mets down by two runs against the Rays in the bottom of the seventh, Vientos activated a hanging slider from Ryan Thompson and belted it to center field. Crushed at 103.6 mph, the ball carried and carried until it landed, 414 feet away, over the wall for a two-run shot. Vientos tied the game at two for his second career home run. Spark plug, defined.
“I feel like we give each other confidence,” Vientos said of fellow rookies Baty and Alvarez. “We see each other doing it. We’ve grown 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 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 rose to the bench and pounded the railing in front of them, cheering Vientos on as he rounded the bases with a passion that had eluded this team for weeks. Asked before Wednesday’s game if Vientos can change the team’s energy, Lindor answered flatly.
“100 percent,” Lindor said. “Different people have different vibes. The vibes are contagious. He wants to put on a show. He’s a showman, but not in your face. He’s got an edge.”
That edge, that spark plug magic, offered a glimpse of the Mets’ future. Baty, Vientos and Alvarez are expected to help the Mets win games for many years to come. But the thing is, the Mets need that rookie-fueled confidence now more than ever to help close the gap on the top-seeded Braves before the season completely gets away from them. They entered Thursday trailing Atlanta by 6.5 games.
The rookies have already helped the Mets out of their funk. Your next task is to maintain it for the long term. That might seem like a lot of pressure for a trio of kids barely past legal drinking age, but these are rookies who don’t lack for confidence. His determination to succeed and help the Mets get back on track could be the missing piece to the club’s other season.
“I know how painful this stretch has been for them,” Showalter said. “To have a moment like that, they deserve it.”
village of Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three and a half seasons as a reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. You never miss 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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