CINCINNATI -- Bring on the Los Angeles Dodgers!
After a pair of collapses, then six straight losing seasons, the New York Mets are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006. The Amazin’s clinched the sixth division title in franchise history with a 10-2 win against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday at Great American Ball Park.
After initially struggling in his return from a herniated disk, Duda has awakened with three homers and 12 RBIs through three games against the Reds. Harvey upped his season innings total to 183⅓ -- 10 outs beyond the number above which agent Scott Boras suggested Harvey’s health may be imperiled.
The Mets’ title clinch came days earlier than expected thanks to a Washington Nationals swoon that included getting swept by the Baltimore Orioles midweek, then losing Friday’s series opener to the Philadelphia Phillies. Washington’s freefall ensured a series between the Mets and Nationals at Citi Field to close the regular season will be irrelevant.
With the Central’s St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs owning the three best records in the National League, the Mets and West-leading Dodgers have been on a collision course for a while. The uncertainty remains which team will enjoy home-field advantage for their division series. The teams are in a virtual tie at the moment, with the Mets improving to 88-67 with Saturday’s victory and Los Angeles at 87-66 entering its night game at Colorado.
The Nationals had been the heavy favorite to win the NL East. In fact, after Washington signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract in January, Bryce Harper arrived at spring training and asked, “Where’s my ring?”
However, the Nats severely underachieved all season, emboldening Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to aggressively act. The Mets traded eight minor league pitchers, including standout Michael Fulmer, in order to acquire Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed.
The Cespedes trade, which came 13 minutes before the non-waiver deadline on July 31, re-energized sullen Mets fans after a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Gomez fell apart two days earlier over concern about Gomez’s hip. The Mets then swept the Nationals in July 31-Aug. 2 series to pull even atop the division. They were sparked by a 12th-inning walk-off homer in the opener from sudden cult hero Wilmer Flores. Flores, of course, had been teary-eyed at shortstop two days earlier when he thought he was getting dealt to Milwaukee with Zack Wheeler for Gomez. The Amazin’s also swept a Sept. 7-9 series in Washington.
After loading up his lineup with right-handed bats in recent weeks against an opposing left-handed starting pitcher, manager Terry Collins offered more of a playoff preview on Saturday against the southpaw Lamb. Lefty hitters Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Duda all started, although Michael Cuddyer continued to get the nod over Michael Conforto in left field.
Duda’s grand slam, the first of his career, opened the scoring in the first inning. Granderson took Lamb deep an inning later to open a 5-0 lead. Cuddyer had a two-run double against reliever Carlos Contreras in the third for a 7-2 advantage. The Mets did not produce another hit until the ninth inning, during a frame in which David Wright eventually unloaded with a three-run homer. Murphy had nearly homered in the fifth, but center fielder Jason Bourgeois reached above the wall to corral the shot.
The Mets have scored 28 runs so far in three games against Cincinnati, exceeding by five runs the total they scored during the preceding homestand, when they went 3-6.
Meanwhile, the fury regarding how many innings Harvey is permitted to pitch in September games lessened in the past couple of weeks as the Mets opened a commanding division lead over the Nationals. Still, there was fan uproar last weekend when Harvey was pulled from a one-hit shutout after five innings against the New York Yankees. The criticism intensified when the Mets, hindered by two errors, allowed five runs in the frame following Harvey’s departure that day as the Yankees rallied for an 11-2 Subway Series win.
Against the Reds, Harvey logged 6⅔ innings while allowing two runs and nine hits. He tossed 97 pitches, presumably to ensure he maintains his arm strength to go deep in postseason games.
Staked to a 5-0 lead, Harvey surrendered a two-run double to Ivan De Jesus Jr. in the second. Harvey ultimately stranded two runners in scoring position that inning as Brennan Boesch -- pinch hitting for the starting pitcher early in the game -- struck out and Bourgeois grounded out. Cuddyer’s two-run double a half-inning later restored a five-run cushion.
What’s next: Uncorking the champagne!