By Rich Coutinho
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Happy July 6. The Mets were supposed to be long gone by now, weren't they?
New York won't have enough pitching, the so-called experts said. They lacked power in their lineup, had too many question marks and were in a division they had no business being competitive in. The Mets would be dumping salary just about now, trying to replenish their farm system.
Well, the baseball world could not have been more wrong.
And last night at Citi Field, the Mets illustrated why they belong in the playoff conversation. One of their ace pitchers, R.A. Dickey, had a rare off night. The Mets fell behind three separate times but scored two runs off Jonathan Papelbon, getting (you guessed it) a couple of two-out hits to send the Phillies down the turnpike with their tall between their legs. Those fighting Phils now trail the Mets by 8.5 games in the NL East (13 behind the first-place Nationals) and may be entering "sell mode" very shortly.
But that's another story for another day.
Last night was about a Mets team that refuses to lose, and every time the "experts" begin to write them off, they run off a winning streak. Case in point: After dropping two straight in Chicago, the Mets have gone 6-2, dispelling the notion that this team would fade into the sunset at the All-Star break. They have done it with outstanding starting pitching, an MVP-type first half from David Wright, and a will to win that is hard to describe unless you have been around them every day.
"This is a team that really likes each other," said Daniel Murphy. "And that carries you through the tough times."
For Murphy, there was a stretch of games where was benched against tough lefties. But he never brooded about it and now that his stroke has returned, so has his playing time. Last night he was right in the middle of that two-run ninth inning uprising that capsized Papelbon.
And that's why I think the best is yet to come. This team has that "secret sauce" that all overachieving teams possess. It has carried them into second place in the NL East, just 4.5 games behind the red-hot Washington Nationals. That "it factor" has given fans their first-ever no-hitter, an 18-12 record in the NL East and a 25-18 record here at Citi Field, where the Mets have finally turned this place into a home-field advantage.
More than that, the Mets' offense may not have the window dressing of other teams, but no squad is more clutch at the plate. No club in the NL East has scored more runs than the Mets and their .286 average with two outs and runners is scoring position is about as good as it gets. Their defense can be spotty at times and their bullpen can be wildly inconsistent but this team has that look of a playoff team.
The next three days will test the Mets as they battle a Cubs team here in New York that took two out of three from them in the Windy City a week ago. They need to keep their game at a high level -- a tough six-game road trip to Atlanta and DC awaits them after the break.
But this team has faced every challenge this year with a dogged determination, and that is the biggest reason they will continue to pile up the wins. In a year in which the Giants won the Super Bowl and two of our hockey teams got to the NHL's final four, the best New York sports story may be right here in front of us.
Don't miss it.
Think the Mets can actually take the division or NL wild card? Be heard in the comments below!
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