When Todd Hundley hit 41 home runs to set the Mets’ single-season record in 1996, it was the only thing worth paying attention to around the team that year. The Mets went 71-91 under the late Dallas Green, and Hundley ended up all but forgotten two years later when Mike Piazza came to town.
Carlos Beltran tied Hundley’s mark in a more meaningful 2006 season. But even that proved more frustrating than fruitful as the Mets lost in the National League Championship Series in seven games, with Beltran taking a called third strike with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 3-1 loss.
Now that Pete Alonso has joined this exclusive club, the 2019 Mets only can hope it proves to be a better omen than the record proved to be in 1996 and 2006. It didn’t feel that way Saturday at Citi Field.
On a night when the Mets should have been celebrating Alonso’s historic home run mark, they were reminded of their flaws: a leaky defense, suspect base running, and an unreliable Edwin Diaz.
First the good stuff.
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Alonso’s record-tying home run came with two outs in the fifth inning. It was a three-run blast that gave the Mets a 5-4 lead at the time and sent Citi Field into hysterics.
“I don’t get chills much, but that gave me chills,” starting pitcher Zack Wheeler said.
The home run gave the Mets control of a game that seemed lost when Wheeler struggled with his command and fell behind 4-0 after just three innings. Wheeler threw 108 pitches over six innings with just 60 strikes, and allowed another run in the sixth before leaving it to the bullpen — which couldn’t prevent a 9-5 Braves win.
Nonetheless, Alonso’s home run was a welcome sight for the Mets. There were growing concerns that he might be pressing at the plate, trying to reach 41.
“It something you dream about,” said Alonso, whose RBI total reached 100 for the season. “I was surreal. That moment was extremely special.”
Now the bad stuff.
Alonso’s record-tying homer was also a reminder the Mets need more than just his bat to make the postseason. They have to play good all-round baseball, too, which they didn’t do Saturday. They were a mess defensively and also cost themselves runs with suspect base-running.
After Alonso’s home run in the fifth, third baseman Todd Frazier committed a two-base error in the sixth. It allowed an unearned run to score as the Braves tied the game 5-5.
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In the seventh, Mets ran themselves out of a potential big inning with baserunning blunders. Jeff McNeil, who was activated off the IL, hit a pinch-hit double to right-center to start the seventh. But he tried to take third on a ground ball by Amed Rosario to the shortstop. Instead of staying at second, McNeil was thrown out trying to reach third. Manager Mickey Callaway called it “a pretty good aggressive play” — which it might have been had it worked.
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Making matters worse, Rosario was then thrown out trying to steal second. Instead of scoring a go-ahead run, the Mets were done after Joe Panik grounded out to end the inning.
The Mets’ defense, which had played well during the climb back to prominence, took the eighth inning off. The Braves scored two runs thanks to some shoddy play and indecision by outfielder J.D. Davis when Ronald Acuna Jr. slashed a single that wound up plating two runs for a 7-5 lead.
Then there was Diaz, who came on in the ninth and promptly gave up a home run to Freddie Freeman. He soon left the mound because of an injury.
Considering the Mets’ history and how they played Saturday night, maybe tying the single-season home run record isn’t a good omen after all.