2022-09-24 00:53:39 By : Ms. Cathy Chi

The Mets aren’t just good, and they aren’t just back in the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Mets are fun, as fun as any team in baseball this season, and as much fun to watch, whether they finish in first place in the NL East or not.

The 2022 Mets are Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor. They’re Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. They’re the rock star closer, Edwin Díaz, coming out of the bullpen and trying to strike out the world right after the trumpets blare at Citi Field. You can get all of them down, just not for very long.

The Braves might end up being the better team in their division. They’re the defending champs and look even more stacked this season than they did last season, even if they did just lose Ozzie Albies. The Dodgers have been better than anybody, their record now an amazing 102-44 after winning again on Monday night.

But the Mets also won on Monday, and they look like a lock to get to 100 wins themselves. They roughed up the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes, one of the best starting pitchers anywhere, on a night when Scherzer came back off the injured list to throw six perfect innings before leaving because of a pitch count set in stone before Max took the mound for Buck Showalter. Alonso hit another home run and knocked in three more. Lindor got two more hits, and he continued to be one of the best all-around players the Mets have ever had, a shortstop on his way to 100 RBIs.

There was even a moment in this game when Brandon Nimmo and Lindor hit back-to-back triples, something that hasn’t happened for the Mets in a decade. When it was over, there was a subdued celebration, as they sipped champagne and beer. Owner Steve Cohen -- who has spent big money on stars like Scherzer and Lindor and even likes to have fun of his own talking to Mets fans on Twitter -- hugged Showalter, and both of them addressed the team.

“This is just the first step,” Cohen said, and Showalter would say pretty much the same thing -- that you can’t get where this team wants to go without “Step 1.”

“This is what you play the game for,” Scherzer said after he’d won his 200th game in the big leagues and the Mets had won their 94th this season. “You play to get in the postseason. The fact that we got here -- there’s a lot of ways for it not to work out -- for us to be able to find a way is awesome.”

Billy Eppler, the executive VP and general manager, talked about calling Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, practically as soon as Cohen had hired him, and before long Cohen had sent shock waves through the free-agent winter by signing Scherzer to a contract that guaranteed him $130 million. The owner had already signed Lindor to a $341 million contract last year. The Nationals had come out of the NL East to win the World Series in 2019, and the Braves would win the Fall Classic two years later, but Cohen wasn’t conceding anything to them.

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Cohen never really came out and said that the Mets were going after the Yankees, too, after the Yankees had largely owned New York in baseball for a long time. But he was, and the Mets were. After last night, the Mets had won six more games than the Yankees have so far. The Yankees have such a big show in Aaron Judge, standing at the threshold of 60 homers. But the Mets are some show, too.

“I love to watch guys feel what they’re supposed to feel,” was one of the things Showalter said on the night when the Mets clinched a playoff spot.

Cohen spent the way he did on Scherzer. Eppler brought in professionals like Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Chris Bassitt, who has pitched like a star behind Scherzer and deGrom. And, of course, none of this happens without Showalter, who began to change the culture around the team as soon as Spring Training finally began. And he has done the best managing job of his life this season, which, after the career he’s had, is saying plenty.

“It starts in this room,” Scherzer said in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, and he’s right about that. The Mets began to come together in Spring Training. They’ve talked all season about everybody contributing because everybody has. Now here they are.

The Mets won 77 games last season and finished 11 1/2 games behind the Braves. Now the Mets are still a game ahead of Atlanta, even if the two teams are tied in the loss column, both teams knowing the regular season hinges on a three-game Mets-Braves series in Atlanta from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. The Mets got swept at home by the Cubs last week and have now won five in a row.

They took one giant step in Milwaukee, where the summer ends on Wednesday night. The Mets and their fans hope that the fun is just beginning.