WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Exactly what alternate universe have we entered, and do The Beatles exist in this one?
While the Yankees average about one injury setback per game, with Aaron Judge’s right shoulder setting off deafening alarms on Saturday, the Mets sit as a picture of good health … and, even more surprising, tranquility.
On a picturesque Saturday afternoon at FitTeam Ballpark of the Palms Beaches, the Mets put together a two-run ninth inning to jump over the loathed Astros, 2-1, to reward their energetic fans who took over enemy territory. With a second straight win, Luis Rojas’ group raised its Grapefruit League record to an underwhelming 3-5-1.
“Winning is always the result that you’re looking for,” Rojas said. “You’re working on different things.”
The different things mark where the Mets are really excelling and, as the calendar flips to March, firing up their base. Steven Matz kept pace in the starting rotation competition, tossing a pair of shutout innings. With five groundouts and a strikeout, throwing quality off-speed stuff to both sides of the plate, the lefty elicited praise from a scout. It was not altogether different than the efforts of a second scout who volunteered positive reviews for Rick Porcello’s two-inning effort Thursday night over in Jupiter.
“We’re having fun stretching them out, watching them pitch,” Rojas said of his six candidates for five spot. Or seven, if — as Rojas suggested — you count young lefty David Peterson, who followed Matz with two innings of one-run ball.
When a squirrelly Post correspondent (OK, it was me) explained before the game to Astros manager Dusty Baker that the Mets hadn’t guaranteed Matz a starting job, Baker, having seen Matz plenty from his time leading the Nationals, smiled and said, “They want to give him to us?” When that evoked laughter, Baker added, “I ain’t laughing, either. I ain’t tampering, either.”
Yup, the defending American League champs would fit Matz in their rotation without a second thought, which speaks to the Mets’ depth for now in the most important department.
It’s not merely the good health that has good vibrations dominating Mets camp. They needed only to look on the other side of the field to envision more foreboding worlds. To not only laugh at how their supporters brutalized the Astros — impressively directing their ire to George Springer and Yuli Gurriel, the only 2017 Houston players who took part in this one — but also breathing a sigh of relief, once more, that they parted ways with Carlos Beltran. Had Beltran still been managing the Mets, this return to the home of his fellow illegal sign-stealers would have been a story for the Houston media, at least, and probably we New Yorkers, too.
Instead, the Mets can look forward instead of backward, keep their fingers crossed that they can continue to bypass their penchants for chaos and catastrophe. And that their projected win totals increase as the Yankees’ dip.
“To play in a winning environment is always a plus,” Rojas said. “We’ll take it as a byproduct [of playing quality ball] right now.”
Sure, Pete Alonso has one single in 15 at-bats, and recovering guys like Dellin Betances and Yoenis Cespedes don’t have timelines to play in games. Plenty still can go wrong before camp breaks. Yet you get measured against your opponents, not against perfection. The Mets measure well.
Remember the “Seinfeld” episode when George’s life turns 180 degrees from horrible to terrific as Elaine veers the other way? The Mets are George, the Yankees’ former (fictional) assistant to the traveling secretary. The Yankees are Elaine, an Orioles fan of all loyalties.
“We all know that we have a great team, especially with our pitching,” Matz said.
On this current iteration of Earth, yes, we do all know that. Can the Mets convince the baseball powers that be to not give their wheel of fortune another spin anytime soon?