The New York Mets (87-74) will host the 2016 NL Wild Card Game.
The feat was reached with a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies (70-91) at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.
The big win marks the second time in franchise history that the Mets have clinched back-to-back trips to the postseason, the last such occurrence taking place with the 1999 and 2000 teams.
“We’re excited for our fans,” manager Terry Collins, drenched in champagne, told SportsNet New York in the Mets’ locker room afterward. “They deserve this so much.”
Mets first baseman James Loney broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run home run (9) — estimated at 426 feet — to right in the top of the sixth inning.
Pinch hitting, Darin Ruf took reliever Fernando Salas deep for a solo homer (3) in Philly’s half of the seventh, but shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera softly lined a single to center with two outs in the ninth inning that scored Eric Campbell.
Cabrera’s clutch hit gave the Mets — making their first-ever trip to the NL Wild Card Game since its introduction in 2012 — some breathing room before the entrance of closer Jeurys Familia, who tossed a scoreless ninth for save No. 51 on the year. The final out came on Aaron Altherr’s soft liner to left fielder Michael Conforto.
“It’s going to be a lot of pressure in that game,” Cabrera said, describing what the atmosphere will be like prior to and during Wednesday’s NL Wild Card Game at Citi Field. “Good thing we’re gonna play in New York.”
Over five innings pitched, Bartolo Colon (W, 15-8) gave up two runs on five hits, piling up six strikeouts and walking no one. The two runs Colon allowed came on Phillies veteran Ryan Howard’s two-run homer (25) to right-center in the fifth, which erased a 2-0 deficit.
Mets outfielder Curtis Grandson went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. He scored the game’s first run from second base on a one-out single by rookie T.J. Rivera, who’s batting.333 with three homers and 16 RBI in 33 games since joining the big club on Aug. 10. Rivera has now hit in four straight games.
Midseason acquisition Jay Bruce singled and drew a walk to continue his hot hitting, looking more and more like the player the Mets believed they had traded for on Aug. 1. Bruce has gotten 11 hits in 23 at-bats over New York’s last seven games, and four of those hits have left the yard.
Anyone looking back on when the Mets turned their 2016 season around can point to their road game against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 20. The Washington Nationals had all but put the NL East division away by then with a 12.5-game lead, and the Mets entered the day with a 60-62 record after losing the first two games of a four-game set.
“I looked around in late August and said, ‘How are we going to be able to accomplish this?'” Collins said on Saturday.
“You have to have great character, and we have that in here,” the Mets skipper added.
But Colon was able to hold the Giants (86-75) — currently vying for the NL’s second wild card spot — to two runs despite allowing nine hits and a walk in 6.1 innings in a 9-5 win.
From Aug. 20 through Saturday’s game in Philly, the Mets fought their way to this year’s NL Wild Card Game by winning 27 out of 39 games. With stud starting pitchers Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (right elbow), and Steven Matz (left elbow) succumbing to season-ending injuries, New York’s postseason berth is quite a coup for Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson.
The Mets dug into their minor league system to fill the huge void in their starting rotation, coming up aces with a couple of right-handers in 23-year-old Robert Gsellman (4-2, 2.42 ERA) and 26-year-old Seth Lugo (5-2, 2.67 ERA).
Let’s see whether New York’s luck lasts through the NL Wild Card Game in Flushing next week.
[Featured Image by Rich Schultz/Getty Images]