Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Mets make themselves over into NLCS champions

CHICAGO — Getting to the World Series is typically difficult for any team.

Getting there with an offense and bullpen that required midseason makeovers, their captain missing much of the season with injury, critical concerns over young starters' workloads, and the assorted controversies that come with playing in the New York spotlight is even more so.

Meet the Mets.

"I'm standing there in the dugout in the ninth inning and I'm looking around the field and looking down in the dugout and I'm just looking at the guys thinking, 'How did they do it? How did they keep it together? How did they stay focused?' " gleeful manager Terry Collins said late Wednesday after completing their sweep of buddy Joe Maddon's Cubs.

"There were some tremendous peaks and some big deep valleys, and to be able to keep those guys motivated and keep them level-headed through the entire season takes a lot of work. My coaching staff, the veterans did a tremendous job. And I just sat there and said, 'Wow, this might be the greatest group of guys I've ever been around.' "

That seemed obvious from the scenes of their celebration, which spread from the cramped clubhouse onto the Wrigley Field grass more than a thousand Mets fans cheered them on.

"That was a lot of fun," said second baseman Daniel Murphy, the NLCS MVP for his 9-for-17 outburst that included four home runs, giving him seven for the postseason. "I think the group of guys in there makes it that much more fun when each guy still cares for the guy next to him. You get so excited when you're able to come together and accomplish something like this.

"We know there are still some more wins we want to get our hands on, so we're going to enjoy this right now, and you see everybody get a piece of it, it makes it very special."

While Murphy has led the offense, a core of dominant starting pitchers — reminiscent of their 1969 and 1986 teams — was the key to their success, never allowing the Cubs to hold a lead in the four-game series, not giving up a leadoff hit until the 31st inning.

"They did not let us up for air at any point," Maddon said. "Their domination of the early part of the game and their pitching was impressive."

The longest-serving Met, third baseman David Wright, looked to be having the best time, borrowing the "Ya Gotta Believe" phrase from their previous glory days.

"It's a long time coming," he said. "We've been through some bad times. We've been through Septembers where you're just playing out the schedule, and that's no fun. To be able to completely reverse that — 180 — and now celebrate and get a chance to go to the World Series, I wish I could bottle it up. I really do. That's an emotion that I'll never forget."

Even better, Wright said, because they were not expected to be there.

"People kind of giggled at us and laughed at us when we proclaimed we were going to be a playoff team," he said. "This is one of the best days ever for me."

Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected].

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