The Mets needed a hero not named Yoenis Cespedes on Saturday night…
Of course, a day just cannot go by without Yoenis Cespedes hitting a home run, or driving in runs with both flash and flair.
Sure enough, he did, with an eighth inning blast just over the left field wall to extend the Mets lead to 4-1.
But in surprising fashion, Tyler Clippard coughed up that lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when he allowed a three-run home run to Adonis Garcia.
So the Mets needed another hero on Saturday night in Atlanta to save the day. This time, it would be on a cold, hard dish of payback.
For it was Kelly Johnson, the utility player who already came up big for the Mets in the last week against the Nationals with a game-tying home run against Stephen Strasburg, who delivered a go-ahead single in the ninth inning to plate Eric Young Jr., who had entered the game as a pinch runner after Travis d’Arnaud led off the frame with a double over Nick Markakis’ head in right field.
“Any time you can come back against the team that drafted you, it’s one of those extra incentives that pumps you up,” Johnson said.
Johnson was drafted by the Braves in 2000, was let go in 2009, and re-signed as a free agent for 2015 before being traded to the Mets in late July.
“You look for any motivation, so it’s always there,” he explained.
Johnson didn’t get off to a great start for the Mets in his first month with the club. But he has matched his home run output from that first month in nine games in September with two home runs and seven RBI in that span.
He now has five home runs and 13 RBI since joining the Mets. He has a .262/.315/.466 line in 34 games since joining the Mets.
“For me, in terms of where I’m at in my career, anything that can contribute to getting to a World Series is what it’s all about,” the utility player said after the win.
Cespedes cannot come up aces every night, although it seems like he does. But that’s where guys like Johnson come in, who has served as the club’s hero on several occasions and is a huge reason why the Mets are commanding the National League East with 20 games to go.
His importance to the Mets on the field clearly goes without saying now. But his clubhouse presence has been equally as important for these Mets as well. He – along with Juan Uribe – went a long way towards adapting the culture in the clubhouse for a championship run and providing necessary veteran leadership with playoff experience to boot.
And it’s that veteran leadership which will help keep the clubhouse focused despite a very significant and almost insurmountable lead in the National League East.
“We have a substantial lead right now, but if they win every single game there’s no telling what can happen,” the veteran utility player said. “It’s only half in our control. This is still Major League Baseball. To reel off however many games we have left and go undefeated is kind of unrealistic.”
Johnson has been around enough playoff teams to know what the first order of business is as the Mets attempt to win their first National League Eastern Division crown in nine years.
Said Johnson about the stretch drive, “If we just keep doing what we’re doing, I think we’re confident as a group that we’re going to win a lot more than we’re going to lose.”