Back on April 11, the Mets lost to the Phillies, 5-4. It was their second-straight loss after starting 3-0. They would win their next three games to push their record in the early going to 6-2. We wouldn't be talking about that little stretch in the first week of the season here in September if it weren't important to the story at hand, clearly, so let's just get to it.
That span between the Mets loss on April 11 and their win on April 12 was the only time this entire season that they hadn't been in first place ... until now.
The Mets led by as many as 10 1/2 games. The Braves worked the lead down to a half game in late July, but the Mets were able to hold them off and push it back up to seven games by Aug. 8. The Braves just refused to go away and battled their way to a tie this past Tuesday evening. The Mets swept a doubleheader on Wednesday to kick the proverbial can down the street a bit, but Friday night's action finally got the Braves over the hump.
Again, this is only the second day this season where the Mets weren't in first place at the end of the day and the other was when they were 3-2. Remarkable.
Now, when something like this happens, the knee-jerk reaction for many is to label the team that has fallen out of first "chokers" or something akin. That isn't accurate here.
Since building their 10 1/2 game lead, the Mets have gone 52-35. That's a .598 win percentage, or a 162-game pace of 97 wins. That most certainly is not a choke job. The Braves have just gone 63-24 (.724, a 162-game pace of 117 wins) in that same stretch. It's like having a pretty good lead in a race, not slowing down and seeing Usain Bolt fly by you. Or, since it's the Braves, how many times have we seenpass a hard-running fan who hasn't slowed?
The Mets have faltered in the past week, however. They have lost four of their past six games, and this was against three of the worst teams in the league (Nationals, Pirates and Marlins). I suppose if anyone wanted to latch onto the "choke" angle, using that small sample is the route to be taken.
The smarter, bigger-picture story here is the Braves' astounding run. They have surged and seized the lead despite awfully strong resistance, in the large sample, from the Mets.
In fact, 88 wins was enough to win the division last season for the Braves. They are now sitting at 87 wins with 24 games left to play. This team was under .500 through two months, too, finishing May at 23-27 overall. You simply cannot give enough credit to manager Brian Snitker and his team. MVP candidate Austin Riley and shortstop Dansby Swanson have been so good. Cy Young candidate Max Fried leads a strong rotation. Rookie of the Year frontrunners Michael Harris and Spencer Strider are essentially competing with each other, upping the ante over and over, for the hardware. And on down the line. It's been a full team effort to play like world-beaters since the start of June.
What a breathtaking comeback to take the lead.
It's far from over, though.
Both teams have 87 wins. The Mets have just played one extra game and it's a loss. The Mets have the single easiest remaining schedule in baseball, in terms of opponent's winning percentage. The two teams have a three-game, head-to-head series remaining where things could turn. So much can happen in 20-plus games, too. One team could run away with this or it could come down to the final day of the season.
Kudos to the Braves for taking over first place after the Mets had a stronghold on it nearly all season. For now, the conclusion is simply, "to be continued."