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Mets playing like also-rans despite high payroll

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The Mets’ surprisingly sticky situation got a bit stickier with a Subway Series defeat lowlighted by a big blown lead, a misplayed fly ball and the season’s second sticky stuff violation.

The Mets don’t lead the league in much these days, but they moved in front in one unwanted category with their second violation for a foreign substance. Whatever the Mets are trying, legal or not, it isn’t working.

At this point they seem stuck in reverse.

The first crosstown matchup of the year seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Mets to make a statement about their ability to turn things around. But their crosstown-rival Yankees made sure that didn’t happen in their 7-6 come-from-behind victory. Of our two teams, it’s really no contest: the team from The Bronx, while about as far out of first as the Mets, remains the one that’s much closer to success.

If this Subway Series is diminished by the Mets starting the night nine games out, and the Yankees 9 ½ out, by the Mets being in fourth place and the Yankees in third, or by the absence of great slugging stars Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso, it sure didn’t feel that way.

Compared to usual, the circumstances may be a bit of a downer. However, the pomp definitely was present. From the moment the Yankees’ leadoff hitter for the evening Jake Bauers was announced, the crowd was into it, booing nice guy/new Yankee Bauers like he’s a noted Mets killer, not merely Judge’s anonymous and temporary fill-in.

Francisco Lindor strikes out with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 7-6 loss to the Yankees.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The Mets seemed really into it, too, at least in the beginning when they built their big lead that turned out to be short-lived. In the end, they did more things wrong than right, costing them a ninth defeat in their past 10 games. Max Scherzer, the future Hall of Famer and first Met to be flagged for sticky fingers this season, held the early four-run lead for, oh, four minutes. Brandon Nimmo, the normally sure-handed center fielder, misplayed a catchable fly ball off the bat of Yankees rookie Anthony Volpe, leading to the go-ahead run.

And let’s face it, the top of the seventh was just an abomination. First reliever Drew Smith, before even throwing a pitch, followed Scherzer as the second Met to be ejected for bringing sticky fingers to the mound. He pleaded his case, but the umpires ruled his hands were unclean.

The Mets were upset, but it was the Yankees who showed some real fight. As a team they responded to a rare and relatively minor public criticism by team owner Hal Steinbrenner, who Tuesday afternoon told the media, “We’ve got to start hitting.” Steinbrenner agreed that Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo were struggling, but nicely concluded that they would.

Brandon Nimmo misplays a fly ball which led to an Anthony Volpe double in the sixth inning of the Mets' 7-6 loss to the Yankees.
Brandon Nimmo misplays a fly ball which led to an Anthony Volpe double in the sixth inning of the Mets’ 7-6 loss to the Yankees.
Jason Szenes for the NY Post

Steinbrenner looks wise now, as Stanton and LeMahieu homered, and Rizzo reached base twice, the first time with a single that started a five-run rally off Scherzer, whose night ended on consecutive run-producing hits by Volpe and Bauers. In 3 ½ innings, Scherzer wound up allowing six runs.

Scherzer has been up and down so far this season, but he’s been more up than Justin Verlander, the other co-ace earning $43.33 million. It’s convenient to pin the Mets’ woes on the two highest-paid players in the game, but it may be correct, too.

Max Scherzer reacts after giving up a solo first-inning homer to Giancarlo Stanton (background).
Max Scherzer reacts after giving up a solo first-inning homer to Giancarlo Stanton (background).
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Steinbrenner’s pretty mild public comments followed by a few days remarks Mets owner Steve Cohen made to The Post’s Joel Sherman, expressing surprise at their poor start while suggesting hopefully that their vaunted rotation, which has underperformed, will turn it around.

No one needs to change the narrative more than the team from Queens, that’s for sure. It’s nice that Cohen told us he isn’t about to “blow up.” But he wasn’t speaking for the legions of fans who’ve waited years to shed the tag of the little team striving for cost effectiveness.

The Mets, for once, are the team with more surefire Hall of Famers, a bigger payroll (the biggest in history in fact) and the more-involved owner (though Steinbrenner did have a thing or two to say about their struggling hitters in a press gathering in Midtown hours before the teams met on the field).

Steinbrenner’s critique was relatively mild. But Cohen is the one showing big restraint, as the Mets are the team that’s really underperforming so far. And they are threatening to play their way out of it. Some sites have them with less than 50 percent chance to even make the playoffs now, which isn’t what Cohen had in mind when he set the spending record by about $75 million.

Cohen named the pitching staff as the main culprits, which is fair considering the Mets were 22nd in bullpen ERA (4.34) and 26th in starters ERA (4.95) entering the evening. But he said, hopefully, of his big-time starters, “I’m not writing these people off. Their record is too strong to just write them off.”

He has little choice there. He’s $86.67 million into it, and that’s just for his co-aces.

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