“All of a sudden, things are coming together here,” Terry Collins, facing the cameras and the reporters in the Citi Field press conference room, said.
This was late in the afternoon on Wednesday, a few hours before the Padres-Mets game, and New York's manager was talking about the recent positive developments in Flushing: the splashy debut of outfield prospect Michael Conforto, the front office’s quiet but shrewd additions of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, the imminent return of Travis d’Arnaud, the progress of injured star David Wright.
After a brilliant performance from rookie stud Noah Syndergaard the night before, the Mets entered Wednesday just one game out of first in the NL East, within striking distance of the mighty Nationals. Although the offense-starved club hadn’t landed a game-changing masher this trade-deadline week, it did feel as if, yes, maybe things were indeed coming together for the Mets in what has been a thrilling and yet ultimately wild 2015 season.
And then … Wednesday night happened.
It began, like all things these days, with a tweet. Just after 9 p.m., news broke that the Mets had reportedly agreed to a deal with the Brewers to acquire Carlos Gomez in exchange for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores.
Not long after, Flores, the Mets’ talented 23-year-old shortstop, stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, and this happened:
Flores coming up to bat to a standing ovation for what was presumably his final at-bat as a Met was but the first of several strange acts in an absurdist play (Flores, who has been with the organization since he was 16, would later say that he had no idea why the crowd was giving him that ovation, as if he were Richard Burton in his final "Hamlet" performance). The baby-faced shortstop took the field in the top of the eighth and did so with tears in his eyes, soon after learning, between innings, that he’d been traded to the last-place Brewers. Then, mercifully, in the ninth inning, Collins pulled Flores.
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After the game and after a series of awkward and bizarre sessions between members of the Mets and the understandably befuddled media, it was revealed that there was, in fact, no trade at all.
Collins to reporters: “This kid comes off the field tonight, he hears he’s traded, he’s upset by it and I don’t know anything about it. So I went down and said, ‘Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but we got a game to play. Let’s go play baseball.’”
Said Flores, at his locker after the game: “During the game I heard I was getting traded and I got emotional and when I came in, they told me there was no trade.”
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson then told reporters after the game that the trade for Gomez was not happening.
“There is no trade,” Alderson said. “Unfortunately, social media got ahead of the facts and may have had an adverse effect on one of the players rumored to be involved … It’s one of those things that happens today with modern communications. It’s an unfortunate situation, whatever has been speculated over the course of the evening, has not, and will not, transpire.”
It may take days, or weeks, before we find out what really went down—early Thursday, some reported that it was Wheeler’s medicals (the pitcher is coming off Tommy John surgery) that caused the deal to fall through, while others said it was the Mets who backed out because of concerns over the health of Gomez, who has an ailing hip.
Maybe the Mets will still get the impact hitter they covet—maybe, having whiffed on Gomez, they’ll land another impact outfielder, like Jay Bruce or Justin Upton or Carlos Gonzalez. But the peculiar events of the night in a way raises the stakes for the Mets as we approach Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline: Now it seems imperative that New York gets the player that it was clearly so close to acquiring Wednesday evening. Suddenly, the Mets have become the team facing the most pressure to strike a game-changing deal before Friday. The Mets—second to last in the majors in OPS, dead last in runs scored and entertainment value —are now two games behind the Nationals after losing to the Padres, 7–3. This is far from a great team: Its projected BaseRuns record entering Wednesday was 50–50 compared to the Mets' actual 52–48 record. Their run differential is -6.
Rival Washington, however, isn’t exactly American Pharoah running away from the pack in the division, and according to Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds, the Mets have a 44.2% chance of making the playoffs and a 34.8% chance of taking the division. The playoffs are well within reach, but with their putrid offense and without the addition of a player of Gomez’s caliber, it’s hard to picture New York fending off the likes of the Pirates, Giants and Cubs to make it to the postseason. If the Mets' front office falls short in adding that player after tonight’s farce, and if the team proceeds to miss the postseason for a ninth straight year, this could turn out to be, after such a promising start to the season, one of the most maddening, miserable campaigns yet for the Mets and their fans after nearly a decade of sustained losing and frustration. It’s entirely likely we’ll all look back on Wednesday night as the moment things really unraveled.
But there is still time for Alderson and his lieutenants. There is still hope for the Mets' faithful. Late Wednesday night, as one of the most bizarre nights of the 2015 baseball season was coming to a close, Alderson was asked by a reporter if the team was “still looking for a bat.”
Replied the weary general manager, “It’s not Friday yet.”