Maybe there is a miracle left in these Mets after all.
Just kidding. Let’s talk about Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera.
The Mets received a gift of a win Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, 3-2 over the Cardinals in walk-off style, when St. Louis reliever Trevor Rosenthal inexplicably declined to cover first base on Jose Reyes’ groundout-turned-single. Along the way to that treat, however, came some positive contributions to the Mets (43-50), whose terrible record makes them prime, if relatively unloved, sellers in this baseball market.
Flores slammed a pinch-hit, game-tying homer off St. Louis southpaw Brett Cecil in the eighth inning, and in the ninth, Rivera’s two-out single to center field advanced Yoenis Cespedes to third base and set up Reyes for his “heroics” (hey, credit the old dog Reyes for running hard).
With Asdrubal Cabrera on his way out the door, Amed Rosario preparing to take over everyday shortstop duties, Reyes accepting his imminent transition to mentor/utility man, Neil Walker rehabilitating his way into being a trade chip himself, and Lucas Duda and Dominic Smith quite possibly going and coming, respectively, the Mets’ infield features more plot lines than Season 2 of “Arrested Development” — and we didn’t even mention David Wright’s state of limbo. Buried beneath those headlines, Flores, who turns 26 next month, and Rivera, 28, will try to earn the trust of club decision-makers for the 2018 production of this team.
“I like them more as fringe everyday players,” a scout who frequently sees the Mets said, on the condition of anonymity, of Flores and Rivera. “Maybe guys you plug in for two weeks, or maybe even two months. But I wouldn’t be comfortable with them in a six-month situation for the full season.”
Flores is the prodigal bat, signed on his 16th birthday in 2007 and forever offering flashes of, well, above-averageness. His defense has held him back — he was the team’s primary shortstop in the pennant-winning 2015 campaign — as have his plate discipline and ability to hit righty pitching.
Rivera is the inspiration, the anti-Tebow, a non-drafted free agent who worked his way to the top. And who also has been held back by his defensive limitations.
The two men might be too similar in their defensive profiles (first, second and third base) and their right-handedness to both stick. Yet neither one appears likely to get moved by the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline — FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman recently reported the Red Sox, in need of third-base help, scouted both — and both figure to get plenty of reps for the duration of the season, as the Mets work to ensure this disaster will go down as a hiccup rather than a tipping point.
Rivera made his 24th start at the hot corner Thursday, and hoo boy, did he struggle. That he made no errors goes down as a tip of the cap to Duda, who saved a pair of shaky throws in the sixth inning.
“I think he’s going to hit. I think he’s going to hit at this level,” Collins said of Rivera. “We’ve just got to make sure that we do due diligence and make sure he improves defensively, because his bat’s going to play.”
“I know I can play the position,” Rivera said. “I’ve been guiding some throws and not really finishing my throws, and I’m getting more comfortable with putting in the work.”
The key, Rivera said, is to use his legs more.
And Collins had Flores ready on the bench to go against Cecil, who offered a 1-and-2 knuckle-curve that Flores lifted over the wall in left field for his eighth homer of the season.
Two years ago this month, remember, Flores cried on the field when he believed he was getting traded to the Brewers. Now, “I’m out of the media stuff,” he said, smiling.
He isn’t out of the proving-his-worth stuff, though. Nor is Rivera. They both offer intriguing qualities, yet with the Mets needing to fill big holes this winter, can they fit? It still will count for them even as the Mets drift steadily toward elimination.