Pete Alonso’s name was not on the lineup card when the Mets posted it at San Diego’s Petco Park late Wednesday afternoon. That in itself was jarring, if not entirely surprising. Alonso had played in all 58 games so far this season. He had played in 151 straight games going back to last year.
He has come across, most of his career, as freakishly indestructible. He has twice been beaned by fastballs this year, dusted himself off, moved on. He slides awkwardly, often headfirst, and is never the worse for wear. He famously absorbed a collision from Houston’s Josh Reddick in a play at first base a few years ago during spring training, a sequence more often than not perilous for the defender; it was Reddick who wound up on his back.
But Tuesday night, early in what became a 7-0 whitewash of a loss to the Padres, Alonso began to swing at a Yu Darvish pitch that was running in on him. I have checked his swing from him, but the ball battered his right hand from him. He wanted to stay in the game, but couldn’t grip or shake Buck Showalter’s hand when the manager came out to check on him.
That’s all Showalter needed to see.
And that’s actually a very good sign, as far as the Mets are concerned, because it reinforces the reality that Showalter is forever concerned with the bigger picture, with the whole 162. X-rays on Alonso’s hand were negative, and Alonso confirmed that a CT scan also revealed no fracturesthough his hand remained swollen Wednesday.
“I’m kind of surprised, in a good way, how it feels today,” Alonso said before the Mets’ 13-2 loss to the Padres, and so it appears he will be spared a trip to the injured list, his status a legit day-to-day. “This is probably the best-case scenario, for sure.”
But it sure feels as if Showalter will err on the side of caution with his most valuable offensive asset. That’s as it should be. You can never quantify these things with absolute precision, but the resilient aura that has fortified the Mets so far this season started to become apparent when they were dealt the news about Jacob deGrom’s shoulder, a bulletin Showalter countered with: “The sky’s not falling; it’s just a little rain.”
It was a theme he repeated after Max Scherzer’s oblique started barking at him. It was a theme, no doubt, that he harped on his players probably as soon as they returned to the clubhouse after their loss Tuesday. Just a little more rain, even in sunny San Diego.
It is a wise course, being conservative. There are many benefits to growing the kind of first-place cushion the Mets own — eight games up in the NL East entering play Wednesday — and one of them is the ability to think things through coolly, calmly, rationally. Better to keep Alonso out at this point a few games too long than bring him back a few games too soon.
If nothing else, Showalter may unwittingly have endeared himself to Mets fans — even more than he already has — with his response to a question late Tuesday about whether the injuries to Alonso and Starling Marte (who tweaked his quad, but also thinks he’ll avoid the IL) might simply be day-to-day.
“I love your optimism, but I don’t share it at this point,” Showalter said. “Usually, we don’t get that much optimism.”
And, honestly, Showalter couldn’t have better channeled the ethos of many of his fans if he’d started to sing “Meet the Mets.” Mets fans have a nasty habit of waiting for other shoes to drop, anyway, but for those with some years invested this was a chillingly familiar thing, a slugger in a big year getting felled in the middle of it.
Dave Kingman had 32 homers in his first 91 games in 1976, a week ahead of Roger Maris’ pace, when he jammed his thumb diving for a Phil Niekro fly ball; I have missed two months. In 1985, the Mets were cooking in mid-May when Darryl Strawberry sprained his thumb catching a Juan Samuel fly and missed six weeks; the Mets went 20-24 in his absence from him, almost certainly costing them a pennant.
And in 1972, the Mets were off to the kind of charmed start these Mets are, 31-12, five games up, when Atlanta’s George Stone plunked Rusty Staub on the wrist. Staub tried to play through it, aggravated it, missed close to three months. The Mets collapsed, finishing 13 ½ games back.
Fifty years later, Alonso is off to a brilliant start, and losing any piece of the season hurts — just not as much as an extended leave of absence would. Showalter is right to be conservative with this. Do the right thing. Be cautious. Be patient. And be grateful it wasn’t worse.