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Mets’ thrilling win shows MLB expanded playoffs here to stay

It’s going to work.

Major League Baseball is going to keep the 16-team postseason that emanated from the pandemic shutdown, and you’re going to like it.

Don’t believe me? Then tell me you watched the Mets’ insane, 10-6 victory over the Phillies Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park and didn’t get roped in by the intensity, the drama, the strategy — over a team that leapt from 12th place to 11th place in the National League.

“That’s big time for us,” said Seth Lugo, whose terrible start (six runs in 1 ²/₃ innings) made his teammates’ offensive heroics necessary. “That’s great.”

“We’re getting down to the nitty gritty, so every win is important. Every game is important. Every pitch is important,” said Brandon Nimmo, who delivered the game-winning, ninth-inning homer off Brandon Workman and totaled three RBIs. “That makes this kind of baseball really fun.”

No doubt, this contest was so much fun that you put up with the 4 hours and 12 minutes it required to finish it. It was September baseball at its near-finest, two exhausted clubs going at it and seeing who could stay up longer.

Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto celebrate after the Mets' 10-6 win over the Phillies.
Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto celebrate after the Mets’ 10-6 win over the Phillies.AP

The Mets (23-27) did because they won the battle of the bullpens — this Phillies relief corps surely is taking years off Joe Girardi’s life — and that allowed them to pull within 1 ¹/₂ games of Philadelphia (24-25) with the Cardinals (22-24) and Brewers (23-26) presenting two more hurdles. Yes, we are talking about a bushel full of mediocre ball clubs — in a normal campaign, the Mets would own a 62-73 record at this juncture, and that doesn’t quite scream “Pennant race!” now does it?

Yet you won’t be able to resist it if it’s relevant, and the only forces powerful enough to stand in the way of its relevance, to say, “Come on, now, you can’t have more than half the league emerging from the beautiful marathon that is our regular season to keep going in October!” are the players and owners. With zero guarantees that ballparks will be able to fill up with paying customers in 2021, do you really think the game’s stewards and participants can claim the moral high ground and pass on so many extra millions of dollars?

So you might as well strap in, get used to it and enjoy. Appreciate that the Mets won consecutive games in which their two best starting pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Lugo, lasted a total of 3 ²/₃ innings as the Mets fell behind by four and three runs, respectively, only to claw back. That the typically humble Nimmo — Sandy Alderson’s very first draft pick in 2011, who didn’t make it to the big leagues until 2016 — tied the game with a two-run triple in the sixth inning, then crushed his game-winning shot to start the ninth, and actually admired the 387-foot blast (with an impressive 35-degree launch angle) before trotting around the bases.

“I’m pretty sure that’s the slowest he’s come out of the box in his career,” Luis Rojas said.

“It was not normal me,” Nimmo agreed. “This was a different moment.”

It wasn’t normal, either, for Justin Wilson or Edwin Diaz to pitch for a third straight day; Wilson hadn’t done so since 2016 and Diaz since last year. Both looked shakier on the mound than Justin Bieber did hosting “Saturday Night Live.” Yet both men somehow pitched out of trouble they helped create, and when Diaz ended the game by retiring potential tying run Andrew McCutchen on a force out after loading the bases, you could sense the Mets’ elation through the television.

“For us to come back from that deficit, it’s definitely a moment that you get super-excited about, super-happy,” said Dom Smith, who chipped in with a single, double, triple and two RBIs.

It is super-exciting. It’s a fight for a ticket to the dance, no matter how clumsy the dancers. Now that the expanded playoffs are here, there’s no getting rid of them. Worst of all, you’ll love them — despite your better angels counseling you otherwise.

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