The team is fighting to stay above .500, but still within striking distance of first place. On the last day of July — thanks to a stroke of great fortune — the team adds a big bat in the outfield.
The bat goes crazy. The team goes crazy. The fans go crazy. The season ends not with a disappointing whimper, but with a postseason bang.
In Los Angeles, in 2008, that bat was Manny Ramirez. In New York, this year, that bat is Yoenis Cespedes.
In August, the Mets played 28 games, won 20, and left the Washington Nationals behind for good in the National League East. The Mets, in their first postseason appearance in nine years, open the division series Friday at Dodger Stadium.
In two months with the Mets, Cespedes hit 17 home runs — as many as Ramirez hit for the Dodgers in two months in 2008, and more than all but two Mets, first baseman Lucas Duda and outfielder Curtis Granderson, hit all season.
Andre Ethier, who batted cleanup behind Ramirez for those 2008 Dodgers, took notice.
"I just remember the energy and confidence it instilled once we had somebody like that in the lineup," Ethier said. "I've followed the Mets a little bit, and I can see some similarities. No matter the score, no matter where the game was, whether you're down, you knew you had a chance to come back and win the game if there were outs left on the board."
The Dodgers needed help in 2008, but on the cheap. They got help for free, when the Boston Red Sox were so desperate to rid themselves of Ramirez that they paid off the balance of his contract just so the Dodgers would take him.
The Mets needed help this summer. On July 29, they agreed to acquire outfielder Carlos Gomez from the Milwaukee Brewers. That deal fell apart over concerns about medical records, leaving the Mets with 48 hours to import another slugger before the trade deadline.
Jay Bruce? No deal. Justin Upton? No deal. In the final hour before the deadline, the Mets completed a trade to acquire Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. When the Mets pursued Gomez, Cespedes had not been available, but the Tigers decided to rebuild and scrambled to move Cespedes and pitcher David Price.
"The fact that we ended up with Yoenis involved a lot of fortuitous twists and turns," Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said. "We recognize that."
For the Mets faithful, beaten down by years of not-always-benign neglect on the part of team ownership, the Cespedes trade was a revelation.
Jerry Seinfeld took to Twitter to celebrate: "Oh my god @Mets. I can't believe I can actually say this, but is it true that there is now 'A Cespedes for the rest of us?' " Seinfeld later asked Cespedes whether Cubans really enjoyed Cuban sandwiches; Cespedes said yes and invited him to share one sometime.
The Mets averaged 3.5 runs per game before Cespedes, last in the league. They averaged 5.75 over two months with Cespedes, best in the league.
In his third game with the Mets, he had three doubles and drove in four runs. On Aug. 21, he hit three home runs and drove in seven runs as the Mets won the first game in what would be a seven-game winning streak. In the three-game sweep that all but buried the Nationals in early September, he had two home runs and three doubles, and he drove in seven runs.
"He has done some amazing things, individually, which have been unmatched," Granderson said, "from an average standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, the power, being able to steal bases, all those different things."
The parallels to Ramirez are not exact. With the Dodgers, Ramirez gear — T-shirts, jerseys and dreadlock wigs — became the trendiest local fashions. With the Mets, Cespedes gear sells well, though not as well as Wright or Matt Harvey merchandise, team spokesman Jay Horwitz said.
On the field, Ramirez never did let up over those two months, batting .396. Cespedes has not hit a home run since Sept. 14 — a span of 56 at-bats — and has one extra-base hit since Sept. 23. He also sat out one game last week after being hit on his left hand by a pitch, but he said he is "100% ready to start this battle" and not too terribly concerned about facing Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
"They're pitchers just like anyone else," he said through an interpreter at a Citi Field news conference on Tuesday. "They're going to throw the same pitches. I think the most important thing is to have fun."
Ramirez thought the same way, until the season ended and he hit free agency. He wanted six years, at age 36. No team offered him a contract of any length except the Dodgers, who brought him back on a two-year contract.
Cespedes turns 30 this month. He wants six years too, and the pressure is on in New York to bring him back.
Ethier recalled the pressure the Dodgers faced to retain Ramirez, but he had no idea of how Cespedes' free agency might play out – other than to suggest the grass might be plenty green for him at Citi Field.
"Every story is different," Ethier said. "Obviously, he's fitting in well there.
"As a player, I don't see how you could not want to be on that team, just because it would be tough to be on an opposing team and face the pitching staff they have every day. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."