The New York Mets are, well, the New York Mets. At 38-47 even after a comeback win on Sunday Night Baseball against the Atlanta Braves, they sit a distant fourth in the National League East, saved from the cellar by an abysmal Miami Marlins outfit but a full five games back of the third-place Washington Nationals.
In fact, the Mets are 13th in the NL as a whole, and 6.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. So it seems quite likely that New York’s junior squad will miss the postseason for the third straight year after a promising two-year stretch powered by a rotation that has since fallen apart.
But there is a bright light shining for New York this year — and the spotlight on former Florida Gators star Pete Alonso, who has become a superb slugger for the Mets, is only going to get brighter over the All-Star break.
Alonso was named an All-Star reserve on Sunday night, joining Jacob DeGrom and Jeff McNeil — currently leading the NL in batting average — in the Mets’ contingent. And unlike DeGrom and McNeil, Alonso was chosen not by voters but specifically by Major League Baseball itself, with the league granting him an All-Star spot despite being beaten out at first base by Atlanta Braves stalwart Freddie Freeman and rising Pittsburgh Pirates star Josh Bell.
In addition to that selection, the first for a Gator since David Eckstein’s second and last All-Star appearance in 2006 — a nod that preceded Eckstein being named World Series MVP that fall — Alonso will become the first Gator to participate in next Monday’s Home Run Derby, telling reporters on Friday that he accepted an invite to the competition.
Alonso might well be the favorite for the event, depending on the rest of the field. So far, MLB has confirmed that Alonso will be joined in the Derby by Bell, breakout rookie Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Carlos Santana of the Cleveland Indians, reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers. Budding Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. was also subsequently confirmed.
Notably, that list does not include Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Cody Bellinger, whose 27 homers make him the only major leaguer other than Yelich (29) and Alonso (28) to have more than 24 home runs through Sunday.
And this won’t be the year that Mike Trout makes his Home Run Derby debut, so baseball’s greatest dark horse Derby contender won’t be a threat to Alonso, who could nearly double his $550,000 salary by winning the event’s $1 million prize. (Bellinger might also be motivated by the money on offer, as he’s still on his rookie salary, though he’s arbitration-eligible this winter. Yelich, on the other hand, is in the middle of a seven-year, $49 million deal that he signed with the Marlins before they traded him to Milwaukee in what may go down as an all-time “seemed like a good idea at the time” blunder.)
Of course, Alonso could easily blast more homers this week to move ahead of Yelich and enter the All-Star break as the majors’ leading dinger-doer. He’s gone more than five games without homering just twice this year, and the Mets host the returning-from-London New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies this week, closing out an eight-game homestand.
And while the Mets may have dealt a blow to the Gators with the signing of prep pitcher Matthew Allan — about which more later this week — they will probably be grateful to Florida for some years to come, as Kevin O’Sullivan’s program produced potentially their best home run hitter ever.
Alonso already owns the Mets rookie record for homers, having eclipsed a mark set by Darryl Strawberry in late June, and would seem to be a lock to break the team’s single-season record for homers — somehow held by Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran, who had 41 a decade apart in 1996 and 2006, respectively — barring injury or a massive decline in performance. He’s also been keeping pace with Mark McGwire’s records for home runs by a rookie through various points in the season, which keeps him in striking distance of both McGwire’s mark (49) and Aaron Judge’s new record for rookies. (The NL mark is even closer than the Mets’ single-season standard, as Bellinger hit 39 homers in 2017 to nab it.)
Should Alonso keep up this production over not just this season but many of them, he could also threaten Mets franchise records before too long. Strawberry holds the Mets’ all-time record for homers with 252, and thus would seem to be within the 24-year-old Alonso’s sights before he turns 30. And Alonso could be well inside the Mets’ top 10 in just a couple of years, as No. 5 on the list is Dave Kingman, who recorded 154 homers with the team.
Regardless of what happens in the next 10 days, months, or years for Pete Alonso, though, his scintillating start has been the stuff of legend for the Mets, a team dying for a star and savior at the plate.
In the burly (and still proud) Gator from Tampa, they dredged one out of the swamp.