In these playoffs, the Mets have squared off against the top three pitchers in the National League, a virtual Mount Rushmore of nastiness. Etched into the mountainside are the faces of doom: the Dodgers' duo of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, along with Sunday night's opponent, Cubs ace Jake Arrieta.
It could have been a recipe for an early exit. Instead, these Mets have become trophy hunters. The bigger the game, the bigger the performance. And in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series, they once again appeared unfazed by the monumental task before them.
By the end of a 4-1 victory over the Cubs that gave them a 2-0 series lead, the Mets projected an sense of invincibility. They chased Arrieta after only five innings, his exit hastened by Daniel Murphy's fifth home run of the postseason.
The Mets' breakout star of the playoffs raised his right fist as he rounded first base, his two-run shot in the first inning having landed just inside the rightfield pole. Moments later, at the urging of the orange-towel waving mob of 44,502, Murphy ducked out of the dugout for a curtain call.
It has been this kind of October for the Mets, who have turned themselves into giant slayers. In the NLDS against the Dodgers, the Mets faced Kershaw and Greinke four times in five games, hanging a loss on each one. They completed the trifecta against Arrieta, who was chased after allowing four runs.
"We've beaten some of the best this game has to offer,'' David Wright said. "Just an amazing run for us offensively.''
The Mets find themselves swimming in good vibes. Since the start of the wild-card era in 1995, four other teams opened a 2-0 lead at home in the NLCS. All four won the pennant. And since the NLCS went to a best-of-seven in 1985, nine of the 10 teams to take a 2-0 lead reached the World Series.
"This could be a huge turning point for us,'' Terry Collins said before the game. "If we can beat Arrieta, it puts us in pretty good water.''
After the game, Collins said: "When you can jump out to a lead against him, you've got to feel good about where you're sitting.''
Noah Syndergaard overwhelmed the Cubs' power-packed lineup, holding them to one run in 52/3 innings. With a fastball raging in the high 90s, the righthander struck out nine.
Curtis Granderson helped, making a perfectly timed leaping grab at the rightfield wall to take away a second-inning homer from a stunned Chris Coghlan.
Syndergaard was undone only by a pitch count that reached triple digits by the sixth. He departed ahead 4-1, the only black mark coming on Kris Bryant's two-out RBI double in the sixth.
The Mets' middle relievers, the roster's Achilles' heel, delivered a strong showing. Lefty Jonathon Niese struck out the dangerous Anthony Rizzo to end the sixth. Addison Reed breezed through a scoreless seventh. Setup man Tyler Clippard worked the eighth.
Each has been marginalized in the postseason. But together, they built a steady bridge to closer Jeurys Familia, who put the Cubs away in the ninth.
The Mets entered play hitting only .218 in the postseason, the lowest mark of the four teams still standing. They began play with two prominent bats hitting below the Mendoza line: Wright (.053) and Lucas Duda (.111). Yet Collins resisted the idea of juggling the lineup, convinced that the Mets have delivered quality at-bats despite their results.
"We're doing OK,'' Collins said. "So why would I upend anything right now? I think I'll just continue to press forward and continue to hope that some balls start falling in and we start hitting.''
Against Arrieta, Collins was rewarded. The Cubs righty had not allowed three runs in the first inning since July 2010. Yet the Mets quickly accomplished that feat.
Wright delivered the first cut, lining a double over the head of Dexter Fowler in centerfield to drive in Granderson, who led off with a single. Murphy followed with his two-run shot, tying Mike Piazza for the most playoff homers in Mets history.
In the third, Yoenis Cespedes tacked on a fourth run against Arrieta, his infield hit bringing in Granderson after he stole second and third. Two innings later, Arrieta was through.
"We know that we can go out there and win,'' Michael Cuddyer said. "No matter who's pitching, if we execute, we can win. That gives you a boost.''