As he stood on first base after his sixth hit of the game, Wilmer Flores tried not to smile. Fans showered the historic performance with chants of “Wil-mer Flo-res!” Teammate Neil Walker waved his outstretched hands up and down from the dugout, either fanning the red-hot Flores or bowing to him.
Although the entire New York Mets lineup exploded for Sunday’s 14-3 throttling of the Chicago Cubs that capped a four-game sweep, Flores was the biggest force. His 6-for-6 performance, which included two home runs, matched Edgardo Alfonzo’s franchise record for hits in a game.
Before the Cubs came to town, the Mets looked frail. They were swept by the Washington Nationals and trailed by more games in the division standings than they ever did last season. The usual problems undermined the Mets. Despite their own frustrations, they begged for patience.
A four-game series against the Cubs, one of the best teams in baseball, washed away a tempest of concerns for now. The Mets did not beat the Cubs during last year’s regular season. But since the National League Championship Series, the Mets have toppled the Cubs eight straight times.
Noah Syndergaard, in his first start since the revelation of the small bone spur in his throwing elbow, dazzled for seven innings and showed no ill effects. The victory, however, was powered by an erupting offense led by Flores.
Flores has served as the primary third baseman since David Wright’s likely season-ending neck surgery. In 32 games since Flores returned from the disabled list, he has hit .293 (29 for 99), with four home runs and 16 RBIs.
The Mets signed former shortstop Jose Reyes last week to play third base, among other positions, when he feels ready in the minor leagues. But with Flores’ contributions, the Mets will have options.
The Mets’ offense has been sluggish much of the past two months. When they have scored, it has been mostly via the home run, but even that slowed in June. The home runs reappeared in bunches against the Cubs.
The Mets smashed Cubs pitching all over the field — and over the fence — on Sunday. In addition to Flores’ two long balls, Curtis Granderson, Rene Rivera and Kelly Johnson also hit home runs. It marked the second time this series the Mets had five home runs in a game.
The hitting barrage chased Cubs starter Jon Lester from the game after only four outs, the shortest outing of his career, with the Mets leading, 8-1. By the seventh inning, the Mets held a 13-1 lead and forced Cubs manager Joe Maddon to bring in catcher Miguel Montero to avoid burning more relievers.
Mets manager Terry Collins had replaced some starters with backups. Regular shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera did not start because of a minor knee issue, and he remained on the bench. So in the eighth inning, the game was so far out of reach that Collins used pitcher Jacob deGrom to pinch hit.
The Mets’ offensive explosion against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball felt unpredictable. Perhaps it revealed signs of a teamwide breakout. They faced the Cubs’ best four pitchers: John Lackey, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Lester. With the exception of Lackey, the starters each had an ERA under 2.60 before this weekend. The Mets piled up 24 runs on 31 hits in 17 innings against those four.
The Mets notched four runs in four straight games, the first time they have done that since the end of April. The Mets are 33-7 when scoring at least four runs this season.