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HomeWorld‘Bow before the KING’: did gay icon Grimace save the Mets’ season?

‘Bow before the KING’: did gay icon Grimace save the Mets’ season?

TThe New York Mets were in disarray. The club with the largest payroll in Major League Baseball, $308 million, had started the season 29-37. They were ready for a second straight year of rebuilding, despite their massive investments in talent. Less than a month earlier, on May 15, hedge fund magnate and team owner Steve Cohen all but admitted in a now-deleted tweet that the club would sell assets at the July trade deadline. “There’s not much we can do until then,” he said to a fan who had talked about dismantling the selection.

Then an unlikely hero appeared. He was soft, purple and blessed with the daddy body of a backup catcher. And that hero was Grimace, a second-tier McDonald’s mascot who lacks the star power of Ronald McDonald, the political heft of Mayor McCheese or the dashing charisma of Hamburglar. Nevertheless, he threw out the first pitch at CitiField on June 12 and transformed the Mets’ season.

The Queens team, which was eight games below .500 before Grimace arrived on the scene, won that night. They also won their next five games and woke up Tuesday with a 34-37 record, only one match away of the last NL wildcard postseason spot. Since his arrival, Mets fans have cheered on the Grimace era, with online forums dedicated to the effect he has had on the club. “Bow to the KINGRead a Reddit thread dedicated to him, while Grimace, who has become a queer icon, has also attracted gay fans to cheer on the Mets.

“He definitely matches up with us coming into this run,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said when asked about Grimace’s contribution.

A fleeting moment? Almost certainly. The result of a run in the playoffs? Probably not, but it is possible. The Mets’ play-off chances have risen to about three in ten, from one in ten at the beginning of June. Cohen’s ignominious trade deadline prediction now has a significant chance of not coming true.

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What has improved for the Mets in the warm afterglow of Grimace’s appearance? Everything.

Mets pitchers have been mediocre this season, posting a 4.08 staff-wide average, which ranked them 18th in the league before playing the World Series champion Texas Rangers on Tuesday night, who they eviscerated 14-2 on Monday. Japanese star Kodai Senga, a revelation last season, has yet to pitch this season and has no clear timetable for his return. Two more starters, Tylor Megill and David Peterson, have missed time. Closer Edwin Díaz was the toast of the town two seasons ago, but he missed all of last season after injuring himself while celebrating at the World Baseball Classic, coughing up some excruciating saves upon his return.

But Grimace’s brilliance on the pitcher’s mound has been a shining example of the Mets’ previously lagging, wounded arms. Some call it a small sample size; others say it’s the magic of the mascot. But through the first five games after Grimace, the Mets had the third-best ERA in baseball (2.33) and got nearly seven full innings per start in their last trip through the rotation. Díaz, after a few weeks on the injured list, returned to throw back-to-back scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no walks allowed.

While we know very little about the McDonald mascot’s passing prowess, the offense has had its own post-Grimace revolution. The Mets hit 11 home runs and scored 45 runs over those five games, both tops in the majors. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, Nimmo and design hitter J.D. Martinez have each torn the cover off baseball, spearheading an offensive hot streak and laying the foundation for the Mets’ lineup. You can imagine first baseman Pete Alonso (who is doing fine) and second-year catcher Francisco Álvarez (who is injured and not hitting well) getting things going. Then the Mets could have a shockingly deep lineup. They already have seven regulars who are above-average hitters, and that’s with second baseman Jeff McNeil, a former NL batting champion who is having a stunningly bad first two and a half months. In the future he will probably hit better, or at least he can’t hit much worse – some fans have suggested trading McNeil to McDonald’s in exchange for Grimace, although it is unclear who would pay the remaining $41.75 million of McNeil’s contract.

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It’s a far cry from where things could have gone if the Mets didn’t put together a nice streak — or, still, if they can’t sustain a higher level of play after their run inevitably evens out (the truth is, the Mets weren’t that bad as their earlier slump in the season, and also not as good as their 6-0 in the post-Grimace era would suggest). Alonso is a career-long Met in his final year under team control. With the Mets floundering, it appeared he would be traded elsewhere in July, even though he has said he wants to stay with the club long-term. Now that the Mets have things in order, it seems much more likely that Alonso will finish the season in Flushing. The team could then make him a qualifying offer this offseason, which would at least give him a draft pick if he went to a new club in free agency.

That may not seem like the ideal outcome. But at least the Mets now have multiple hands they can play, as opposed to the inevitable selling. MLB’s recent expansion to three wild-card playoff teams per league has kept mediocre clubs in the hunt for the postseason well into the summer. The Mets don’t need to have a championship-caliber club to be part of the mosh pit nine National League teams are currently separated by about three games for the final playoff spot. With just one or two more hot streaks, the Mets would have a real chance to stay alive until October.

Cohen turned out to be right. Indeed, there isn’t much the Mets can do between now and the trade deadline. But come late July, it seems possible the Mets will try to win in 2024 instead of 2025 and beyond.

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That is the power of Grimas. And there’s a possibility he actually had a real effect on the team. A few weeks ago, morale was so low around the collapsing team that (a now former) pitcher threw his glove into the stands and the players held a meeting to vent their frustration. It’s possible that the silly distraction of the Grimace storyline provided a welcome distraction for the players and helped them relax. Nimmo, that one is known for his almost pathological crazy optimismeven suggested that.

“We need to come out here and have fun… we all grew up with this being a kid’s game, I think it’s a lot of fun to add Grimace to this, so I’m all for it,” he said.

We’ll see where this run goes. In the meantime, other slump teams may want to consider when Colonel Sanders will hit free agency.



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