The Mets believe they can shock the baseball world — just ask them

The New York Mets experienced something strange on Sunday, something that hadn’t happened for a while.

They lost a game.

This is something that shouldn’t be particularly unusual, given that the Mets – not long ago – were known as a middling team with shaky defense and a pitching roster that quivered more than you’d like it to, not to mention a team with but two winning seasons since 2008.

Yet, in a wild and wacky story that has captivated Major League Baseball for weeks, the Mets went on a run that saw them triumph in 15 out of 16 games, including eight straight, and catapult themselves firmly into postseason contention before Sunday night’s defeat.

And now the question begs: is reality about to bite for the Amazin’s? Or have they found a new reality, one that suggests their being 11 games below .500 before catching fire was a fallacy?

Either way, it has been one heck of a ride. A couple of months back, manager Mickey Callaway was seen as having the toastiest of all MLB hotseats, as CBSsports.com broke down which skipper was likeliest to get fired first. He’s still fifth on the list, which says everything you need to know about the unpredictability of baseball life in Queens, and also how much his performance will be judged on securing a playoff spot.

Fast-forward to today, and how things have changed. On Aug. 4, the Mets got to .500 for the first time since May. On Aug. 5, they got to within two games of the wildcard, and USA TODAY baseball writer Bob Nightengale tweeted that Callaway could be a candidate for Manager of the Year.

On Aug. 9, after a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Washington Nationals, RBI hero Michael Conforto uttered these words to SNY: “Hey, we just believe, man.”

By then, the Mets’ winning day after day had started to feel inevitable. As Sunday showed, it probably isn’t, but where’s the fun in that?

According to fivethirtyeight.com, the Mets have a 36 percent chance of making the postseason, odds tempered because the bulk of their dream run took place against losing teams – the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins. There are seven teams, separated by four games, contending for the two wild-card spots in the National League.

Now, 24 of the next 31 games will come against teams that either top their division, occupy the wildcard spot, or are ahead of the Mets in the playoff push. It gets tougher, starting with the Atlanta Braves this week, but it will take a lot for rejuvenated Mets fans to lose faith now.

For when Conforto talked about belief, it sounded ominously like Tug McGraw’s iconic “Ya Gotta Believe” remark-turned-slogan from the incredible 1973 season, where the Mets went from last place in mid-August all the way to Game Seven of the World Series. It’s a slogan that the modern Mets are embracing wholeheartedly.

The hot streak seems like a reward for first year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen getting courageous at the deadline, at the precise moment when so many other suits in his position hid behind their laptops and refused to pull the trade trigger.

Van Wagenen landed an elite pitcher in Marcus Stroman to complete a pitching staff that also includes Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz. Adding veteran pieces Brad Brach and Joe Panik this past week may inject some stability moving forwards.

But now comes the hard part for the Mets. Five teams are within two games of the wild card in the National League, while the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants haven’t given up hope of joining that race themselves.

But despite the tough schedule and the fierce competition, the Mets may also be boosted by having 26 of their last 38 gams at CitiField, where the revived fan base has been making its voice heard. “Magic,” rookie slugger Pete Alonso said to SNY. “There is no other way to describe it. That’s so difficult for opposing teams to come into and have to overcome.”

And Callaway, who thought a playoff tilt like this possible even back in July, while the New York media and public scoffed openly at him, has a simple solution, even after Sunday’s defeat.

“Let’s just start another streak,” he said.