August 13, 2022

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Option 1A for Mets is Alonso at DH, but he prefers 1B

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Pete Alonso, whose power and presence matters as much to the Mets as any other big bat does to any other team in baseball, hit another home run on Sunday, and the Mets’ record went to 7-3. It meant that they had the most wins in baseball after a week and a half of the season. The homer was Alonso’s third, all of them hit when Buck Showalter had him at DH, and at the end of Sunday’s games, Alonso also led the National League in RBIs with 14 — one behind the Guardians’ José Ramírez, who leads the big leagues (15).

This is such a good beginning for Alonso, who hit 53 home runs as a rookie and was as valuable as any player in the league that year. And what makes it even more special for him is context, the way Spring Training began for him, barely over a month ago, when he and his wife, Haley, were in a two-car caravan from their home in Tampa, Fla., to the Mets’ spring home in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

It is the middle of April now. What happened to Pete Alonso next happened barely over a month ago, mid-March, his white Ford pickup being T-boned by a car that had run a red light at a Tampa intersection.

As Haley Alonso watched, her husband’s truck flipped over three times before landing on its roof. Haley called the authorities, flagged down a passerby for help, then saw Pete kick out the windshield as a way of getting out of the car, miraculously only having suffered a cut on his arm.

“It’s a miracle that he’s safe after this horrifying of an accident,” Haley Alonso wrote on Instagram at the time. “I thought I watched my husband die in front of me, and I will never forget that feeling. This could’ve easily unfolded much differently and that’s what is so scary. Life can be taken from us in an instant.”

A few days later, this is what Pete Alonso told me about the accident, with a first baseman’s mitt back on his left hand, baseball going on behind him in the Florida sun, feet back on the ground:

“It doesn’t matter that you didn’t do anything wrong. One moment you’re driving your truck, basically on your way to work, and the next moment you’re turning over in the air, and completely helpless. And not knowing what’s going to happen next.

That was then, this is now.

Alonso’s batting average was only at .231 after Sunday’s 5-0 victory over the D-backs. It will go up, the way the home run total will go up, and the RBI total, too, with Alonso in the middle of the best Mets batting order of his short career around him. He is still the Mets’ regular first baseman, of course, something he is going to be for a long time. But the universal DH has given Showalter the opportunity to occasionally put Dominic Smith at first and give Alonso a day off from playing in the field.

Alonso, who wants to be at first every day, is going to have to get used to the idea. Because in an obviously small sampling, making him DH had paid big dividends even before Sunday, one start for Alonso there against Washington, another against Philadelphia: two homers, nine RBIs, the first grand slam of his career.

“I told him, ‘Understand, I’m trying to figure out a way to have you play 150-160 [games], a lot of games for us. This is designed to have you available to us as much as possible,’” Showalter said Sunday. “Pete’s our first baseman, he’s going to play the majority of our games at first base, but when we DH him, it’s designed to keep him on the field for the long haul.”

Alonso has already become one of the great Mets stories, in just his fourth season. No one was sure he would even go north with the team in his rookie season. He did, and broke Aaron Judge’s rookie home run record, set on the other side of New York, before he was through. And he was voted NL Rookie of the Year.

Even in the short season of 2020, just 57 games, he hit 16 homers, which projected out to a 40-homer season. He had 37 homers and 94 RBIs last season, even with so little help around him in the Mets’ offense. And he is still only 27. And this year, the Mets have added Starling Marte and Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, professional hitters all. And if DHing is going to help him — and the Mets — the way it has so far, look out, even if people in outer space knows he’d prefer to be at first base every day.

“For me, I’d love to play first base every day, but again, [Smith is] a great first baseman as well,” is how Alonso put it, as diplomatically as possible, for the media the other day in Philadelphia.

This is what passes for a problem, if it can even be called that, for him and for Buck Showalter and the Mets, right now. The Mets are leading their division, Alonso is leading the league in RBIs. This is where he is in April, where he wants to be, after being in mid-air a month ago in Florida.

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