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This is just the start for Max Scherzer as Mets show true ambition

At the end, there was a sizeable gaggle of Mets fans ringing the lower stands at American Family Field, counting down the final outs. Maybe the players weren’t prepared to have an all-out celebration when Adam Ottavino struck out Hunter Renfroe with a filthy slider, clinching a 7-2 win over the Brewers and securing a spot in the postseason

The players, and the owner, they have other worlds to conquer. 

“It was a modest celebration,” Steve Cohen said, wearing a Mets cap and a blue Mets sweater inside the victorious visiting team clubhouse. “It’s a first step. When we go farther, there will be bigger celebrations and that’s the way it should be.” 

But the folks screaming “Let’s go, Mets!” felt no such compunction to refrain from merriment. Maybe it’s a sad commentary on the star-crossed history of the franchise that this will be but the 10th postseason trip for the Mets in their 61 years of life, but one thing is certain: Mets fans never take the good times for granted. They were going to enjoy this. 

And there was, in truth, so much to enjoy. 

And so much of it was thanks to the 68 pitches delivered by Max Scherzer that dismissed the Brewers lineup twice — 18 up, 18 down. Scherzer has never been better as a Met, has never looked more in command of his powers. The pity is that everyone — even Scherzer, usually a reluctant servant of pitch counts — knew that was going to be his limit. 

“I knew where I’m at in this rehab process,” said Scherzer, who earned his 200th career win and improved to 10-4 with a 2.15 ERA. 

Max Scherzer pitches on Monday during the Mets' win over the Brewers.
Max Scherzer pitches on Monday during the Mets’ win over the Brewers.

In normal times, working on a perfecto, Scherzer would’ve snarled at the sight of Seth Lugo getting loose in the sixth inning, and he would’ve barreled over Buck Showalter and Jeremy Hefner like Earl Campbell at the goal line if they tried keeping him away from the late innings. 

But Scherzer is coming off a second stint on the injured list with a balky oblique. The Mets have higher ambitions than merely qualifying for the tournament. There are still the Braves, unwilling to allow the Mets to breathe, and there are those three games in Atlanta that everyone believes will determine the NL East. 

Scherzer will pitch in that series, and assuming his next start — either in Oakland on Sunday or back home against Miami two days later — goes well, he will pitch against the Braves, in exactly the kind of game that lured him to erstwhile enemy territory, that moved Cohen to guarantee him $130 million. 

It’s hard to imagine he can be better than he was Monday in Milwaukee. But a reasonable facsimile will be fine. On back-to-back days Jacob deGrom sandwiched 15 straight outs (13 of them strikeouts) between Oneil Cruz blasts, and then Scherzer went 18-for-18 against a Brewers lineup that had feasted on the Yankees all weekend. 

“This is what you play the game for,” Scherzer said. “You play to get to the postseason.” 

Assuming those traveling Mets fans found themselves back in their hotel rooms too amped up to sleep, seeing the possibilities of deGrom and Scherzer two out of every five days ought to make the insomnia plenty bearable. 

The Mets and the Braves have circled each other like rival packs of wolves for three months now, and it’s hard to believe that both teams won’t be better for the intensity and the chase. The wild-card recipient will still be a dangerous out. But it’s first place that will command the real prize. You win the division, you avoid the Dodgers as long as possible. 

And if you draw the Dodgers? You say thank you for the berth in the NLCS. Then you take your chances against a team you beat four times in seven tries this year. 

Max Scherzer pitched six scoreless inning in his return from an oblique injury.
Max Scherzer pitched six scoreless inning in his return from an oblique injury.
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Ah, but all of that is still ahead. Far ahead. 

For now, for Monday, there was champagne but it was distributed civilly, in glasses. There will be other opportunities to splash and spray and shower each other. 

“We understand that,” Scherzer sad, “but you’ve got to celebrate the good times too.” 

Monday was the good times on full display. Pete Alonso hit a baseball halfway to Sheboygan. Scherzer was immaculate. The Mets punched their ticket to October and gave a horde of their fans a night to revel in a town that knows how to aid and abet jubilation. 

“You’ve got to have Step 1,” manager Buck Showalter said, “to get to the rest of them.” 

Step 1. As a wise man might put it: Put it in the books.

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