It’s easy to be gracious when you’ve won, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be. Let me tell you this: if the sight of Yoenis Cespedes tonight made you mad—bedecked, as he was, in goggles and a “National League Champions” t-shirt with outs still to record on the field—let it go. The Cubs got beat this week. And although I didn’t talk to Cespedes on Wednesday night, the other Mets I spoke to had nothing but respect for the organization they found on the North Side.
“I’ll tell you what,” Jon Niese told me, warm in the glow of the smiles of his family and friends, a lit cigar smoking in his hand as he gazed in amazement at the scene around him. “We were talking in the bullpen, kind of talking shop, and said ‘Is this going to be the NLCS for the next five years?’ And it could be the truth.”
He’s not wrong.
The Mets are proud in victory, of course. They should be. (Niese, later: “The future’s bright for them. But I’m glad that we’re here.”) But their victory tonight, and their celebrations thereafter, don’t mean they don’t recognize how just how good a Cubs team they beat. Curtis Granderson, the Chicago native, knows it better than most.
“This is a great team and a great organization,” he told me, as his father—in a matching ‘Granderson’ jersey—beamed behind him. “Each game that we played they had an opportunity to do some things, but our pitching staff did an amazing job of keeping that offense at bay.”
That’s a sentiment echoed seconds later by Wednesday’s starter for the Mets, Steven Matz. “It wasn’t an easy lineup to go against [tonight]. They’re a fiery team, and it was tough.” Matz’s rotation-mate, Noah Syndergaard, who towered over me, dripping champagne onto my phone as he spoke, had similar words for me as I turned towards him from Matz: “I mean, the Cubs lineup is definitely a threat to reckon with,” he said. “They’re an outstanding youthful team, just like ourselves.”
In truth, though, it wasn’t the Cubs’ lineup that came in for the most praise from New York. It was the man calling the shots on the other bench: Joe Maddon. In postgame comments, New York manager Terry Collins could hardly have been more complimentary. It was an emotional press conference—Collins’s mother died 30 years ago today (on her wedding anniversary) and his father earlier this year—and he took special care to recognize his opposite number despite the distractions around him.
“[Maddon] just met me in the hallway, which if you know Joe Maddon, you expect nothing less. I knew he was going to be somewhere,” Collins said. “I knew one thing, he would not leave tonight without shaking my hand because he’s a pro. He deserves any accolade anybody talks about him. [Since I hired him in Anaheim], he’s certainly gone on to be the best manager in the game.”
The best manager in the game. That’s quite a compliment, especially from a man who owns the same job description. And when I told Niese about his manager’s comments, he didn’t disagree.
“You know what, he really is,” he said. “I kind of went out of my way to go see his postgame interviews, because they’re incredible. You know, his theories with managing, and his coaching style, it’s genius.”
All that coming from a man happily smoking a cigar on Joe Maddon’s field. But, you know what? That’s fair. The Mets beat the Cubs good and solid over the last five days. They earned their spot in the World Series, and in victory, they were quick to praise. They expect to be back here often over the next half-decade. And they expect the Cubs to be right there with them.
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports.