NEW YORK — The Mets‘ 16-8 record this past month was their best June since the 1990 club went 21-7. The way they played in June had not even been close to being replicated since the Mets went 18-8 (.692) in the same month of 2010.

If the Mets keep this up, Grimace might just be throwing out the first pitch of the 2024 World Series. And if that purple blob-driven dream comes to fruition, Steve Cohen might as well cancel his plans to build a casino across from Citi Field in favor of partnering with McDonald’s to manufacture the first Grimace McMansion. Instead of milkshakes, why not install slot machines and enjoy the best of both worlds? That’s just the way things have been going for these firecracker Mets the past month. 

“There is something special happening at Citi Field,” Cohen posted on X over the weekend. “The players have come together and are playing for each other. The atmosphere is electric. Let’s keep this going!”

The team’s turnaround from a 24-35 record on June 3 to finally eclipsing .500 on the season last week after sweeping the Yankees can be attributed to a host of Mets characters. 

Rookie skipper Carlos Mendoza has received credit for his steadiness and optimism in stretches of hopelessness. De-facto co-captains Francisco Lindor and Brandon Nimmo have brought lessons of leadership through holding themselves accountable. Veteran slugger J.D. Martinez has led by example; he is thoroughly invested in improving even the most minuscule details of his game. Jose Iglesias, the 12-year major-league infielder who moonlights as the vocal artist Candelita, has bonded the team through his bopper of a new single, OMG.

Every night there is someone different responsible for adding another W to the win column. But there is one figure who seems to loom the largest. When the president of baseball operations was asked who had been the catalyst for the Mets’ headline-grabbing run, David Stearns didn’t hesitate to underscore catcher Francisco Álvarez’s direct relationship to winning.

“I think looking at Alvy’s impact on the team is something we all see,” Stearns said. “We see it in how we’ve played when he’s been active and, frankly, how we’ve played when he hasn’t been active.”

Since the back end of a doubleheader on April 4, New York is 23-4 with Álvarez and 17-32 without him. For the season, its pitching staff has a 2.97 ERA when Álvarez is catching and a 4.72 ERA when he’s not. The heartbeat of the Mets might just be a fearless 22-year-old catcher playing baseball with unabashed aplomb. 

“My mindset going into it every day is I want to win, I want to compete,” Alvarez said. “When I’m competing, I feel confident.”

For Álvarez, confidence is the key ingredient to his game. It’s a big reason why his play behind the plate — guiding pitchers through tough innings and pointing to his battery mate in encouragement after a nasty pitch — makes him appear to possess big-league experience that is well beyond his years. Having belief in his slugging ability and catching prowess drives everything he does, from the tattoo that says “THE BEST” in red ink on the base of his neck, to the way he operates with flair on the field.

Last week, as Juan Soto and the Yankees took the RFK bridge to Citi Field, the similarities between Álvarez and Soto and the bold and carefree way they both play were noticeable. It was clear during the Subway Series that Álvarez and Soto were pals, too, in the way they laughed and joked with one another in the batter’s box, and the familiarity with which Soto at one point facetiously tapped Álvarez’s catcher’s helmet with his bat. 

Álvarez said he got to know Soto better when they were both represented by agent Scott Boras (Álvarez later switched to Bad Bunny’s upstart agency). The Venezuelan catcher said he picked up some of his brazen mentality from Soto and, though they play different positions with divergent responsibilities, Álvarez has tried to model his game after Soto, particularly in how the Yankees outfielder controls the strike zone.

“I practiced with him a couple times in the offseason,” Álvarez told FOX Sports. “I got to know him a little bit. I love how he plays the game. He enjoys the game. I enjoy the game. We have fun. We talk, since I know him before, we talk during the game. 

“I like how he works his confidence, and how he looks — he looks very confident every time when he goes to play baseball. He’s different. His confidence is different. I feel like my confidence is different, too. I like to play like him.”

Like Soto, Álvarez has his name all over MLB leaderboards. Since June 11, his batting average (.375), on-base percentage (.456), slugging (.667) and OPS (1.123) all rank in the top 10 in the majors. His 93.7 average exit velocity is second among catchers and 19th overall. 

All of these statistics become even more impressive when remembering that June 11 is the day Álvarez came off the injured list after tearing ligaments in his left thumb. It’s probably no coincidence then that the club has since gone from would-be sellers to could-be buyers and within two games of a wild-card spot ahead of this month’s trade deadline. 

Even after losing two of three to the equally ascending Astros this past weekend, the Mets have been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past four weeks. Since June 3, they lead the NL with 39 home runs and a .286 batting average, while their .364 OBP, .512 slugging and .876 OPS are the best in the majors. Their .311 batting average with runners in scoring position is, you guessed it, tops in the NL and second in the majors, and Álvarez has a lot to do with it.

“There’s a lot to like there,” Mendoza said of his young catcher. “From the defensive side, him working with [Sean] Manaea when it wasn’t easy for him, and continued to force him to make pitches when needed. And then the offense … not giving away at-bats, not chasing, laying off some tough pitches, some pitcher’s counts, and then he gets back in the count. He’s pretty impressive.” 

Baseball is a kid’s game, Álvarez likes to remind himself. Sure, he’s earning millions while launching a promising career in the world’s largest media market. But while he’s nodding his head in between pitches at the plate, and while he’s wheeling around the bases with his arms pumping at his sides that paints the picture of his youthful spirit, Álvarez is telling himself that he’s living his dream, forever playing a kid’s game. 

That was his mentality last Thursday, when he was at the plate in the third inning with a runner on third and two outs against Yankees right-hander Luis Gil. Álvarez whiffed at Gil’s first offer, a fastball inside that was neck-high. Then, between pitches, Álvarez took a beat and leaned on his strategy to refrain from chasing pitches: slow down and relax the mind and body. Next, Gil hurled another 98-mph high heater at the top of the zone. Álvarez slammed it over the fence for an opposite field two-run home run. 

Álvarez was asked afterward what he would think, as a catcher, if a hitter attacked a high fastball like that for an opposite-field dinger. Álvarez simply said: “I [would] think he’s a great hitter.” Álvarez barely has to try to be like his role model; his confidence and charm, in his age-22 season, already mimics Soto’s tenacity and spunk. 

“I would really like it if he was going to play with the Mets,” Álvarez said of Soto. “For me, it would be great. He’s the guy that, everything I want to have is like him. He’s one of the best players in the game.”

The Mets will have the chance to acquire Soto this offseason. The 25-year-old’s upcoming free agency, projected to land him a mind-numbing lucrative contract with $500 million as the floor, has long been linked to the Mets and their deep-pocketed owner. It would surprise exactly no one if Cohen offered Soto the highest contract this winter, and it’s possible the slugger will end up going to the highest bidder. As things stand, Soto appears to be the perfect fit with the Yankees, and it’s hard to imagine Hal Steinbrenner letting him walk away before making an offer that’s difficult to refuse. But, as all free agencies go, it will be anyone’s game. 

As the Mets swept the Yankees in the first Subway Series of the season, the Amazins gave Soto plenty of reasons to enjoy playing for them. But none stood out more than winning, and how Álvarez obviously had a lot to do with it. Perhaps at this time next year, Álvarez and Soto will once again be represented by the same group. But right now? The Mets are flashing confidence with the cast of characters they’ve currently assembled, from Grimace to Candelita to El Troll — Álvarez has been nicknamed the latter for his imposing, often menacing, stature. 

So, file away the Soto link for later, because as long as Álvarez is around, the Mets have a winning culture. 

“We’re now playing at a level,” Stearns said, “that more resembles what we thought the team could do throughout the course of the season.”

Deesha Thosar is an MLB reporter for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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