The Mets put nine homegrown position players on the field for Thursday's matinee. They started with a pop, fizzled for a bit in the middle, and finished with a bang, as the Mets walked off with a 3-2 victory in hand. The fireworks helped provide some hope, particularly those that came in the ninth inning.
Sizzling starter Kirk Nieuwenhuis appropriately began the game right, as he launched a deep drive to right field off of Ricky Nolasco in the first. Mike Stanton made a play on the ball and could have reeled it in, but at home, when the ball hits the glove and rolls off at the wall like that, you'll get a triple in the box every time. Ruben Tejada, who doesn't have the most pop, drove the ball far enough into right center to get the run home. It was a home-grown run.
After that, though, the home-spun thread ran bare for a while. The Mets only got baserunners into scoring position once there were two outs. David Wright doubled with two outs in the first. Jon Niese walked to push Ike Davis to second with two outs in the second. The third, sixth and seventh innings were 1-2-3 affairs. Generally, Ricky Nolasco was handling the lineup.
Niese did his part to match Nolasco, fanning six against no walks and four hits. He got swinging strikes on nine pitches (once again, twice as many on his fastball as his curveball), and repeated his delivery well. The low outside corner to right-handers was a spot he hit with ease, and without a Gaby Sanchez home run and a double-play groundout after two singles, he might have matched zeroes. The booth thought that if it wasn't Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, the standout homegrown player of the game with the most upside might be Niese, and it was easy to see on Thursday.
On the other hand, even the most enthusiastic fan has to see some of the flaws in the home-spun pieces. Nieuwenhuis was in his element facing a right-hander, so he looked great. But Lucas Duda went hitless with two strikeouts and has been whiffing more than we thought he might. Ike Davis did walk, but his hit was a nubber that could have easily been a ground-out or foul-out. He didn't look much better at the plate than he has in his lost-looking beginning to the season. Josh Thole extended his season-long on-base streak and got a hit, but his upside was perfectly put by Keith Hernandez: "He's the perfect number seven hitter." Jordany Valdespin in lefty field is not very Jordan-y at all.
But then the ninth inning happened. And there was a lot to like about that ninth inning.
David Wright pushed the Marlins' new Rod Beck, Heath Bell, to six pitches once he saw that Bell couldn't the curveball over. The rest of the lineup must have taken note. Lucas Duda saw seven pitches before he grounded out. Ike Davis watched four balls. Josh Thole saw six pitches, and walked on a curveball. The pitching coach for the Fish came out and told his hefty closer to quit hucking curveballs before Justin Turner got out there, and Turner fouled off fastball after fastball (and one hanging curve) to achieve a 13-pitch game-tying RBI walk. Scott Hairston, not homegrown and also up there with the game now tied, was a little overeager and grounded out. Kirk Nieuwenhuis? He hit Bell's second pitch -- and 46th of the inning -- to basically the same spot as his triple. Game over.
Bell was as bad as Nolasco was good. He only got one whiff and 24 strikes in those 46 pitches, and in general his curveball was either on the ground or hanging. Still, he got the fastball up to 94.8 MPH and some of the less-seasoned players in this lineup could have been forgiven for eagerly whiffing at one or two of those. Maybe some of the organizational changes have taken root, and borne the fruit that was on display today. The Mets did a great job of protecting the plate and not offering at balls.
In the end, the most important thing is that, after a long game full of disappointment, this crew hung in there in the ninth inning and didn't give a single swing away. That's an unmitigated positive.
Big winners: Kirk Nieuwenhuis +39.3%, Just Turner +30.1%, Josh Thole +15.5%, Jon Niese +10.3%
Big losers: Scott Hairston -23.7%, Daniel Murphy -13.7% (Heath Bell -80.8%)
Teh aw3s0mest play: Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled to right (Fliner (Fly)). Josh Thole scored (+34.4%)
Teh sux0rest play: 2-2Scott Hairston reached on fielder's choice to first (Grounder). Ike Davis out at home. Josh Thole advanced to 3B. Justin Turner advanced to 2B. (-17.5%)
Total pitcher WPA: 18.7%
Total batter WPA: 31.3%
GWRBI!: Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled to right (Fliner (Fly)). Josh Thole scored (+34.4%)
Nice job by Brooklyn Dodgers Mets Fan; that effort in the game thread embiggens us all.
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