For a depressingly long portion of Sunday afternoon, the Mets looked doomed by a rare bad outing from one of their starters and an exceptional one from their opponent. They were also outhit by the opposition by a healthy margin. But in the end, some unlikely heroes, heads-up baserunning, and head-scratchingly odd defensive positioning conspired to give the Mets their first walkoff win of the young season.
Making his Mets debut, journeyman lefty Aaron Laffey scattered four bloop hits over the first two innings, but also struck out four batters, including the unusually un-fannable Giancarlo Stanton and Juan Pierre. Prior to the third inning, Laffey wasn't getting hit hard, but he was expending a good deal of pitches, and far too many of them were fouled off. In the SNY booth, Gary Cohen professed seeing a resemblance to the departed John Maine, another Mets hurler who had trouble finishing off batters. As far as comps go, I'm sure I could think of a less auspicious one than Maine, but it would take me a while.
In the third, Laffey allowed a leadoff single to Donovan Solano, but was bailed out when Anthony Recker managed to retrieve a wild pitch and nail Solano as he tried to take second. Laffey's luck pretty much ended there. The Immortal Greg Dobbs got to him for a two-out single, then Justin Ruggiano touched him up for a long double. The Mets had a chance to nail Dobbs as he tried to score, but Recker could not handle a poor relay throw from Ruben Tejada, and the Marlins took a 1-0 lead.
Then in the fourth, Laffey walked leadoff man Adeiny Hechevarria, followed by a double down the left field line by Chris Valaika that allowed the speedy Hechevarria to score easily. Laffey retired the next two, but gave up another booming double to Solano, putting the Marlins up 3-0.
As for his opposite number, Jose Fernandez was Baseball America's #5 prospect for 2012 and hadn't pitched above A-ball prior to this afternoon. The Marlins raised many eyebrows when they announced their intention to use him as a starter at the major league level so soon. But the Marlins looked like geniuses (for once) as he carved up the Mets' batters all day and expended very little energy in the effort. With a deadly fastball and an ability to paint the corners with off-speed stuff you wouldn't expect from such a young pitcher, Fernandez already seems poised for stardom, and I am not in any way trying to reverse jinx his future by writing this. How dare you insinuate such a thing.
Fernandez retired the first ten batters he faced, and looked impressive as he fanned Ike Davis, Mike Baxter, and Lucas Duda in order in the second inning, then added two more Ks in the third. Every other pitch, it seemed, a ball was being taken out of play and deposited in the Marlins' dugout because it would no doubt be of paramount historical significance to future generations.
The Mets finally got on base when Daniel Murphy singled up the middle with one out in the fourth, but Fernandez struck out David Wright on a nasty breaking pitch immediately thereafter. He looked slightly human again when he issued a walk to Ike Davis, then corrected that error by inducing a comeback from Baxter to wriggle out of trouble.
Laffey hit The Immortal Greg Dobbs with a pitch to start the top of the fifth, then allowed yet another single to Ruggiano. After a flyout, he was mercifully removed and gave way to Greg Burke. The sidearmer allowed a single to the first batter he faced but struck out Valaika and Fernandez to escape danger. It would be the first of many instances of a Mets reliever flirting with disaster, only to rebuff it at the last minute. Burke returned in the top of the sixth to retire Miami in order, while also handing Stanton his third strikeout of the afternoon.
Fernandez cruised until one out in the bottom of the fifth, when Tejada battled him in a 9-pitch at bat (making him the first Met batter to force Fernandez to sweat all day), then bounced a single up the middle. Recker, who looked dreadful in his first at bat as he struck out on three pitches, pinballed a double into the left field corner. With Juan Pierre manning that post, Tejada was able to score all the way from first. Fernandez removed any thought of a bigger rally, however, as he fanned Marlon Byrd (double switched into the game with Burke) and induced a harmless popup from Collin Cowgill.
Mindful of young Fernandez's pitch count, the Marlins removed him after five stellar innings: 8 Ks, only 3 hits, and a single walk. This state of affairs suited the Mets just fine, as new Miami pitcher A.J. Ramos served up a solo shot to Murphy to start the bottom of the sixth, pulling the home team within one. Ramos then walked Wright, who tagged and moved to second on a long Davis fly out to (who else) Pierre. Once again, dreams of comeback were deferred, as Ramos was able to fan pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin (batting in the relocated picther's spot) and get Duda to ground out to first.
The remainder of the game was mostly a tale of squandered opportunities on both sides. Josh Edgin took the mound for the top of the seventh with an eye on dealing with Miami's lefty batters, so naturally, he walked The Immortal (Lefty) Greg Dobbs, retired the righty Ruggiano, then allowed a double to lefty Rob Brantly. To be fair, Brantly's "double" received hefty assistance from Duda, whose route to the ball took a detour through Lefrak City. Scott Atchison cleaned up Edgin's (and Duda's) mess by inducing a comebacker from Hechevarria and striking out Valaika. If you haven't seen Atchison pitch yet, he looks a lot like your dad at the exact moment he got home from work to find his favorite chair cluttered with Legos and Transformers.
In the bottom half, old friend Jon Rauch took the mound for the Marlins and walked leadoff man Tejada, who then stole second. However, Recker struck out looking on a very late (and seemingly incorrect) strike call from the home plate ump. Then Byrd struck out all on his own on a high fastball, and Cowgill popped out to extinguish the threat.
LaTroy Hawkins was given the top of the eighth inning and, to the surprise of everyone, kept the Marlins off the board. He permitted a one-out infield slap-single to Pierre, but erased him on a double play grounder from Solano. The Mets went just as quietly in the bottom half against Mike Dunn, as the lefty walked Wright with one out but struck out Davis (looking) and pinch hitter John Buck (swinging) to strand him.
Scott Rice walked two in the top of the ninth and was called for a balk by Jim Wolf after executing a pickoff move that every other lefty pitcher in the history of time has gotten away with it. Lucky for him and the Mets, a double play grounder and a comebacker were enough to put up a zero.
With the score still 3-2 in favor of Miami, Steve Cishek was called on to get the save. After Duda flew to center for the first out, Cishek came in a tiny bit too much on Tejada. The ball nicked Tejada's uniform, if that, and he trotted down to first. Pinch hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis followed with a bloop hit to shallow left center. Tejada did not get a great read on the ball, but once he did, he saw Pierre was fielding it, which was enough to permit him to move all the way to third. Nieuwenhuis, seeing the lollipopped throw, wisely moved up to second, putting the tying and winning runs in scoring position for Byrd.
At this point, Marlins manager Mike Redmond elected to play his infield in. Presumably, he wanted to cut off a runner at the plate, but this also left his team wide open to a game-winning hit. Byrd decided he would not look a gift horse in the mouth and zipped a hit down the third base line. Had the Marlins been playing back, they might have, at the very least, prevented the winning run from scoring. But they weren't, and they didn't. Byrd's hit rolled down the chalk and caromed off the tarp, which permitted both Tejada and Nieuwenhuis to score, giving the Mets their first walkoff win of the young season.
Some wins feel like they're worth more than others. Walkoff wins always have the feel of being more important than a "regular" win, no matter how silly I know that is intellectually. I personally feel like a win over the Marlins should count for 5 victories, at least spiritually. So if I'm doing the grission math correctly, a walkoff win against the Marlins should be worth 7.5 "regular" wins. Get on that one, statheads.
SB Nation Coverage
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Marlon Byrd, +35.3%, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, +33.3%
Big losers: Aaron Laffey, -17.8%, Lucas Duda, -17.4%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Marlon Byrd 2-run single, bottom ninth, +47.6%
Teh sux0rest play: Justin Ruggiano RBI double, top third, -14.3%
Total pitcher WPA: +1.8%
Total batter WPA: +48.2%
GWRBI!: Marlon Byrd 2-run single, bottom ninth