Even if he wasn't watching today's Mets-Rays contest, Rickey Henderson was probably smiling somewhere when Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit the second pitch of today's game over the right field fence. Nieuwenhuis may never match Rickey's all-time record of 81 leadoff home runs, but his opening dinger put the Mets on the path towards completing a three-game sweep in Tampa-St. Sweepersburg. He further bolstered his burgeoning Rookie of the Year campaign with a tie-breaking two-run home run in the fourth inning. It gave the Mets a 6-4 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
Jason Bay joined Nieuwenhuis in the Bombs Away Club, hitting a solo home run in the second inning. It was the first sign of life Bay has shown since coming off the disabled list. Keith Hernandez commented "maybe this will get him going," a line he has said following each Bay home run since 2010. Who knows, maybe it will get him going. It better, considering the upcoming
logjam in the Mets outfield post-DH fight for playing time in the Mets outfield.
Lucas Duda struck the other big blow in the game, a two-run double in the fourth inning to make the score 8-4, chasing ineffective Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. David Wright reach based four times and Ike Davis three times to further bolster the offense.
For the second start in a row, Johan Santana's best stuff eluded him. His velocity wasn't terrific, and he uncharacteristically had trouble with his control. Just 51 of his 96 pitches went for strikes. That translates to 53%, below his season rate of 63%. He was pulled with no outs in the sixth inning and the bases loaded, finishing with four runs allowed on six hits. It might have been a few more runs if not for Jon Rauch's terrific relief work. Rauch entered in a tough spot but retired all three Rays he faced, two of them on strikeouts. It was a high-leverage spot and he acquitted himself nicely. Bobby Parnell and Tim Byrdak did as well, pitching clean frames in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Miguel Batista couldn't do the same in the ninth.
After recording the first out on a grounder to Wright, Batista allowed a walk and two singles. Terry Collins saw enough and went to Frank Francisco. The stress didn't end, as Omar Quintanilla tried to step on second base to force out Desmond Jennings on a Carlos Pena ground ball instead of taking the sure out at first base. A run scored on the play, making the score 9-6 with the heart of the Rays' lineup looming. Francisco locked it down though, striking out Gary Cohen's least-favorite player B.J. Upton, walking Hideki Matsui, and striking out Ben Zobrist on a check-swing to finish it.
Some bullet thoughts:
- The Mets are now +1 in run differential on the season. Hooray. Now it's okay for them to have a winning record. In all seriousness, I feel like discussion of the topic over the last month was frequently misguided. In the short term, run differential and win-loss record will fluctuate, sometimes wildly, much like the disparity between a pitchers ERA and defense-independent pitching statistics. However, in the long run, balance out these things generally will. It's so intuitive: the greater a team's run differential, the greater its chance of winning ballgames. Tim McCarver tells us that every Saturday.
Two Mets batters are in the top ten in the National League in pitchers-per-plate-appearance. Can you guess who? Scroll down for the answer and here's a hint: Wright is not one of them:
It's Nieuwenhuis and Duda! Making pitchers work hard should remain something desired for as long as baseball is played. Knock out David Price in the sixth inning and you get to face pitchers not as good as David Price!
- There was nothing wrong with bringing in Batista to pitch the ninth inning today. The Mets were up five runs. It was an extremely low-leverage situation, and if Batista must be on the roster then that is one situation in which he should pitch. The others are: long relief, emergency start, and last game of the season when a shutout is needed.
- Josh Thole has struggled since returning from injury on June 1st. Since then, he's just 10-for-42 with two walks and one extra-base hit, the double he hit today. Concussions are no joke, so Thole receives a free pass for a bit. But given Mike Nickeas' production, let's hope Thole can regain his stroke to give the Mets some production from the catcher spot.
The Mets return home for a three-game weekend set against the first-place Cincinnati Reds. Friday's pitching matchup is Dillon Gee vs. Bronson Arroyo.
Big winners: Kirk Nieuwenhuis +33%, Jon Rauch +20%
Big losers: Johan Santana -48%, Daniel Murphy -5%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Kirk Nieuwenhuis two-run home run in the fourth inning +26%
Teh sux0rest play: Matt Joyce two-run double in the third inning +24%
Total pitcher WPA: -23%
Total batter WPA: +73%
GWRBI!: Lucas Duda two-run double in the fourth inning