Every team's manager sucks at strategy. They make nonsensical lineups. They bunt too often. They use inferior relievers in big spots. This is the reality of Major League Baseball, where most managers are former players uninterested in sabermetrics, uninterested in searching for evidence to support their decisions. The best a fan can hope for is that the manager isn't a total rockhead. Cross your fingers for a Joe Maddon instead of a Jerry Manuel. Terry Collins is no Jerry Manuel, but tonight he did his best impression.
With the Mets up 3-0 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, Collins called on Daisuke Matsuzaka to relieve Jon Niese. This was uncontroversial; Niese was up to 108 pitches thrown over seven shutout innings and Dice-K had been serviceable in seven appearances out of the bullpen this season. However, Dice-K had nothing tonight, as he walked the first two batters he faced. The Mets' bullpen is generally bereft of good pitchers, but with Giancarlo Stanton stepping up to the plate, the time had come for Collins to make the obvious decision and remove Matsuzaka. That did not happen.
Instead, Stanton nearly decapitated Matsuzaka with a line-drive single up the middle, driving in the Marlins' first run and cutting his team's deficit to two runs. Next up was Casey McGehee, who hit a knuckling line-drive towards Omar Quintanilla at shortstop. The ball looked catchable for a big-league shortstop, but it ricocheted off Q's glove into shallow left field. It was scored an error, and the Marlins scored another run to cut it to 3-2. Amazingly, Dice-K was still in the game, and he allowed an RBI double to Jarrod Saltalamacchia that tied the score 3-3. Collins finally pulled the plug on Matsuzaka, bringing in Kyle Farnsworth with runners on second and third and no outs to attempt a miracle. And Farnsy did it.
Farnsworth induced a ground-out before intentionally walking Garett Jones to set up bases loaded with one out. Then Adeiny Hechavarria struck out and Marcell Ozuna grounded out to end the inning. Had the Mets won this game, Farnsworth's effort would have stood out, and maybe even garnered a New York tabloid sports section front page. The Mets lost though, so it will (might?) be Dice-K on the front page.
The Mets managed a baserunner in the top of the ninth inning when Lucas Duda walked with one out. Hopes of taking the lead were hilariously dashed when Travis d'Arnaud and Duda executed the wrong side of a strike'em out, throw'em out double play which ended the inning. Scott Rice started the bottom half of the frame and allowed a single to Christian Yelich. He was pulled in favor of Gonzalez Germen, who almost threw to second base on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Ed Lucas but settled for the out at first base. Germen intentionally walked Stanton to face McGehee, who has been a nice surprise for the Marlins in the early going. McGehee lined an 0-2 pitch off Germen's leg, and the ball rolled far enough into right field to allow Yelich to score the game-winning run. 4-3, Mets lose.
Until Dice-K's appearance, it looked like Niese would be the hero of the game. He struck out six and walked one in seven innings, while allowing just five hits (all singles). His biggest test came in his seventh and final inning, when he allowed two straight singles to start the frame. However, he got Hechavarria to line out harmlessly to center field, and induced a ground-ball double play by Ozuna to escape the jam. For a guy who experienced shoulder problems in spring training, Niese has been fantastic. His ERA is down to 1.82 and his K/BB ratio is 30/9.
The Mets' offensive stars were Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson, who each hit a 400+ foot solo home run in the first inning off Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi. A sacrifice fly by Bobby Abreu in the fourth inning accounted for the Mets' third run. I'm still amazed that 50-year-old Bobby Abreu is on this team and getting playing time. Is this real life?
The Mets try to rebound in game two of the series on Tuesday at 7:10 pm. The pitching matchup is Bartolo Colon vs Henderson Alvarez.
SB Nation GameThreads
Big winners: Kyle Farnsworth +36.0%, Jon Niese +31.3% (as pitcher)
Big losers: Daisuke Matsuzaka -79.7%, Gonzalez Germen -30.7%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Adeiny Hechavarria strikeout in the eighth inning, +14.5%
Teh sux0rest play: Jarrod Saltalamacchia RBI double in the eighth inning, -34.9%
Total pitcher WPA: -50.8%
Total batter WPA: +0.8%
GWRBI!: Casey McGehee RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning