There was an interesting pitching matchup on the menu today at Citi Field with Rafael Montero, still searching for his first big league win, opposite Jake Arrieta, in the midst of a tremendous campaign and looking for more of the same. Both pitchers were outstanding, but it was the bullpen which played the decisive role in this one that saw the Cubs come out ahead of the Mets by a final score of 2-1.
The Mets lineup was significantly altered for today's matinee. David Wright took a pitch off the shoulder last night and was given what will hopefully be no more than a maintenance day with Eric Campbell replacing him at the hot corner. Wilmer Flores, who had started the previous ten games, got a rest with Ruben Tejada filling in for him at shortstop. Travis d'Arnaud also received a day off today giving backup catcher Anthony Recker a start. Terry Collins decided to move Murphy out of his customary two-hole into the third spot and rewarded Juan Lagares for his recent resurgence at the plate and moving him up in the order to second. The Mets were fielding several second choice players and it did them no service today against Jake Arrieta who was at his absolute best.
The Mets saw Arrieta once before this season, back in their early June visit to Wrigley Field. They really made him labor and chased him from the game before the fifth inning came to a close, but were only able to plate a single run against him on that day. That was one more run than they could manage off of him today, however. Arrieta completely shut down the Mets lineup in his seven innings of work. He had all of his stuff working, especially his curveball that was especially devastating against the Mets hitters. He allowed just two singles, two walks, no runs, and tallied nine strikeouts. Arrieta struck out the side in the second and fourth innings and looked the business all afternoon. With his disastrous tenure as a Baltimore Oriole firmly in his rear view mirror, he continues to revitalize his career as a Cub.
The Mets best run scoring opportunity against Arrieta came in the third inning and it looked as though they were going to make the Cubs pay after some shaky defense. Tejada led off the third inning by lining a single into center field. Tejada then advanced to second after a passed ball, but Montero was unable to advance him to third as he popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt to the catcher. Curtis Granderson then hit a grounder straight to Anthony Rizzo, but Rizzo casually threw to a covering Arrieta and it went astray, and earned himself his ninth error of the year. With runners on the corners and one out, Juan Lagares hit a sharp ground ball up the middle but Starlin Castro, who was both a thorn in the Mets side and the dagger in their hearts today, was there with a very slick backhanded grab and flick on to start the double play allowing Arrieta to wriggle out of the jam keeping the game tied at zero.
The Cubs got on the board with a run in the fourth as it was Montero who blinked first. Javier Baez drew his first major league walk and was able to advance to second base after a one out nubber out over the plate by Castro. With two outs, Luis Valbuena, who entered today on a 1 for 34 skid, lined a base hit to right field which allowed Baez to score from second easily. Montero then got Arismendy Alcantara to ground out to end the inning. This would be the only run allowed from Montero on the day.
There were some very encouraging signs out of the young Montero today. He entered the game with an ERA of 6.12 and lowered it over a full point to 5.01 when Terry Collins took the ball from him in the eighth inning. His fastball velocity was sitting mostly in the 90-92 range instead of the 93-94 range which he exhibited in recent games which tells us that he is starting to feel more comfortable at the big league level. He trusted his stuff today and worked all over the strike zone. He was able to mix in the entirety of his repertoire very nicely against Chicago. He exuded confidence on the hill today and was calm, composed, and poised throughout the afternoon. He pitched well enough to earn his first win, and although it did not come to fruition for the young man, it was a very positive sign and hopefully something he will build upon heading into the stretch run. His final line: seven and one third innings, five hits (all singles), one earned run, two walks, and six strikeouts.
In the eighth inning the Cubs threatened to put the game out of reach, but the Mets bullpen did a wonderful job to keep the Cubs run total at one. Ryan Sweeney led off the inning with a single and was then pitch-run for rookie Matt 'Scrabble' Szczur. Montero got Jeff Baker to ground out, but in doing so, advanced Szczur to second base. Justin Ruggiano then pinch hit for Arrieta and earned a base on balls against Montero. With his pitch count over 100 at this point, Collins turned to Josh Edgin to face the lefty Chris Coghlan. Edgin did his job and struck out Ruggiano allowing Collins to continue to play the matchups and call upon Carlos Torres to face the right-handed Baez. Torres' very first pitch of the afternoon was a wild pitch which ran all the way to the backstop allowing both runners to advance into scoring position. With first base open, Baez drew his second walk of the game and loaded the bases bringing Rizzo up with the bases loaded. Torres dug deep, however, and rebounded with a few terrific pitches against Rizzo and got him to strikeout to end the inning. The bullpen picked Montero up with a couple of huge strikeouts and kept the Mets in the game still down just a run.
With Arrieta being pinch-hit for and finally out of the game, the Mets were able to tie up the game at one against the Cubs set-up man, Pedro Strop. Ruben Tejada managed a one out single and was pinch-run for by Eric Young. Kirk Niewenhuis, up after being put in the previous inning for Matt den Dekker on a double switch, hit a line drive to center field but saw his effort neutralized by a diving catch from Alcantara. With Granderson up at the plate Baker allowed a passed ball, and critically put Young into scoring position. After running the count full, the ice-cold Granderson delivered huge with an RBI hit into right-center field. Lagares grounded out to Castro to end the inning but the Mets finally broke through with a new lease on life.
After enjoying the tie for about three minutes, Castro led off the top of the ninth with an opposite field solo shot off of Jenrry Mejia who has fallen on some hard times recently. The Mets worked hard in the eighth to eek out that tying run and looked to shift the momentum in their favor but they were quickly deflated by the visitors. Mejia was able to get out of the inning without allowing another run but the damage was already done.
Mejia has now allowed runs in four of his eight August appearances and whether or not his recent struggles can be blamed towards the injury he is pitching through, it is a shame to see his marvelous season unravel here in August.
With the save situation back intact allowing Rick Renteria to turn to his fireballing closer Hector Rondon. Rondon came in and made quick work of the Mets in the bottom of the ninth retiring each three batters he faced in order to cue the handshake line.
It was an extremely disappointing end to the game as the Mets issued such a sense of false hope after tying it up in the eighth. The Mets were able to put a runner in scoring position on just two occasions all afternoon and did not hit an extra base hit on the afternoon. Their offense has once again fallen asleep. This marks the fourth game in a row where they have totaled just four hits and today they were not as fortunate as they had been in games one and two. The Mets will trot out Bartolo Colon to face Cubs rookie Kyle Hendricks tomorrow afternoon as they look to take three games out of four against Chicago.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Curtis Granderson, 34.5%; Rafael Montero, 14.1%
Big losers: Jenrry Mejia, -33.4%; Juan Lagares, -25.1%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Curtis Granderson RBI single, eighth inning
Teh sux0rest play: Starlin Castro solo home run, ninth inning
Total pitcher WPA: -12.2
Total batter WPA: -37.8
GWRBI!: Starlin Castro home run, ninth inning