Last night at Nationals Park, everything broke the Mets' way. The Nats bent Zack Wheeler but couldn't break him and were undone by a few weird, unlucky incidents in the field. The Mets made some amazing plays, gunned down runners at the plate, and tacked on late to put the game away. Usually, when the Mets play in our nation's capital, the exact opposite happens.
Call Tuesday evening the exception that proves the rule: When the Mets are in DC, strange things befall them. No other explanation would suffice for the appearance of two Jon Niese's on the mound in one game.
The Jon Niese seen in the first inning didn't care that the Nats were swinging early and often, and even obliged them by throwing far too many pitches right down the pipe. His trouble began with a one-out double by Anthony Rendon, who scored two pitches later on a Jayson Werth single. Then, Adam LaRoche knocked a fat fastball into the right field stands for a two run blast. Though Niese gave up no more runs in the frame, he showed some more lack of focus when he failed to cover the bag on a Bryce Harper grounder to first. Duda hustled to narrowly beat Harper, who inexplicably slid into first base. It's a dumb move for any runner, but Harper of all people should know the dangers of sliding headfirst.
The Jon Niese seen after the first had a much better understanding of opposing batters and was adept at keeping them off balance. First, he set down Washington 1-2-3 in the bottom of the second. He allowed a leadoff single to Denard Span in the third, but neutralized him by inducing a GIDP from Rendon, and worked around a two-out walk of Werth. In the fourth, he gave up a one-out single to Harper but nought else, and a two-out Rendon double in the fifth proved similarly harmless.
This second Niese was a crafty, quality pitcher, and might have warranted a better fate had he not been preceded by the first Niese, or invited him to return (more later). But even if the Mets' pitcher had been on his game from pitch one, his teammates would still have to do something against Doug Fister, which they proved themselves incapable of doing all evening.
Fister set down the Mets in order in the first on a pitch count that felt like negative-ten. After Duda collected the Mets' first hit to start the second, Travis d'Arnaud smashed a ball down the left field line. Last night, the way the Mets' luck broke, it might have gone for a double. Tonight, it bounced right into Rendon's glove and wound up a 5-4-3 double play.
The third passed without incident, and though the Mets strung together a pair of two-out singles in the fourth, d'Arnaud ground out to second to end the inning. The fifth brought another three-up-three-down inning.The sixth offered some promise when Curtis Granderson bunted his way on and Murphy singled with one out, but Fister saved his own bacon by getting a double play grounder off the bat of David Wright. All along the way, Mets batters continued to grumble about a certain pitch location—down and in to lefties, low and away to righties—that home plate ump Larry Vanover called a strike. Had they done as much adjusting to that pitch as they did complaining about it, they might have fared better at the plate.
With the Mets' batters intent on wasting chances and griping their way out of at bats, the first Jon Niese reemerged in the bottom of the sixth to salt the game away. It began when Ian Desmond lined the first pitch he saw into center, then stole second as d'Arnaud almost airmailed a throw into the outfield. Niese The First then walked Harper, who'd previously looked lost at the plate and showed up the home plate ump (unintentionally or not) by slowly walking to first on a borderline pitch that was called strike two before walking back just as slowly. The next batter, Danny Espinosa, had shown no ability to catch up to Niese's fastball in his previous at bats, so Niese charitably offered him an 81 mph changeup. Espinosa said "thank you kindly" by smacking it over the left field fence for a three-run homer.
For an eerie bit of symmetry, Niese #1 ended his final inning the same way he ended the first, by failing to cover the bag on a grounder to first. Apart from not being a very good pitcher, that first Niese needs to work on his fundies.
Now six runs in arrears, the Mets went down in order in the seventh. Fister's magic waned a bit in the eighth, as Juan Lagares started off the inning with a bloop single, and Ruben Tejada reached safely when Rendon mishandled another screamer hit his way and fired an errant throw to second. After Fister fanned pinch hitter Eric Campbell, he gave way to Matt Thornton. The Nats' newest southpaw got Granderson to fly out before giving up a bleeder to Murphy that drove in Lagares, thus allowing the Mets to at least avoid the indignity of being shut out. Wright ground out weakly to dismiss this whisper of a threat.
Buddy Carlyle was the first man out of the Mets' bullpen and pitched a perfect seventh. Carlos Torres was less effective, surrendering a leadoff solo shot to straightaway center off the bat of LaRoche, a home run that seemed to annoy Ron Darling on SNY far more than it did Torres or any other Met. (Ron seemed to think the Mets shouldn't let the Nats feel so comfortable at the plate, or something.)
The Mets could only cobble together a one-out single from d'Arnaud in the ninth against Ross Detwiler. That set up a rubber game matinee tomorrow between Jacob de Grom and Jordan Zimmerman. Regardless of the outcome, let's hope the Mets designate that First Niese guy for assignment before they head for Philly.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Lucas Duda, 4.9%; Daniel Murphy, 2.1%
Big losers: Jon Niese, -23.3%; Travis d'Arnaud, -10.7%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Daniel Murphy single, top sixth, 4.2%
Teh sux0rest play: Adam LaRoche two-run homer, bottom first, -15.5%
Total pitcher WPA: -23.3%
Total batter WPA: -26.7%
GWRBI!: Adam LaRoche two-run homer, bottom first