The tension clearly weighed across the Mets' backs today, visibly increasing with each squandered opportunity and tough call against them. The strain of laboring under a seven-game losing streak was a silent but palpable partner as the zeros on the scoreboard ran into the sixth inning. Jacob deGrom pulled his share of the weight, and now has a 1.23 ERA over his last eight starts. But the pitching has rarely been the issue lately.
No, no, the group charged with supporting their pitchers at bat and in the field is the one that has more issues than People magazine–and more easily verifiable ones. Add to that six baserunners in the first three innings that didn't score, and New York was in desperate need of a big hit. When the polarizing Wilmer Flores drove home a widely derided Michael Cuddyer from first with two outs in the sixth, the breaking of said tension was equally as visible on a deep exhale by Wilmer Flores as he coasted into third on the errant throw home.
It was like everybody in the Mets dugout knew that would be enough today. And why not, with deGrom simply amazin' on the hill. He pumped in an astounding 77 strikes on 100 pitches within a well-called game by Kevin Plawecki. They rode deGrom's four-seamer, on which he achieved an impressive 18.6% whiff rate on 59 pellets. Ron Darling noted in the broadcast that what makes deGrom especially difficult for hitters is his slow arm action until the final snap before release, which gets his fastball on top of hitters much quicker than the eye anticipates at 94-98 mph. He used his changeup sparingly but highly effectively, notching strikes on all nine of them.
Over his last eight outings, deGrom has left four runners on base that would later score off of relievers. Outside of that, opponents have scored four runs when deGrom was actually on the hill in his last 58 and 2/3 innings.
The Mets had to work doubly hard to make up for the umpiring crew's work today. The already-frustrated Mets couldn't catch a break from the men in blue early on. Plawecki laced a single in the second that looked like it should've scored Cuddyer. But coming around third, Cuddyer hesitated a half-step, which, the way things have been going for the Mets, of course cost him. The throw beat him to the plate, but he did a nifty little reach step at the last moment that may have made him safe. But home plate umpire Vic Carpazza called him out, Terry Collins challenged after Cuddyer was confident he got his foot in, and what would have been the most definitive replay was (of course) obscured by where Carpazza stood. Since where and when the tag occurred was so debatable, the out call stood after a lengthy delay. Cuddyer, who had been refreshingly affable in discussing the call with Carpazza moments before, then looked as grim as the rest of us.
The next hitter up was deGrom with runners still at first and second and now two down. He was batting eighth for a reason, and he battled to a 2-2 count. But a pitch that looked low was called strike three by Carpazza. deGrom looked briefly perturbed, but quickly hardened to get ready to get back to work on the mound.
The umps showed a similar ethic, getting right back to the work of blowing calls. Darrell Ceciliani walked with one out in the fourth, and took off for a steal attempt on a poorly executed pitchout. Replays show that second baseman Scooter Gennett's glove was a full foot-and-a-half away from Ceciliani when the runner's foot hit the bag. Umpire Larry Vanover, right on top of the play, made the wrong call with gusto. Collins, who had already burned his challenge, did the next best thing by all acounts by getting himself ejected for arguing.
While threatening to blow away the Mets' tenuous 2-0 lead in the seventh, the umps finally got it right when it mattered most. With two out and a runner on first, Shane Peterson looped what was initially ruled a ground-rule double on the left field line by umpire Ron Kulpa, creating the Brewers' biggest threat of the day with deGrom deep into his pitch count. After some hesitation, Carpazza brought the crew together and decided on an umpire-initiated challenge. The call was overturned in a mea Kulpa, and when deGrom got out of the inning unscathed two batters later, he too was allowed to release a flood of tension with a deep exhale on his way to the dugout.
Of course that last out of the seventh couldn't come without a reminder of the Mets' positional deficiencies: On a routine fly to left-center, center fielder Ceciliani (giving Juan Lagares a day off) made the catch while only barely avoiding a collision with Cuddyer, who we must remember is deaf in his left ear but challenges that handicap daily by playing left field. Ah, Mets.
That was the only play the defense looked shaky on all day, however. There were even a couple defensive highlights. Flores took a dribbler to his left and nipped Ryan Braun to end the first. Second baseman Dilson Herrera ran deep to the right field line to make a nice snag of a Braun pop-up which would have fallen fair in the seventh. Third baseman du jour Ruben Tejada combined with Herera in the eighth to make a nifty double play turn to get deGrom within one out of ending his day.
A couple other positive developments also got rolled out–Curtis Granderson continued his hot hitting with three singles, and closer Jeurys Familia looked just fine in his first appearance since tweaking his groin on July 19, striking out Braun to cap a 1-2-3 ninth and his 20th save of the year.
So the Mets have something to build on moving forwards. After days of looking like they were playing in the dark, evidently all it took was a mid-week day in the sun to turn things around. That, and defending-rookie-of-the-year-cum-Cy-Young-candidate deGrom.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winner: Jacob deGrom (pitching), +50.9% WPA; Wilmer Flores +13.0% WPA; Jeurys Familia +8.1% WPA
Big losers: Ruben Tejada, -10.0% WPA; Kevin Plawecki, -8.7% WPA; Jacob deGrom (hitting), -4.9%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Wilmer Flores' RBI double in the sixth, +20.3% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Tie: Ruben Tejada's strikeout with the bases loaded in the seventh; Scooter Gennett's leadoff single in the eighth; -7.6% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: +59.0% WPA
Total batter WPA: -9.0% WPA
GWRBI!: Wilmer Flores