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Mets hang on for a wild win in St. Louis

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It was a nail-biter, but the Mets came out on top, defeating the Cardinals 5-4 in the series opener.

MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Vargas entered last night’s game with his rotation spot hanging in the balance. With Jacob deGrom unable to pitch today after all due to elbow soreness that will sideline him at least until next Friday, the Mets desperately need the other members of the rotation to step up. Vargas may not have been spectacular, but he gave the Mets enough to eke out a 5-4 victory in the first of a three-game set in St. Louis.

It helped that the Mets were able to pounce on Adam Wainwright early. Wainwright was dealing with traffic on the base paths every inning and the Mets hitters were able to force him to work hard in the early part of the game. With two outs in the first inning, Robinson Cano got things started with an absolute rocket of a double over the head of Jose Martinez in right field. It was the first of three hits Cano would go on to have on the night, finally beginning to look right at the plate and hitting the ball hard. Michael Conforto followed with a four-pitch walk. Cardinals pitching, especially Wainwright, seemingly wanted nothing to do with Conforto, who walked three times last night. Wilson Ramos then hit a seeing eye single up the middle to put the Mets on the board, followed by a double from J.D. Davis to make the score 2-0.

Handed an early lead, Vargas did his job to hold it. The very first batter of the game was Matt Carpenter, who reached base by bunting against the shift, stirring familiar feelings of dread, anticipating another rough start from Vargas. But Vargas retired the next three batters in a row with two strikeouts. The last out of the first was a loud fly ball out off the bat of Marcell Ozuna that was perhaps kept in the ballpark by the wind, which was blowing in last night. It was not the only such fly ball the Cardinals would hit off Vargas, but a combination of luck, improved location, and mixing in his changeup allowed Vargas to escape the big inning.

The Mets added a run in the second, thanks to a Juan Lagares single, an error by Paul DeJong, and another booming double off the bat of Cano. It was a sloppily played contest by both sides—each team committed two errors and there were several misplays as well. The Mets threatened again in the third, thanks to to one such misplay where Lagares fisted the ball on a hit and run right to Kolten Wong for what looked like it would be a double play, but Amed Rosario collided with Wong and Wong was unable to make the tag cleanly, allowing everyone to reach safely. No interference was ruled on the play, but Vargas struck out looking and Jeff McNeil grounded out to second to end the threat. It was a very rare rough night at the plate for McNeil, who went 0-for-5 on the night and left three men on base. The Mets collectively left a lot of men on base, but were able to score just enough runs needed to win.

Things got a little dicey for Vargas in the third, but he was able to keep the Cardinals off the board. Paul Goldschmidt hit a long fly ball with one out that barely stayed in the park. Paul DeJong then walked and Vargas did manage to pick him off attempting to steal a base, but Pete Alonso was unable to get the ball out of his glove in time to make the throw to second and DeJong reached second base safely. Ozuna then hit another deep fly to right center and Michael Conforto did not hear Juan Lagares calling for the ball and the two collided on the warning track, but Lagares miraculously held onto the ball and neither came out of the situation worse for wear.

The Mets put two men on to lead off the fourth inning, chasing Wainwright from the game after just 3+ innings of work. Pete Alonso worked a nice at-bat and walked and then Cano hit yet another double to start something brewing. Giovanny Gallegos came in and couldn’t hold the Mets off completely, but was able to avoid a big inning. Michael Conforto struck out looking, but then Wilson Ramos grounded out to plate the Mets’ fourth run. Gallegos walked J.D. Davis, but then struck out Rosario to end the inning.

The Cardinals’ first run came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Jose Martinez led off with a solo homer to make the score 4-1. It seemed bound to happen eventually, but luckily it happened with nobody on base. Vargas worked around a walk to get out of the rest of the inning unscathed and at around 75 pitches, he hit for himself in the top of the fifth, seemingly primed to pitch one more inning. However, it was Seth Lugo that came out to the mound for the fifth inning. After the game, Mickey Callaway said Vargas was “tired” and probably felt it best not to push his luck.

It was a worse night for Lugo on paper than it was in practice. He did very well to escape a jam in the fifth inning. Matt Carpenter led off with a double and then Paul Goldschmidt hit a grounder slowly to Alonso off the bag at first, but Lugo was too slow to get to first base, allowing everyone to reach safely with nobody out. During Paul DeJong’s at-bat, Lugo also tripped and fell awkwardly on the mound throwing a pitch, but aside from that pitch being a ball, he was no worse for wear. Lugo redeemed his earlier misplay by pouncing on a slow grounder to the third base side of the mound off the bat of DeJong to throw him out, aided by a very nice stretch from Alonso at first. Lugo then struck out the next two batters in a row to escape the jam.

The Mets added a run in the sixth, thanks to Pete Alonso’s seventh home run of the year, which he hit on a low pitch out of the zone by Ryan Helsley. As with most of Alonso’s home runs, it was a blast to dead center. This opened up a four-run lead for the Mets, making the score 5-1.

The Mets would need every bit of that lead to come out on top. Lugo was hit hard in his second inning of work. He gave up a one-out ground rule double to Dexter Fowler and then Lane Thomas, appearing in his major league debut, delivered a pinch hit two-run homer to get the Cardinals within two. Thomas was given a curtain call from the crowd at Busch Stadium. Despite giving up the two-run homer, Lugo was awarded the win by the official scorer for logging two innings of relief behind Vargas.

The Mets threatened to add an insurance run in the seventh, with J.D. Davis in scoring position, having reached on a single and advancing to second on a bunt from Juan Lagares. Dominic Smith was announced as the pinch hitter and the Cardinals removed Dominic Leone in favor of the lefty Tyler Webb, who was able to get Smith to fly out to end the threat. The Cardinals’ bullpen has been their strength so far this season and this was no exception. Aside from Alonso’s home run, they were able to hold the Mets at bay and try to make a comeback.

And try to make a comeback they did. Jeurys Familia came in to pitch the seventh and looked much more like the Familia we know and love, throwing strikes. He set down the Cardinals on just seven pitches. However, because of Vargas’ short outing, Familia was tasked with a second inning of work and things got tense for the Mets in the eighth. Familia retired his first batter, but then Yadier Molina smacked a double down the third base line to chase Familia from the game. Mickey Callaway brought in Justin Wilson to turn Dexter Fowler around to his weaker side. Fowler hit the ball hard down the third base line that seemed destined for the left field corner, but J.D. Davis made a fantastic diving stop. However, instead of putting the ball in his pocket and holding Fowler to a single, he whipped it wildly to first base, despite having no hope of getting Fowler and Molina scored on the error, pulling the Cardinals within one. Unable to collect himself after the error, Wilson threw a wild pitch that advanced Fowler to third, putting the tying run 90 feet away and then he walked Kolten Wong on four pitches to put the winning run on base.

Unable to use Edwin Diaz in the eighth, Mickey Callaway put in Robert Gsellman to face the pinch hitter Jedd Gyorko. It was a huge outing for Gsellman, who got Gyorko to pop out to second and then retired Matt Carpenter for the final king-sized out of the inning to end the threat and keep the Mets ahead.

Former Met John Gant had no trouble getting the Mets 1-2-3 in the ninth, so Edwin Diaz was tasked with protecting a one run lead to shut the door. He immediately struck out Paul Goldschmidt for the first out, portending another dominant inning. However, he was more fallible than he had been against the heart of the Phillies order. Paul DeJong hit a screaming liner to third, but Jeff McNeil—moved to third for defense—made an excellent snag for the second out. Diaz then surrendered a walk to Marcell Ozuna and a single Jose Martinez that once again put the tying run 90 feet away with the infamous Yadier Molina striding to the plate. However, Diaz got Molina to fly out to center field to secure a wild win for the Mets and notch his seventh save of the year.

With Jacob deGrom dealing with a sore elbow and having to miss his scheduled start, the Mets will call on Chris Flexen to make a spot start today to face off against Miles Mikolas this afternoon in the second game of a three-game set in St. Louis.

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What’s WPA?

Big winners: Robert Gsellman, +32.7% WPA, Edwin Diaz, +18.7% WPA, Robinson Cano, +13.9% WPA, Jason Vargas, +11.6% WPA
Big losers: Justin Wilson, -30.1% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: +33.9% WPA
Total batter WPA: +16.1% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Edwin Diaz gets Yadier Molina to fly out to center field to end the game, +19.2% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: J.D. Davis commits an error, allowing Yadier Molina to score the Cardinals’ fourth run, -16.7% WPA