The Mets came into Sunday afternoon hoping that Jason Vargas would be able to continue his recent string of success against Dakota Hudson and the Cardinals to eke out a split in this four-game series.
The game got off to a less than auspicious start. After retiring the first batter, Vargas surrendered a walk to Paul DeJong, which was immediately followed by a long two-run blast off the facing of the second deck in left field from Paul Goldschmidt. Vargas retired the following two batters without issue, but the damage was done, as the Cardinals had jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. The Met would quickly get some offense as their own, however, as Dominic Smith led off the bottom of the inning with an opposite field double and was quickly brought home by a single up the middle from J.D. Davis. Save for a walk in Robinson Cano’s first plate appearance off the IL, the Mets were unable to do any additional damage in the inning, and the teams went into the second with a 2-1 score.
Vargas got into a groove after his rough first inning, as he did not allow any baserunners in his following two innings. The Mets got a runner on third with one out in the second after Juan Lagares singled, stole second (which was originally called a caught stealing, but was overturned on a challenge), and moved to third on a fielder’s choice. They were not able to get him home, however, so they would have to wait until the third inning before they could manage to get some more runs on the board. With two outs in the inning, Cano ripped a double to right field, and he was brought home on a single up the middle by Adeiny Hechavarria. Lagares subsequently poked a single of his own to right field, and Hechavarria—who had advanced to second on the throw to home plate in the previous play—scored. Lagares was thrown out trying to advance to second, but the Mets had already secured a 3-2 lead.
Vargas immediately gave up the lead, although the fault was not entirely his. He did give up two walks to start the inning, but he subsequently induced a soft groundball right back to him off the bat of Dexter Fowler which should have been an easy double play. However, Hechavarria could not handle the throw to second base, and while it was initially ruled that he lost the ball on the transfer (and thus did record the out at second), the Cardinals challenged, and the replay review showed he never had control of the ball. Thus, all the runners were safe, and the subsequent ground ball to third off the bat of Yadier Molina which should have ended the inning instead brought home the tying run. Molina was doubled off, however, and Vargas followed that with a strikeout to limit the damage, but the game was now tied at 3.
That strikeout was unexpectedly the last batter that Vargas would face today. Batting second in the bottom of the inning, Vargas took a swing on a pitch and immediately grimaced in discomfort. While it was not immediately clear what the issue was—it was later identified as a cramp in his left calf—it was clear that something was awry, and he quickly departed from the game. Jacob deGrom pinch-hit for him and worked out a walk, but Smith hit into a double play to end the inning. Nevertheless, the larger concern was that the Mets would need to get at least five innings out of a bullpen which was already depleted.
Wilmer Font came in to replace Vargas and did his job with virtually no drama, throwing three hitless innings and thereby saving the rest of the bullpen from further strain. But the Mets could not do any damage of their own during this stretch. They did threaten in the bottom of the fifth with one-out singles from both Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, but a soft ground ball to second off the bat of Cano resulted in an inning-ending double play which ended the threat. They went down quietly in the bottom of the sixth and managed only a one-out single off the bat of Smith in the seventh.
Things finally took a turn in the top of the eighth when Chris Flexen—who the team recently made the decision to transition into a full-time reliever—came into the game. After recording the first out, Paul DeJong—who, having already gotten two homers and a game-winning hit in this series, has done a remarkable amount of damage to the Mets this weekend—came to the plate, and he crushed a homer to left field to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead.
Brooks Pounder made his Mets debut in the ninth inning. He surrendered a one-out hit to Molina but nothing more, and the team entered the bottom of the inning down by one and with the bottom of the order coming up. The Mets did have a relatively full bench that they tried to take advantage of to make things interesting, using three pinch-hitters—Jeff McNeil, Todd Frazier, and Wilson Ramos—to give themselves a chance to comeback. Alas, it did not work out; McNeil struck out, and while Frazier was able to get on-base with a single, Ramos subsequently grounded into a double play to end the game.
With the loss, the Mets fall to 34-37 on the season. The team will now begin an eleven-game road trip which begins in Atlanta tomorrow night.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Wilmer Font, 21.2% WPA; Juan Lagares, 15.4% WPA
Big losers: Chris Flexen, -22.9% WPA; Wilson Ramos, -18.6% WPA; Jason Vargas, -17.6% WPA; Robinson Cano, -15.2% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: -16.3% WPA
Total batter WPA: -33.7% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Adeiny Hechavarria RBI single in the third inning, 13.8% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Paul DeJong homer in the eighth inning, -29.5% WPA