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Mets use big night from Conforto, bullpen to take down Twins

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Conforto picked up four hits, while the bullpen pitched five scoreless innings in the win.

MLB: New York Mets at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For a moment in the ninth inning, it looked like the same old tired script was playing out in front of our eyes. With the New York Mets clinging to a razor-thin lead, all signs pointed to another spoiled night by the bullpen and another “what if” loss to dwell on at season’s end. With the bases loaded, two outs, and one of the Minnesota Twins’ most fearsome hitters at the plate, closer Edwin Diaz prevailed to buck the trend and cap off an improbable performance from one of baseball’s most maligned bullpens.

The Mets jumped out to an two-run lead in the first inning thanks to some suspect defense by the first-place Twins. Jeff McNeil floated a single to right-center field on the very first pitch he saw, which has become a calling card of the National League’s batting leader. Michael Conforto, who has endured a brutal 9-for-54 stretch over his last 16 games, picked up the first of his four hits on the evening to advance McNeil and give the team their first two baserunners. Pete Alonso, who has also been slumping, couldn’t get either runner home as he struck out on a breaking ball that was low and away.

At this point, the Twins’ defensive miscues began in earnest. Jason Castro couldn’t handle a Michael Pineda pitch that went for a passed ball, which moved McNeil and Conforto up one base. Robinson Cano proceeded to drive McNeil in on a sacrifice fly to center field that was realistically shallow enough for Cron to throw McNeil out at home. However, a poor throw that barely made it to second base allowed McNeil to cross the plate safely. With Wilson Ramos at the plate, Pineda then threw a wild pitch, which allowed Conforto to waltz safely into third and directly led to the team’s second run to score when Ramos reached on a routine ground ball that Jonathan Schoop booted for an error. Dominic Smith was retired for the third out, but the Twins’ defense had done its part to help the Mets.

After a brief stint in the bullpen, Steven Matz made his first start since June 29. Limited to just 75 pitches due to the irregular schedule, Matz managed to pitch a scoreless first inning after allowing two earned runs in each of his last three first innings. For a pitcher who owned an unsightly 11.40 ERA in first innings this season, the scoreless opening frame was a welcome sight for his club. Matz equaled this feat in the second, although he had to work around a one-out opposite field double by C.J. Cron.

The Twins, who entered with a league-leading 171 home runs, used the long ball to break through in the third off Matz. Schoop made up for his error with an opposite field home run that just cleared the tall right field wall at Target Fiel and landed in the flower beds. Matz was able to escape the inning with a lead, thanks in large part to Conforto’s contributions in the field. After Marwin Gonzalez singled on a liner up the middle, Nelson Cruz walloped a Matz offering to center field that appeared destined for the gap. Conforto had other ideas, as he scooted over to the center field wall and leaped into the padding to catch the ball and end the inning.

In the fourth, an Eddie Rosario single and a Cron double put runners in scoring position, and the tying run came across to score on a Max Kepler ground out. The inning, and Matz’s evening, ended with Ramos gunning down Schoop while trying to steal second base. After losing the lead, the Mets gained it right back in the top of the fifth. Amed Rosario roped a one-out double down the left field line, and moved up on another wild pitch from Pineda. With two outs, Cano softly tapped a single past Twins’ third baseman Miguel Sano to bring Rosario home with what turned out to be the deciding run.

After an exhausting third and fourth inning, and with the aforementioned 75-pitch limit imposed by Mickey Callaway, Matz’s night was done after his fourth innings. With the lead, the team was relying on their unreliable bullpen for at least 15 outs, and the relievers were up to the task. Robert Gsellman was the first to enter despite pitching two innings on Sunday against the Miami Marlins. Gsellman got off to a rocky start after walking Castro and hitting Jorge Polanco with a pitch. The right-hander benefited from a well-placed and well-timed double play off the bat of Gonzalez, who hit a soft liner right to Alonso. The first baseman easily handled the play and stepped on first to complete the double play. After walking Cruz, Luis Avilan stepped in to finish the fifth.

While the offense was done scoring for the night, the bullpen continued to work towards getting the team the victory. Avilan and Jeurys Familia combined for a scoreless sixth, while left-hander Justin Wilson pitched a tidy 1-2-3 seventh inning. Seth Lugo continued his recent run of dominance as he overpowered the Twins in the eighth with two strikeouts while overcoming a Rosario single.

With a win in their sights, the team turned to Edwin Diaz to close things out. Like he has done so often this season, Diaz made things far more interesting than they needed to be. After striking out Sano to kick things off, Diaz walked pinch hitter Luis Arraez, who stepped in for an injured Schoop. A Mitch Garver single followed, which put the tying and go-ahead runs on base.

After retiring Polanco, Gonzalez tapped an infield single that Todd Frazier put in his pocket to load the bases. Cruz strode to the plate with a chance to end the Mets’ hopes of coming away with a bullpen-aided win, and the imposing slugger worked the count to 3-2. Diaz finally retired Cruz on a foul out to Frazier, which sealed the team’s third consecutive victory.

Against all odds, the Mets held the offensively-potent Twins to one home run and two runs total on the evening. They will look for a repeat performance tomorrow afternoon, as they send Jason Vargas to the mound in the series finale.

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What’s WPA?

Big winners: Michael Conforto, 28.5% WPA, Edwin Diaz, 21.1% WPA, Seth Lugo, 14.7% WPA, Luis Avilan, 11.3% WPA, Justin Wilson, 11.1% WPA
Big losers: Robinson Cano, -18.3% WPA, Pete Alonso, -10.3% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: 62.5
Total batter WPA: -12.5
Teh aw3s0mest play: Michael Conforto fifth inning run-scoring single, 12.2% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: C.J. Cron double in the fourth, -13.4% WPA