The Mets took the field on Saturday night hoping to redeem themselves after a miserable 14-inning affair in which their bats could do nothing to support Jacob deGrom. The offense did a little bit better this time around, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the underwhelming performance by Zack Wheeler and the inability of the bullpen to keep the Braves off the board, and the result was a 9-5 loss.
Wheeler surrendered a one-out walk to Ozzie Albies in the first inning, which foreshadowed the control problems which would soon come back to haunt him, but he otherwise made it through the first frame unscathed. The Mets unfortunately went down 1-2-3 against opposing starter Max Fried to get their night at the plate started, and the Braves bats came back out in the second ready to strike. Wheeler surrendered two walks to lead-off the inning, and Francisco Cervelli—making his debut with the Braves, and playing in his first game in three months—brought them both home with a line drive double down the left field line. The new Braves catcher was thrown out trying to advance to third, and Wheeler subsequently retired the next two batters, but Atlanta had already gotten out to an early 2-0 lead.
The Mets managed their first hit of the game with a lead-off single to right off the bat of Michael Conforto. But even though he made it to third base with one out thanks to a wild pitch by Fried and a soft ground ball to first by Wilson Ramos, the Amazins could not bring him home, as J.D. Davis struck out on a half swing and Todd Frazier grounded out to third to end the inning. Wheeler subsequently struggled once again in the top of the third, as following a first-pitch ground ball to shortstop off the bat of Ronald Acuna Jr. to open the inning, Ozzie Albies hammered his 19th homer of the year to deep right field to add another run on the board for Atlanta. The Braves were not done there, however, as one batter later Josh Donaldson added a solo homer of his own—his 30th of the season—to make the score 4-0. Wheeler walked Matt Joyce on four straight pitches to add even more doubt to his ability to salvage this game, though he did get Adeiny Hechavarria to fly out to right field to end the inning. Still, it certainly looked as though this game was going to be an ugly one for the Mets.
The Amazins began to get something going in the bottom of the inning, however. Juan Lagares got things started by whacking a line drive double to right field to lead-off the inning. Wheeler then came to the plate and was inexplicably asked to bunt Lagares to third in spite of the four-run deficit that the team faced. Predictably, this strategy did not work out, as he bunted two pitches foul and then took strike three looking. Amed Rosario followed that unfortunate display with a dribbler to third that he was able to beat out, and the Mets found themselves with runners on first and third and only one out. Joe Panik came up to the plate, and he hit a ground ball to Freddie Freeman at first which by all accounts should have been an inning-ending double play. But Freeman’s throw to second was wide and low, and while Hechavarria was able to dive to catch the ball and make the one out, the run from third scored to make it a 4-1 ballgame. Pete Alonso flew out to right to end the inning, but the Mets were on the board.
The next few trips to the plate for both teams were fairly unremarkable. The Braves got two runners on in the top of the fourth thanks to a lead-off single from Cervelli and a two-out error by Rosario that allowed Acuna Jr. to reach first, but neither man was able to score. The Mets went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, and the Braves followed suit in the top of the fifth, marking the first clean inning on the night for Wheeler. The bottom of the fifth is when the Mets offense generated some genuine excitement for the first time in this series. Following a lead-off fly ball out to center field by Frazier, Lagares ripped his second straight double of the game to left-center. Wheeler subsequently grounded out to third, but then the Mets ripped two straight opposite field singles—first by Rosario to score Lagares, and then by Panik to put runners on first and second—to bring up Alonso. A wild pitch—the second of the inning—put both runners in scoring position, but it turned out the Mets didn’t need that favor, as Alonso clubbed a bomb to center field to get Citi Field roaring. It was the rookie sensation’s 41st homer of the year, which tied Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran for the Mets single-season record. More importantly, it gave the team their first lead of the series, as they went up 5-4 and seemingly got the momentum back on their side.
Unfortunately, that state of affairs did not last for long. Wheeler came on for the top of the sixth—an impressive feat, given his struggles earlier in the game—and after retiring Hechavarria on a pop-out to second to lead-off the inning, Cervelli ripped a sharp ground ball towards third that went under the glove of Frazier and down the right field line. It was ruled an error, and Cervelli found himself on second base with one out. He would quickly come around to score, as Rafael Ortega immediately brought him home with an RBI single to right field. Wheeler retired the final two batters of the inning to end his night at six innings pitched with five runs (four earned), three strikeouts, and four walks. He left the game with the score tied at 5 apiece.
Wilson Ramos lead off the bottom of the sixth inning with a single against new Braves pitcher Josh Tomlin to extend his hitting streak to 18 games, but the it was otherwise a dull inning as the next three batters were retired in order. Luis Avilan came on to replace Wheeler in the top of the seventh, and he quickly retired Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman. He then surrendered a technically unintentional but very much intentional four-pitch walk to the right-handed Josh Donaldson to bring up the superior match-up against lefty Matt Joyce. The move payed off for Avilan and the Mets, as he struck out Joyce swinging to secure a scoreless inning.
When the Mets came up in the bottom of the inning, fans were immediately treated to an old friend, as Jeff McNeil made his return from the IL to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. He wasted no time in reminding us all why he’s so special, as he clubbed the first pitch into the right-center gap for a lead-off double. But the Mets wasted this perfect opportunity to retake the lead with a series of misplays. First Mickey Callaway once again went with a no-out bunt, this time asking Rosario to lay one down instead of trying to drive McNeil home himself. He quickly fell behind 0-2, and then grounded a ball to Hechavarria at shortstop. McNeil made the boneheaded decision to try to advance to third on the ground ball, and he was easily thrown out (the Mets did challenge the call, asserting that Donaldson had not applied the tag in time, but the call stood). With Panik at the plate, the Mets then attempted a hit-and-run. The play did not work out as planned, as Panik swung and missed and Rosario was thrown out at second. The inning then concluded with a weak ground ball to shortstop, and the threat was over almost as soon as it began.
Brad Brach came on for the top of the eighth, and McNeil stayed in the game at second. The first two batters were retired fairly easily, with Hechavarria grounding out weakly to first and Cervelli striking out swinging. Just when it seemed like the Mets would be able to keep the game tied heading into the bottom of the inning, however, the Braves struck. First Ortega struck a line drive to second which just went off the glove of McNeil. Pinch hitter Billy Hamilton then followed with a single of his own to right field to put runners on first and second for Acuna Jr. On the first pitch of the at-bat, he dunked a ball into left field to bring Ortega home from second. That should have been the only run to score on the play, but J.D. Davis—entirely oblivious to the speed of Hamilton, who had made his way to third on the single—casually tossed the ball back into the infield, allowing Hamilton to break for the plate and score. With that, the Braves shockingly took a 7-5 lead.
Chris Martin came in for the Braves in the bottom of the eighth as the Mets attempted to make another comeback. Alas, they were unable to do much towards that goal against him, as save for a two-out single from Ramos that went just under the glove of a diving Albies at second, the Amazins went down silently in the inning, and we headed to the ninth. Edwin Diaz came on to try to hold the Braves’ lead to two runs, and he very quickly failed at his job, as Freddie Freeman hit a massive lead-off homer to right-center field to give Atlanta another run. He did manage to strike out Donaldson in the next at-bat, but he followed that with a walk to pinch hitter Charlie Culberson. At this point, Callaway and the Mets trainer came out to check on Diaz, who was seemingly struggling with some unknown discomfort. It was later revealed that he was dealing with right trapezoid tightness, and he left the game after having faced just those three hitter. Chris Flexen came on to replace him, and he followed Diaz’s example of failing to hold the Braves lead where it was. After getting a line-out to center off the bat of Hechavarria for the second out, Cervelli did some damage against the Mets one final time, as he socked a two-out RBI double to center to score Culberson from first and give us our final score of 9-5. Other than a two-out single to right from McNeil—who, baserunning blunder aside, had himself a productive return from the IL in the few innings he got to play last night—the ninth inning was mostly unremarkable, as Shane Greene came on to put the finishing touches on the Mets.
With the loss, the Mets remain two games back for the second wild card spot, but they are now behind the Phillies by half a game and are once again tied with the Brewers in the standings. The team will try to right the ship in the series finale this afternoon, as Steven Matz will take the mound against Dallas Keuchel.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Pete Alonso, +34.7% WPA; Jeff McNeil, +11.9% WPA
Big losers: Brad Brach, -36.4% WPA; Zack Wheeler (pitching), -34.3% WPA; J.D. Davis, -15.7% WPA; Todd Frazier, -10.8% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: -67.4% WPA
Total batter WPA: +17.4% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Pete Alonso three-run homer in the fifth inning, +41.5% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Ronald Acuna Jr.’s single in the eighth inning to score two runs, -38.5% WPA