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Mets bullpen bends but doesn’t break in nerve-wracking ninth inning

The Mets almost blew another game in the ninth, but they didn’t this time around.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets’ bullpen, which has wasted so many winnable games in 2019 and is as much a reason for the team’s season teetering dangerously close to the brink, was able to close out a tight game after a nerve-wracking ninth inning. Perhaps the feat is too late to save the team’s playoff chances, but if nothing else it was a nice moment of perseverance for a much-maligned group.

For the second night in a row, the Mets received the bulk of their offensive contributions from one player. Todd Frazier’s two doubles drove in all three runs that the Mets put up on the board. For the second night in a row, the Mets got a seven inning performance from their starting pitcher, with Zack Wheeler escaping numerous jams and earning a victory. However, without Seth Lugo, the final two innings were not nearly as clean and stress-free as the eighth and ninth on Monday night, when the team’s new closer cruised through the two frames while picking up four strikeouts. In the end, all’s well that end’s well, and the result was the same.

The Arizona Diamondbacks struck immediately off Wheeler, who flirted with danger in six of his seven innings. In the first, MVP candidate Ketel Marte led things off with a single and stole second later on in the frame. Eduardo Escobar, who is having a tremendous season as well, drove his teammate home with a single through the left side. Wheeler recovered to strike out Christian Walker and Josh Rojas to end his first inning at 20 pitches.

New York failed to score in the first but evened things up in the second. Robinson Cano got things started with a single and advanced to second base following an Amed Rosario walk. After Brandon Nimmo struck out on three consecutive fastballs, Todd Frazier roped a double down the left field line that brought Cano home. Rosario scored behind Cano, but replays made it seem like the tag caught him prior to his hand touching home plate. Arizona challenged, but with a lack of conclusive evidence, the call was upheld to the Mets’ benefit.

Things were never quite so easy for Wheeler on the night. After working out a 1-2-3 second, he allowed a double in the third, three singles in the fourth, a walk in the fifth, another walk in the sixth, and a single in the seventh. Despite the constant traffic on the base paths, Wheeler held the Diamondbacks off the board following the first inning. He used double plays in fourth and fifth inning to side-step the problems. He finished the night with seven strikeouts and two walks while allowing seven hits. While it was far from his best performance of the year, pitching into the seventh allowed Mickey Callaway to hold off on going to his bullpen with Lugo unavailable.

On offense, the Mets struggled to touch rookie hurler Zac Gallen. The right-hander, who arrived at the trade deadline in a deal with the Miami Marlins, had not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous 13 major league starts. Despite taking the loss. he kept that streak in-tact and now sits four behind the major league record. He became the first pitcher to strike out Jeff McNeil three times in the same game, and also punched out Pete Alonso on three separate occasions. Alonso was also retired in the eighth and saw his single-season franchise-record streak of reaching base in 34 consecutive games come to an end one night after setting the mark.

The Mets tacked on what turned out to be a huge insurance run in the fourth, although this play again came with some replay-related controversy. Cano again proved to be the catalyst by starting the inning off with a double. Nimmo then worked out a walk, which accounted for his 11th free pass in his first 26 plate appearances since returning from the injured list. Frazier followed with a run-scoring double, although Nimmo was gunned down at the plate. Replay again appeared to show the outfielder’s hand sneaking in before the tag, but the umpired conferred and confirmed the call, costing the Mets the ability to challenge again in the game.

With Wheeler completing his evening by getting Marte to fly out, the Mets turned things over to their bullpen. As previously mentioned, Lugo was unavailable, which forced Callaway to go to Brad Brach in the eighth inning. Brach got Flores to ground out, but Escobar hit his 34th home run of the season to cut the Mets’ lead to one run. After a Walker flyout, Callaway called on Justin Wilson to ideally record the final four outs and close out the win. Things didn’t go so smoothly for Wilson, who issued a walk to the left-handed Rojas. Adam Jones was up next and battled with Wilson over the course of a ten-pitch at-bat, but the left-hander bested Jones to end the inning.

With the eighth over, Callaway had Edwin Diaz warming up but seemed determined to let the shaky but more trustworthy Wilson finish things off. With his pitch count already approaching 20, Wilson started the ninth by giving up a single to Nick Ahmed. He got Carson Kelly out, but pinch-hitter Kevin Cron hit another single to put runners on the corners with one out. Marte stepped up next and lined a ball to Alonso that resulted in a wacky and nearly catastrophic play. The ball fell and Alonso stepped on first, but Cron then broke for second. Instead of getting Cron in a rundown to end the game, Alonso threw to third, where Ahmed dove back safely, which also allowed Cron to reach second.

The misplay put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position and brought Flores up to the plate. Any Mets fan could recite the countless times the former Met walk-off king had come through in a late-game situation at Citi Field, so the Mets were left in a precarious situation with a left-handed pitcher facing a right-handed batter who has a flare for the dramatic late in baseball games. Thankfully, Wilson was able to dig deep and strike out the former Met to shut the door on Arizona’s comeback.

With the win, the Mets made it two in a row against Arizona and three out of five on this homestand. With the Chicago Cubs losing in extra innings to the San Diego Padres late last night, the Mets drew one game closer to the NL Wild Card leaders. They are now three games off the pace with 18 games to go. The Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies both held on to win their games, so they did not gain ground on either of them. They will try to make it a third straight win as they turn to Steven Matz on Wednesday night.

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Win Probability Added

What’s WPA?

Big winners: Todd Frazier, 33.6% WPA, Zack Wheeler, 25.7% WPA, Justin Wilson, 16.8% WPA
Big losers: None!
Total pitcher WPA: 39.7% WPA
Total batter WPA: 10.3% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Todd Frazier second inning double, 21.5% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Kevin Cron single in the ninth inning, -15.4% WPA