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Mets end 2019 season with an optimistic walk-off

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The Mets’ flaws were on display, but their strengths shone brighter in Game 162.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After their chances of winning dipped to 0.8% and a depressing close to a frustrating season looked unavoidable, the Mets came through one last time, topping the Braves 7-6 to close out the season in stunning fashion. Dominic Smith was the obvious hero, but Sunday’s win featured great moments from Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Davis, Pete Alonso, and others. Even with (and perhaps because of) the warts in the bullpen, this was an extremely fitting and satisfying finish to the 2019 season.

The Braves got to Noah Syndergaard early, scoring in the top of the first with a double from Dansby Swanson and a single from Adeiny Hechavarria, but the deficit wouldn’t last long. Singles from Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto set the stage for Robinson Cano, who tied the game with a sacrifice fly. J.D. Davis followed promptly with a two-run home run, and the Mets had built Syndergaard a 3-1 lead.

Thor held that lead for two innings, but eventually buckled. With two outs in the top of the fourth, a single from Matt Joyce brought Rafael Ortega to the plate. The light hitting Ortega, playing in place of the injured Ronald Acuna, absolutely demolished a middle-middle fastball, depositing it into the seats in front of the Shea Bridge. The game was once again tied at three.

Aside from that blemish, Syndergaard’s outing was quite good. He struck out eight of the final thirteen batters he faced, including three in the top of the seventh after a leadoff walk. He closed out his season with seven innings of three run ball, striking out nine and allowing five hits and a pair of walks. His ERA for the season (4.28) is certainly disappointing, but every advanced statistic - be it FIP, WAR, DRA, or WARP - all agree that Syndergaard is a top-20 arm. Hopefully the Mets focus on maximizing his talents this offseason rather than trading him at a low point out of frustration.

The Mets offense, meanwhile, had gone ice cold. After Todd Frazier was thrown out at the plate in the second inning, the Mets didn’t really put together a significant threat until extras (spoiler alert). Some substitutions - reasonable on the last day of the season - didn’t help, as Luis Guillorme, Joe Panik, and Sam Haggerty replaced Frazier, Robinson Cano, and Brandon Nimmo respectively, leading to a weakened lineup as the game remained tied in the late innings.

Or so one would think. The light hitting Joe Panik, of all people, looked to be the hero in this game, yanking his fifth home run of the season down the right field line with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. He seemed to set the stage both for Paul Sewald to win his second consecutive decision after dropping the first 14 of his career and for the Mets to complete a sweep of the Braves to close out their season. But it was not to be.

With Seth Lugo and Edwin Diaz done for the year, Sewald returned to the mound for the top of the ninth. He didn’t even make it one batter in without blowing the lead. Adeiny Hechavarria, scorned by the Mets earlier this season, ripped a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth. The 2019 Mets just weren’t ready to stop playing just yet, and after they went in order in the bottom half, the game went to extras.

Both sides squandered opportunities in the tenth, and the Mets seemed to short circuit a Braves scoring chance in the eleventh when Billy Hamilton was thrown out on a pitch out. Instead, Hechavarria struck again. This time, Walker Lockett was victimized, as Hech deposited a hanging curveball into the second deck in left field. Adam Duvall followed with a home run of his own, and two more Braves singled after that. Chris Mazza came in to douse the fire by inducing a double play on his first pitch, but the Braves had a 6-4 lead.

Honestly, this didn’t seem an inappropriate way for the Mets season to end. In many ways, this game encapsulated the team as a whole; the starting pitching was somewhere between good and great, the offense was solid, but the bullpen always found a way to muck things up just enough. The lack of organizational pitching depth had repeatedly bitten the Mets throughout the year, and losing the final game because two pitchers who don’t belong in the majors gave up home runs was just par for the course.

Conversely, forget all of that, because winning is more fun. With their backs against the wall and nothing to lose, the Mets would not go down quietly. Luis Guillorme singled leading off the bottom of the eleventh, and after Tomas Nido struck out, Wilson Ramos singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Rene Rivera couldn’t get the job done, however, which left Dominic Smith. Dom Smith, who hadn’t had a plate appearance since July due to a stress reaction in his foot. Dom Smith, who didn’t enter the game until the tenth, and only did so then so that Pete Alonso could get a chance to walk off the field to a standing ovation. Dom Smith, who apparently warranted a pitching change to a lefty specialist by Braves manager Brian Snitker.

That same Dom Smith blasted the second pitch he saw from Grant Dayton over the right-center field wall for a walkoff, three-run home run. It was just about the most stupendous way a non-playoff bound team could end their season, and it came from one of the most unlikely sources on the team. Dom’s fit with this roster remains difficult, and he may very well be on the move this offseason, but he’s been nothing but pleasant as a major leaguer and he decided to generate one final glorious moment on the last day of the season.

The win sets the Mets’ season record at 86-76, ten games over for a team that once seemed destined for a top-5 draft pick. They also finished out the season with a sweep of the Braves (albeit a Braves team not playing two of its best players), and probably should’ve finished a game or two better according to most of the adjusted standings models. This team certainly has flaws, but they are fixable, and the young core they’ve assembled is exciting and excellent. That should be enough to draw you back in for another offseason of optimism, despite all the pain this team has caused you. We are Met fans after all.

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What’s WPA?

Big winners: Dom Smith, +92.0% WPA; Joe Panik, +53.3% WPA; J.D. Davis, +17.4% WPA; Ty Bashlor, +12.1% WPA
Big losers: Walker Lockett, -44.8% WPA; Paul Sewald, -20.6% WPA; Rajai Daivs, -18.9% WPA; Tomas Nido, -17.5% WPA; Amed Rosario, -17.2% WPA; Pete Alonso, -11.5% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: -40.7% WPA
Total batter WPA: +90.7% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Dom Smith hits a three-run walkoff home run in the eleventh, +92.0% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Adeiny Hechavarria puts the Braves ahead with an eleventh inning home run, -39.7% WPA