The Mets had the Braves right where they wanted them over the first eight innings of this afternoon’s game.
Steven Matz followed up a terrific Jacob deGrom start with one of his own, and while the offense still wasn’t producing, it had done more than Atlanta’s offense had to that point. That, plus another solid showing from the bullpen gave the Mets good vibes heading into the ninth, but all of that evaporated the moment Marcell Ozuna connected with Edwin Diaz’s fastball and sent it over the right field wall. It was all downhill from there for New York, who suffered their first defeat in this shortened 60-game season.
Matz, who in spring training 1.0 was fighting for a spot in the starting rotation on a team with an abundance of pitching depth—a debatable fact, for sure—got the ball as the team’s number two starter and was impressive over six stellar innings. His first inning was especially noteworthy for a guy who posted a 6.21 ERA in first innings last year. After tinkering with his curveball over the offseason, he was throwing it much harder and much more effectively early on.
After working around a Jeff McNeil first inning error by inducing a ground ball double play off the bat of Freddie Freeman, Matz struck out Marcell Ozuna to begin the second inning. Adam Duvall then stepped to the plate and deposited a 1-2 curveball into the right field stands for the only blemish on the afternoon against the Long Island lefty. The home run was notable not only because it represented the only Atlanta run through eight innings, but because it struck a cardboard cutout of Willow McNeil, which was hanging out alongside cutouts of Michael Conforto’s adorable dogs, Griffey and Kali. This act of aggression did not go unnoticed on Mets Twitter or by the Mets’ booth, which delved into an entertaining segment on the history of those canine cutouts.
The rest of the afternoon was smooth sailing for Steven, who allowed only two hits and the one run while walking one and striking out seven. While his curve didn’t look as consistent as it did in the first, he was still able to use it effectively alongside his change-up and his fastball. For a guy who figures to be the team’s go-to starter behind deGrom for the foreseeable future, it was definitely an encouraging development.
On offense, the team scuffled much like they did in the season’s opening game. Guys were swinging through fastballs and looking overmatched against pitchers whom they typically would not struggle against, which may be attributed to the quick ramp up leading up to this season. The lineup, which looked different than it did on Opening Day as a result of facing the left-handed Max Fried, did not manage a hit through four innings, despite the fact Fried did not look entirely comfortable on the mound and had gone to three-ball counts on several hitters.
The Mets finally broke through with one out in the fifth, as it was, ironically, the left-handed hitting Conforto who stroked a double into the gap in left field Conforto, who was hitting seventh due to a left-hander pitching for Atlanta, was the offensive star for New York on the afternoon with three hits and a walk in four plate appearances.. Amed Rosario, who had seven of the team’s 17 triples in 2019, immediately brought him home with a triple to right-center field, which knotted the game up at one. The Mets, who led all of baseball with 95 hit-by-pitches in 2019, had their first of 2019, as Brandon Nimmo took one off his hand to put runners at the corners. McNeil, in a bit of revenge for Duvall’s homer rudely hitting his dog’s cutout, drove home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to left.
After Matz struck out the side in the sixth to complete his afternoon, Jeurys Familia came on to start the seventh and was splendid in his first appearance of 2020. He needed just nine pitches to dispense of Freeman, Ozuna, and Duvall on two ground outs and a foul pop up. The Mets threatened to extend their lead in the bottom half of the frame after Wilson Ramos and Conforto hit back-to-back singles to start things off. Curiously, Luis Rojas did not elect to pinch run for Ramos to get more speed on the base paths, despite having three catchers on his bench. It didn’t end up mattering, as Rosario grounded out and Nimmo and McNeil struck out to extinguish the scoring chance.
As he did on Opening Day, Rojas immediately switched to a defensive-minded alignment to start the eighth in the efforts of securing the victory. Jake Marisnick once again took over in center, with Nimmo moving to left to take over for J.D. Davis. Robinson Cano also exited the game in favor of Andres Gimenez. Meanwhile, Dellin Betances made his Mets debut in the eighth and promptly struck out Swanson to begin his tenure for the club. After a Johan Camargo grounder, he allowed a single to Austin Riley, which resulted in Rojas swapping Betances for Justin Wilson after the Braves announced Matt Adams as the pinch hitter. The left-hander surrendered a single to Adams, but he struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. to end the inning.
After an uneventful bottom of the eighth, Diaz entered in the ninth against the same batters he faced on Friday. He struck out Ozzie Albies and got Freeman to fly out to quickly put two outs on the board. After Ozuna worked a full count on Diaz, the Mets’ closer threw a 98mph fastball off the plate that Ozuna took to the opposite field and deposited into the bullpen. It was a frustrating result, especially since Diaz was hitting his spots and looked fairly good to that point. Following the game, Rojas did not express concern and noted that Diaz was throwing the ball well.
The Mets failed to score in the ninth, which gave us our first look at MLB’s absurd new rule of starting extra innings with a runner on second. That, combined with the team going to Hunter Strickland, was a perfect storm that sunk the Mets. Strickland, in his first appearance for New York, immediately allowed a single to Swanson to give Atlanta their second lead of the game—it’s worth noting that this run will count as “unearned” once it crosses the plate. After that, Camargo singled to put runners on the corners. An Ender Inciarte ground out drove Swanson home, and William Contreras doubled on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues to give Atlanta a three-run lead. That, mercifully, was the end of Strickland’s outing, as Rojas pulled him in favor of Drew Smith, who retired Acuna Jr. and Albies to end the inning.
The Mets put together a rally of their own in the tenth, as Jake Marisnick and Pete Alonso singled to load the bases off the bat. Eduardo Nunez followed with a shallow pop up to center field which could not score the bonus runner McNeil from third. Dominic Smith pinch hit and drove him home with a sacrifice fly, but Ramos grounded out to put an end to the game. In a 60-game season, brutal losses like this are extra hard to swallow.
The Mets will look to rebound and earn a series victory on Sunday against their long-time rivals as Rick Porcello makes his New York debut. He will go up against Sean Newcomb on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Amed Rosario, 22.0% WPA
Big Mets loser: Hunter Strickland, -47.3% WPA
Mets pitchers: -26.8% WPA
Mets hitters: -23.2% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Amed Rosario run-scoring triple in the seventh, 20.5% WPA.
Teh sux0rest play: Dansby Swanson run-scoring single in the tenth, -36.9% WPA.