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Mets white knuckle their way to win number one

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Mets’ baseball is back, in both the good and bad ways.

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t the most pleasant affair, but the Mets got their first win of the season Tuesday in Philadelphia, topping the Phillies 8-4. Marcus Stroman got the win with six strong innings of one-run ball, striking out only three but doing a fantastic job of keeping the ball on the ground. Dom Smith and Pete Alonso provided the first two homers of the season, but the bullpen continued to struggle, making the back third of this game a bit of a slog.

Much like in the first game, the Mets’ offense failed to start well against a pitcher they should probably dominate: Chase Anderson. Aside from a Pete Alonso double in the second—the first extra-base hit of the season for the Mets—nothing really materialized in the first three innings. Ditto the Phillies, who squandered a leadoff walk in the first and left the bases loaded in the second. The most significant development was an unfortunate injury, as J.D. Davis took a pitch in the hand and was forced to leave the game. X-rays came back negative, thankfully.

The offense finally got going in the fourth. Pete Alonso led off with a walk, and Dom Smith followed by parking a ball that was practically at his eyeballs ten rows deep into the left field seats. An impressive blast for the Mets’ first home run of the year - per the Met broadcast, it’s the 3rd highest pitch a Met has hit for a home run since pitch tracking data became available. That it came from Dom Smith, who oddly wasn’t in the opening day lineup on Monday and even more oddly wasn’t used to pinch hit for Kevin Pillar once Matt Moore was out of the game, was an added twist with some karmic justice.

Working with a lead for the first time, Stroman made quick work of J.T. Realmuto and seemed poised to cruise for a while. Instead, Didi Gregorius took him deep over the center field fence, cutting the lead to one. Stroman got the next two and worked around a walk in the fifth, but a Jeff McNeil error and a wild pitch put the tying run in scoring position for the Phillies with one out in the sixth. Gregorius again hit the ball on the nose, but Pete Alonso made a great diving play to save a double and Stroman returned the favor with an acrobatic reaching catch on a slightly errant throw. One batter later, after a Jean Segura ground out, the scoring threat was over and the Mets had a lead going into the seventh.

Given the Phillies’ 4-0 record and the performance of their bullpen in the first game of the series, it’d be easy to forget just how disastrous the unit was in 2020. Vince Velasquez did his best to remind everyone that the Philadelphia bullpen still probably isn’t very good, walking four batters in the top of the seventh to force in a run. Francisco Lindor followed with his first RBI as a Met on a sacrifice fly, and a Kevin Pillar steal of home—aided by a dropped throw to second—added another run. Michael Conforto capped the inning with an RBI double, as the Mets scored four runs on only one hit to stretch the lead to 6-1.

Almost immediately, the Mets’ bullpen problems became evident once again. Miguel Castro looked great for two batters, striking out Brad Miller and Roman Quin on nasty changeups, but the next three batters followed with hard hit balls that plated a run and put two runners on. Somehow, Aaron Loup wasn’t ready to face Bryce Harper, the latest in a troubling list of gaffes by Luis Rojas only two games into the season. Harper almost made the Mets pay for their poor roster construction / in-game management, but Brandon Nimmo was able to run down a hard-struck ball in the gap to limit the damage.

The anxiety didn’t stop there. Trevor May labored through the eighth, allowing two hits and uncorking a wild pitch before escaping with two strikeouts. Why he was pitching on back-to-back days with a four-run lead and, more importantly, why he was left in the game when he clearly had nothing working are both questions that belong in the queue for Luis Rojas as well.

Pete Alonso added some breathing room with a two-run blast in the top of the ninth, a pair of runs that felt particularly important as Jeurys Familia coughed up two runs in the ninth. In Familia’s defense, he ran into some unfortunate batted ball luck, giving up two hits on a chopped grounder and a bloop into right field. Those justifiable excuses are less reassuring when you’ve been white knuckling for what feels like three hours of baseball with the Met bullpen however, even if Familia managed to preserve a four run lead and close out the first win of the season.

Overall, this is probably what a lot of Mets games will feel like this year. A solid performance from a starter backed up by strong offensive production, followed by some dicey innings from the bullpen that make the game a lot closer than it should be. There are reinforcements on the horizon—Seth Lugo and Arodys Vizcaino returning from injury, Joey Lucchesi possibly moving to the bullpen—but Mets fans are probably in for a bumpy ride in this department, at least in the season’s early going.

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What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: Marcus Stroman, +27.4% WPA
Big Mets loser: None!
Mets pitchers: +31.1% WPA
Mets hitters: +18.9% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Dom Smith hits a two-run home run in the fourth, +18.3% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Didi Gregorius hits a solo home run in the fourth, -11.5% WPA