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Mets offense struggles, Drew Smith falls to walk-off homer in the ninth

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The bench mob wasn’t able to do enough damage today.

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets have had some remarkable victories in recent times—whether due to the bullpen miraculously being able to handle an overwhelming workload or a group of hitters who most never dreamed would be starting games for the Mets picking up key hits to help the team score just enough runs to squeak by. But ultimately, when you are running a roster that both fails to have its starting pitcher go past four innings and trusts hitters like Cameron Maybin and Wilfredo Tovar in key spots in the lineup, you’re going to end up with some games in which the results are what you expect them to be.

Such was the case today. The Mets battled, to be sure, but they were not able to score enough runs, and the result was a walk-off victory for the Marlins.

Pablo Lopez started for the Fish today. Given how overworked the Marlins bullpen has been in recent times, the best course of action for the Mets would have been to work his pitch count as much as possible to get him out of the game early. Alas, that did not happen. Ultimately, when you are running a lineup like the one the Mets ran out there today, it’s hard to have much hope for sustained rallies, because it’s only a matter of time before the pitcher will get to face a black hole of a hitter or two to get out of it. Case in point: the Mets managed to have one of their biggest opportunities in the first when they loaded the bases on a Francisco Lindor single, a Maybin walk (in what remains his biggest offensive contribution to the team thus far), and a Tomas Nido infield hit. But in that opportunity to do some early damage, who should come up to the plate but Wilfredo Tovar, who—it might interest you to know—has a 28 career wRC+ in the major leagues. The Mets, in their infinite wisdom, decided that that’s the kind of track record that warrants an opportunity to bat sixth in the lineup, and Tovar rewarded them for their faith by helplessly swinging and missing on three straight pitches to end the inning.

That would be the best scoring opportunity for the Mets for a good portion of the day, but there were a couple of others—alas, they suffered the same fate at each turn. In the third inning, leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar hit a chopper for an infield single to start things off, but three outs quickly followed. Alas, that top of the order looks significantly less threatening when the number three hole contains the likes of Maybin—who has not looked like a major league hitter in his brief time with the Mets, let alone one who deserves to be hitting in such an important spot in the order. One inning later, the Amazins would manage to get a runner in scoring position thanks to a two-out double off the bat of Johneshwy Fargas, who has unquestionably been the most impressive of the Triple A reinforcements up to this point. But Khalil Lee followed him in the order, and while his clutch double last night was an incredibly exciting moment, it is still worth remembering that that was the only time he had been able to make contact with the ball coming into the day. In this particular at-bat, Lee was in fact able to make contact, but it was a mere groundball to second to end another opportunity.

And what of the pitching throughout all of this? Well, things were a bit rosier there in the early going. Joey Lucchesi was announced as the starter a little less than ninety minutes before first pitch, and one can understand the hesitance of the Mets to give him the nod given how shaky he has looked this season. But our favorite Italian son rewarded their trust with his best outing of the year. From the first inning on, Lucchesi was throwing strikes and generating a bunch of swings and misses with the churve. He retired the side in order in both the first and second innings, with a remarkable five strikeouts amongst those first six batters. After striking out Chad Wallach swinging to open the third, he had gotten five Ks in a row—the kinds of numbers we expect to see from Jacob deGrom, not the Mets’ beleaguered sixth starter. Magneuris Sierra momentarily ended the fun by knocking a one-out single to the opposite field, but Lucchesi quickly rebounded when Lopez attempted a sacrifice bunt, as he was able to attack the ball quickly and turn the double play to end the inning.

Lucchesi would follow this with another stellar frame in the fourth, racking up two more strikeouts. But with the pitcher’s spot leading off in the fifth, Luis Rojas made the decision to pinch-hit Patrick Mazeika to end Lucchesi’s day early. Given his numbers after facing opposing lineups a second time around, the caution was understandable—though at the same time, it’s hard to imagine how he could have looked any better through those first four, and the Mets desperately needed as many innings as possible from him. Alas, his day was over after four stunning innings in which he gave up just the one hit and recorded eight strikeouts.

Pinch-hitting for him did not do the offense any good, as the Mets were retired in order in the fifth. Sean Reid-Foley came on to replace Lucchesi and immediately got into trouble by giving up three hard hit balls. The first one off the bat of Adam Duvall was a fly ball to center field that was caught, but the next two (from Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper, respectively) fell for hits. The latter ball was a shot to first base that Smith deflected into right field, and it put runners on second and third base with just one out. But Reid-Foley was able to rebound by striking out Wallach and, after an intentional walk to Sierra to bring up the pitcher’s spot, striking out Lopez on a full-count to end the threat.

But while Lopez was unable to come through with the bat, he continued to efficiently mow the Mets down on the mound. He tossed two more perfect innings after that—ending his day by retiring the final ten batters he faced. Reid-Foley, meanwhile, followed suit with a perfect sixth inning, but he then got into some trouble in the seventh. Following a strikeout to begin the frame, two runners got on thank to a single by Anderson and a soft ground ball past the shift by Cooper that put runners on first and third with one out. Rojas then pulled the hook on Reid-Foley to bring in Aaron Loup to face Corey Dickerson. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Dickerson hit a fly ball to center, and Anderson broke for home plate as soon as the ball hit the glove. Maybin fired a bullet to Nido, but the ball came out of his glove as he was applying the tag, and Anderson was safe. The first run of the game had scored, and given what the Mets offense had shown up to that point, it certainly seemed like it may have been all that was needed (it certainly would have been understandable, for instance, if a certain recapper prematurely began to write out the recap assuming a 1-0 final score that he would later have to scrap).

But the Mets were finally given a reprieve in the top of the eighth when Lopez exited the game in favor of Anthony Bass, who introduced himself by walking the leadoff hitter (pinch-hitter Jose Peraza, whose hit-by-pitch in yesterday’s game kept him out of the starting lineup and blessed us with Wilfredo Tovar: Number Six Hitter). Villar followed with a hard line drive out to center, giving us even more hope that Bass might be hittable. But after Lindor drew the second walk of the inning, Maybin (who, in case we haven’t been clear, probably should not be hitting third for a major league baseball team) struck out swinging, and one could be forgiven for assuming that this rally was going to fail like the other small ones that came before it.

Smith came up to the plate with two outs, and Don Mattingly brought in the lefty Richard Bleier to face him. Bleier got Smith to two strikes, and on a 2-2 pitch threw sinker that appeared to hit the corner for strike three. But the home plate umpire did not see it that way, and the count instead became 3-2. Smith thanked the baseball gods for this bit of good fortune and immediately took advantage of it by hitting a single to right which scored Peraza from second. Somehow, despite everything, the Mets had tied it up and still had a legitimate chance of winning the game.

Alas, Nido was unable to get a hit to bring in another run in the eighth, and while Miguel Castro threw a perfect eighth inning (thanks in part to an incredible diving play by Smith at first base) to give the Mets another chance to take the lead in the ninth, Yimi Garcia came on to ensure they would not be able to do that. And indeed, he was able to work past a leadoff walk (drawn by—let us be fair and give him credit for his one contribution—number six hitter Wilfredo Tovar!) to get out of the inning unscathed and keep the game tied at one. With that, Drew Smith came on to try to keep the game tied and give us our second extra inning affair in as many days, as unappealing a notion as that might have sounded.

While the ninth inning would not ultimately go in the Mets’ favor, it did begin with yet another remarkable defensive play. Jesus Aguilar led off the frame with a sharp line drive to center field. Fargas sprinted back and made an incredible diving catch, just barely holding onto the ball on the ground. If you have not yet seen the play, please watch it and admire both the defensive prowess and the display of emotion both on the part of Fargas and Smith. Following that memorable opening to the inning, Duvall hit a weak foul pop-up that resulted in out number two, and it certainly seemed likely at that point that Drew Smith would be able to keep the Marlins scoreless and maintain his 0.00 ERA on the season.

You know, dear reader, that that unfortunately did not come to pass. Anderson knocked a single to the opposite field, and that brought up Cooper, who already had two hits on the day. He unfortunately saved his biggest hit for last, for after working a 3-2 count, Smith threw a cutter right across the heart of the plate, and Cooper slammed it into left-center field to end the day for the Mets.

The Mets will try for the series win tomorrow—with any luck, they will do so without relying on Cameron Maybin and Wilfredo Tovar to bat third and sixth.

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What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: Joey Lucchesi, +20.3% WPA
Big Mets loser: Drew Smith, -37.5% WPA
Mets pitchers: -12.2% WPA
Mets hitters: -37.8% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Dominic Smith RBI single in the eighth, +26.3% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Garrett Cooper walk-off homer in the ninth (duh), -44.1% WPA