Ask yourself a question: how many games have the Mets played this year which have not stressed you out? Sure, it’s a long season and every team will experience some difficult games that elevate the heart rate a bit. The Mets, however, have seemed physically incapable of having boring, simple games this season. Good or bad, win or lose, the Mets rarely experience nine innings in which we poor fans can simply relax and not want to pull each individual strand of hair on our body out one by one.
That’s probably why the series finale against the Reds felt so refreshing and abnormal. The Mets scored early and soon built a big lead, and—after three straight games in which the bullpen has been painfully overworked—they got eight innings from their starting pitcher. The end result—a 7-0 victory to clinch the series victory—was remarkably easy and fun to watch.
Marcus Stroman took the mound for the Mets today. While it was certainly a breath of fresh air to see a real starting pitcher on the mound after the Mets sent out Jerad Eickhoff and Robert Stock in the last two games, the fact that Stroman has struggled mightily in recent starts certainly weighed on the team’s mind. After a terrific start to the 2021 season, his last five starts have seen him put up a 4.74 ERA and only pitch 19 total innings. But after three games in which the Mets needed a whopping 23 innings from their bullpen, it was crucial for them to get some length from Stroman today. And lo and behold (Stro and behold?), he answered the call.
He allowed one of only three base runners on his very first pitch of the game, hitting Jonathan India to put him on first base. But he then showed off the defense that he is well known for, playing a dribbler off the bat of Jesse Winker perfectly to get a double play. He quickly got the next batter out to end the inning, demonstrating the efficiency that he would maintain for the entirety of the game.
Like the Reds, the Mets had also gotten the leadoff runner on (thanks to—what else?—a walk to Brandon Nimmo) but did not do anything else in the first frame against starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman (who was making his return from the injured list). In the second inning, however, they got themselves on the board with the only run that they would end up needing, as Jonathan Villar—getting the start at third base—took his first at-bat of the day and smacked a home run to right field. Luis Guillorme singled two batters later and was left on base—not quite as impressive an offensive display as Villar’s, but he’d get his chance to one-up his fellow infielder soon enough.
While the Mets only ended up needing that one run, that doesn’t mean they were content to leave it there. After a 1-2-3 bottom of the second inning from Stroman with a couple of strikeouts, the Amazins came back up to the plate for the top of the third. They proceeded to string together a trio of singles to leadoff the inning: opposite field single off the bat of Nimmo, single that gets through the shift from Jeff McNeil, and scorching line drive single to left by Pete Alonso. With that, the Mets had the bases juiced against Hoffman, and Dominic Smith wasted no time clearing them. On the first pitch of the at-bat, he hit a towering fly ball that looked off the bat more likely to be a sacrifice fly to left, but which managed to carry over the wall for a grand slam. The lead was thus 5-0, and Stroman had plenty of wiggle room to work with.
The Mets got two more runners on in that inning (first by a one-out walk to Villar and then on a check-swing tip that Hoffman couldn’t field cleanly), but were unable to bring them home. Stroman, meanwhile, came on for the bottom of the inning and proceeded to give up his second baserunner of the day on a leadoff single from Aristides Aquino. But that was all that the Reds could manage, as the next three hitters were quickly retired (the last of which demonstrated another display of Stroman’s fielding joy, as he made the rare pitcher putout on a pop fly in front of the mound off the bat of India to end the frame). Following a fourth inning in which the Mets got two more runners on (via a walk to McNeil and a opposite field dribbler single by Smith) but failed to score, Stroman returned to the mound and once again was in control, generating three ground ball outs for another quick and easy inning.
In the top of the fifth, Villar struck out against new pitcher Tony Santillan to lead things off, but Tomas Nido then hit a ball to the right-center gap that he had to hustle to turn into a double. While it’s easy to understand why he would want to get himself into scoring position with the powerless eighth and ninth hitters in the lineup coming up, the extra running would prove to be unnecessary, as Guillorme came up to the plate and miraculously hit his first homer of the season, a two-run shot to left-center field to bring the lead to 7-0. It was certainly a nice moment for Guillorme, who started off the series on an incredibly down note with his three errors in Monday night’s game.
The Mets didn’t do much else offensively for the remainder of the game against a parade of other Reds relievers (including old foe Sean Doolittle, who pitched scoreless sixth), save for a scattered baserunner here and there. But they’d given Stroman plenty to work with, and he continued to deal against the Reds. He recorded perfect innings in the fifth and sixth innings (recording three strikeouts in those two frames) and retired the first two batters in the seventh to reach fourteen consecutive hitters retired. That streak ended with a two-out walk to Joey Votto, his first and only bases on balls in the game and his third and final baserunner. He recovered to get the final out of that inning, and for good measure came out for the eighth and threw a perfect inning there as well (the one and only minor downside to the game: Jeff McNeil exited during this time after appearing to come up slightly lame while running out a ground ball in the top of the eighth, but afterwards Luis Rojas indicated that he was all right).
Stroman finished the eighth inning at 90 pitches, and given how easily he had been shutting the Reds down all day, he very easily could have gone for the complete game shutout. Nevertheless, after the Mets went down in order in the top of the ninth, Rojas decided to take his starting pitcher out of the game. All told, pitching eight shutout innings was just what the doctor ordered for the Mets, as the team will now enjoy an off day and head into this weekend’s series against the Blue Jays with a well-rested bullpen. Meanwhile, Jeurys Familia handled the one inning of bullpen business for the Mets on this day, and in honor of Stroman’s herculean performance, he himself had a brilliant inning, striking out the side to end the game and give the Mets the victory.
*illar of the game
One guy didn’t play, while the other guy hit a homer. Not much of a choice here: Villar wins the coveted prize.
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Marcus Stroman, +19.9% WPA
Big Mets loser: Michael Conforto, -4.6% WPA
Mets pitchers: 20.1% WPA
Mets hitters: 29.9% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Dominic Smith grand slam in the third inning, +14.2% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Jonathan India hit-by-pitch to lead off the game, -3.5% WPA