It was no great secret that the Mets needed starting pitchers for the beginning of their pivotal five-game series against the Atlanta Braves. That was well known from late last week, with two giant question marks slated for Monday and Tuesday staring them straight in the face. Monday’s doubleheader presented the opportunity to go with a bullpen game, but that still left a gaping hole on the calendar for Tuesday. The front office had time leading up to those games to formulate a plan to address that need. They even had a gift-wrapped option, with the Pittsburgh Pirates openly begging teams to take left-hander Tyler Anderson—no ace by any means, but still a more suitable alternative to the internal options—off their hands before his scheduled Tuesday start.
So it came as a shock when around 3:00pm, Justin Toscano floated a rumor based on a media guide sighting that Jerad Eickhoff would be pitching tonight’s game. “But no,” you undoubtedly thought aloud, “the Mets designated Eickhoff for assignment, and he is no longer on the roster! And besides, the team wouldn’t be desperate enough to trot out a twice-released fringe major league pitcher with an ERA close to five in a crucial divisional game!” So it seemed like this might have been just a mere misunderstanding. And yet, around 15 minutes later, Toscano confirmed that the Mets’ front office indeed intended to trot out Eickhoff to face the Braves on Tuesday night, a game many Mets fans paid good money to attend in the hopes of seeing their beloved baseball team defeat a division rival.
The specifics of this game hardly matter, because the club’s fate was sealed the minute they officially announced that Eickhoff would be taking the hill. One did not have to be a psychic to predict how this game would go, and it went just about as poorly—in fact, it went even worse—as the average baseball fan could have reasonably expected. Everybody is painfully aware that the Mets are thin at Triple-A, and thanks to an obscene number of postponements and injuries, the team has seen “TBD” listed on their probable starters page more than all their other pitchers combined. Still, that was no excuse for willfully putting their team in a position to lose a game they needed to win.
Again, let’s state it clearly: The Mets chose to punt a game against a division rival while holding a nice but by-no-means-comfortable five-game lead over Atlanta, and with every game being critically important at this juncture. And while Luis Rojas can regurgitate the company line that, in the coming days, there will be no TBDs and no blank spots in their rotation, that optimism only takes you so far until you are met with another injury or underperforming pitcher, and then you are back in the same predicament. The trade deadline is less than three days away, and the team can ill afford to let this opportunity to improve their team, seal up a division title, and turn a fringe playoff team into a potential title contender pass them by. Zack Scott and Sandy Alderson have their work cut out for thm in the coming days. Chris McShane very succinctly summed up the team’s need for starting pitching in the middle of their 12-5 defeat.
The Mets fell behind immediately, as Eickhoff plunked Ehire Adrianza—a late lineup replacement for Joc Pederson, who had an upset stomach—on the foot with his fifth pitch. After walking Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley grounded out on a force out at home, which kept the bases loaded for Dansby Swanson. The Atlanta shortstop doubled down the left field line to bring in the first two runs of the game, but far from the last runs the Braves would score.
After a quiet bottom of the frame for the Mets, Eickhoff managed to retire the first two batters of the second before walking Adrianza. That brought up Albies, who promptly deposited the first pitch he saw from the right-hander into the Coca Cola Corner to double Atlanta’s lead. In the third, Eickhoff walked Swanson with one out before serving up a two-run homer to Abraham Almonte off the facing of the M&M’s Sweet Seats. From there, the romp was on.
The Mets broke through in the bottom of the third for their first run. Luis Guillorme walked to get things started, and Eickhoff bunted him over to second. Brandon Nimmo walked, and Jeff McNeil hit a shot that was snagged by Riley to get the force at second. With runners on the corners, Pete Alonso singled through the right side to make it a 6-1 ballgame.
The roof caved in on the Mets in the fourth. Atlanta starter Charlie Morton led off with a single, and Adrianza doubled off the right field wall to put runners in scoring position with nobody out. Eickhoff recovered to strike out Albies, and then he intentionally walked Freeman in a strategy that worked well for New York on Monday. This time around, instead of hitting into a double play, Riley crushed a first-pitch grand slam deep into the left field seats, a shot that traveled 436 feet and effectively put this game out of reach. Eickhoff remained in for one more batter, but a single from Swanson ended his night for good.
The final line was historically bad for the franchise: 3.1 innings, seven hits, ten earned runs, five walks, and four strikeouts. He received the wrath of the paying patrons and, while his performance itself was inexcusable, the circumstances that led to it were not his fault, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for the 31-year-old. It’s easy to forget in the moment, but he took the mound as a pitcher trying to keep his dim major league hopes alive, and took a call from a desperate team that neglected to present a better option and instead turned to a familiar and easy solution for their problem. He was trotted out there essentially to fail, and fail he did. He became only the second Mets pitcher ever to allow ten earned runs and walk five in a single outing, joining Patrick Mahomes from August 22, 2000. If there is any consolation to be found, it’s that hopefully the team’s season results in an NL Pennant, like it did in 2000.
To their credit, the Mets didn’t quit. In the fifth, the Mets drew two runs closer thanks to a Brandon Drury one-out single and a Jeff McNeil two-run homer. Unfortunately, Yennsy Diaz, who came in to replace Eickhoff in the fourth, allowed two runs in the sixth after pitching a scoreless fifth. Freeman led off that frame with a single, and Riley hit his second homer of the game off the facing of the second deck in left field to make it a 12-3 ballgame. The Mets again tried to fight back, this time against Braves reliever Edgar Santana. Guillorme started the inning with a single, and Drury hit a two-run shot into the left field stands to bring the Mets back to within seven.
That was as close as they would get. Drew Smith admirably contributed two scoreless innings, and Anthony Banda finished things off with a scoreless ninth. This is a loss that is entirely on the front office, and it hopefully serves as a stark reminder that this team badly needs to swing a trade for a good starting pitcher before Friday’s deadline. While some will try to argue that the rotation will be full in a mere week or so, hopefully this game sways the Mets to make a move and not sit on their hands waiting for things to work out, because waiting instead of acting decisively could have disastrous consequences for their playoff and World Series hopes.
With the Philadelphia Phillies losing to the Washington Nationals, New York maintained their 3.5 game lead atop the National League East, while Atlanta crept one game closer in the standings and now reside four back of the top spot. The Mets will look to even up the series tomorrow night in the fourth game. Tylor Megill, fresh off his first career win on Friday, will take the hill against Max Fried.
*illar of the Game
Neither: Jonathan Villar went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, while Kevin Pillar subbed in later in the game and went hitless in his lone plate appearance.
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Michael Conforto, 2.9% WPA
Big Mets loser: Jerad Eickhoff, -42.0% WPA/The front office for signing Eickhoff to pitch
Mets pitchers: -42.4% WPA
Mets hitters: -7.6% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Pete Alonso run-scoring single in the third, 3.2% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Dansby Swanson two-run double in the first, -16.6% WPA
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