Any hope that the Mets would regain their championships aspirations with a stretch against two of the worst teams in the league is predicated upon the idea that baseball teams can perform well at the flip of a switch. It doesn’t usually work like that, and with a Mets team once at the top of the division in the midst of their most putrid stretch of losing baseball this season, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that they dropped a 2-1 game to a Nationals team that traded away their season at the deadline.
But with the Mets playing fourteen straight games against the Nationals and the Marlins, and with the division-leading Braves playing six in a row against the Giants and the Dodgers, the next week serves as the last real stand for relevancy in 2021. One game in on this stretch, however, and the downhill course remains the same, with not much different to report about the team’s performance.
Rich Hill was pretty great. He began his sixth start in a Mets uniform by allowing a one-out single to Alcides Escobar, and avoided trouble by forcing a long Juan Soto flyout and a Josh Bell groundout to end the top of the first. The bottom of the inning provided an equal amount of excitement, with Francisco Lindor breaking out of his 1-11 run since his return from the injured list with a two-out triple. If you had known it would be one of only four hits the Mets offense would record all night, surely you couldn’t have been surprised. Nor should you be knowing that Javy Báez stranded him on third to end the inning.
Nationals starter Paolo Espino helped himself in the top of the third with a leadoff single, and Hill exacerbated the trouble by hitting Victor Robles two pitches later. Escobar followed with a single on an 0-2 pitch, loading the bases for Soto. By some inexplicable grace, Soto grounded the first pitch he saw to Pete Alonso, who hesitated throwing the ball to home plate before deciding to record the safe out at first base. With Soto out of the way it looked Hill had escaped the worst of the trouble, but he then gave up an RBI single to Josh Bell before striking out Carter Kieboom and Lane Thomas to finish the inning. Going down 2-0 against the Nationals was not ideal, but considering the loaded bases with no one out and Soto up to bat, the inning could’ve ended a lot worse.
After Hill struck out the side in the top of the fourth, Javy Báez cut the lead in half with an opposite-field home run in the bottom of the inning, though strikeouts from Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis hastened any sort of offensive breakthrough. Hill recorded his eighth and final strikeout of the game against Escobar in the fifth inning, finishing his start with two earned runs over five innings but leaving with the loss.
There were some shining moments for the Mets, however. Báez displayed some magic in the seventh inning by receiving a Tomás Nido throw and tagging Gerardo Parra out trying to steal second a half a blink later. Parra was initially called safe, and maybe with another infielder on the receiving end he would’ve been, but the swift tag showed conclusive evidence of an out on the ensuing replay review. Lindor and Báez ragged on Parra throughout the review, and legitimate fun seemed to be had in an otherwise drab Mets game.
Nationals pitchers retired thirteen-straight Mets batters between the fourth and the eighth innings. Coming in as a pinch-hitter, Jeff McNeil gave the home crowd some hope with a two-out bloop single, representing the tying run in the eighth inning. But Brandon Nimmo followed with a popout to catcher Riley Adams, ending that glimmer of hope.
The Mets found themselves only down by one run thanks to the continued thankless toil from the bullpen. Heath Hembree, Miguel Castro, Jeurys Familia, and Edwin Díaz—only in the game because the Mets haven’t played well enough for him to pitch in a week—combined to allow only one hit while striking out an additional nine batters in their four innings of work. The most impressive moment came from Familia, who understandably went down 3-0 to Soto, and then expertly carved three straight strikes that Soto watched fly by, one of Familia’s three strikeouts in his masterful inning of work. Díaz gave up a double but also struck out three batters in the top of the ninth, giving the Mets a real shot to win down by just one run with the heart of the lineup up to bat. But if you’ve been doing your homework, you know how this ends.
Alonso drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth inning, and a sharply hit grounder from Lindor looked like it would sneak through the infield. But a diving stop and a rolled throw from second basemen Luis García got Alonso with the force out at second to record the first out of the inning. With Lindor on first, Báez stepped to the plate representing the winning run. And to the surprise of absolutely no one in the stands, he grounded sharply up the middle into the waiting glove of García to force the game-ending double play. As it has been all month, as there is no sign that it will continue to be anything but this.
*illar of the game - neither
Jonathan Villar struck out in his pinch-hit appearance and Kevin Pillar didn’t play. I honestly don’t know who provided less value to the Mets tonight.
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Pete Alonso, somehow +7% WPA
Big Mets loser: Javy Báez/Brandon Nimmo, -16% WPA
Mets pitchers: +16% WPA
Mets hitters: -66% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Alonso walk in the ninth inning
Teh sux0rest play: Javy Báez double play in the ninth inning