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Mets split doubleheader, despite Game 1 bullpen meltdown

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The bats surged to win Game 1 and fell a little short in Game 2.

MLB: Game One-New York Mets at Washington Nationals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1

It could have been one of the ugliest games in franchise history, and it was arguably one of the most stressful September experiences in recent memory, but after blowing a 9-0 lead the Mets pulled out the 11-9 victory against a Nationals team that did not appear 100% committed to winning.

Jonathan Villar leveraged an open hole at shortstop to lead off with a single on the first pitch of the game, and Brandon Nimmo followed with a single into right field sending Villar to third. Francisco Lindor then sent a 3-2 fastball through the same hole Nimmo found, sending Villar home and giving the Mets a 1-0 lead before they recorded an out. A Pete Alonso sac fly to right-center on the first pitch he saw scored Nimmo from third, though Michael Conforto striking out and Lindor getting caught attempting to steal second ended the inning. Still, the Mets produced just as many runs in the first inning as they produced in the first nine the night before, which portended a good day from the offense.

The conga line around the bases continued in the top of the second, with a lot of help from the Nats’ defense. Javy Báez didn’t miss a hanging slider, sending the pitch to deep center field for a leadoff home run to make the game 3-0. Jeff McNeil then reached first on a routine grounder that Alcides Escobar booted off his glove, and Patrick Mazeika repeated the effort by sending a routine grounder to Escobar that the shortstop promptly booted. Stroman advanced both with a sacrifice bunt, and Villar reached on an RBI infield hit thanks to Josh Bell neglecting to cover first base. Nimmo then singled up the middle to score Mazeika to make the score 5-0, with Villar running from first to third, who then scored off a Lindor sacrifice fly.

The initial joy of the second inning was tempered with Nimmo’s exit from the game with an apparent injury to his hamstring. Nimmo has arguably been the team’s best hitter this season, and his loss could significantly impair a suddenly resurgent offense. It didn’t appear to hamper the Mets too much, however, as Marcus Stroman kept putting up scoreless innings and the offense kept on hitting.

Stroman found himself in trouble in the second inning with consecutive hits putting runners on second and third with one out. But in a curious move, the Nationals chose not to pinch-hit for starting pitcher Eric Fedde, who had given up six runs up to that point but was asked to go deeper into the game to limit the team’s bullpen usage. Fedde then grounded out harmlessly to Stroman for the second out of the inning, and Lane Thomas popped out to Lindor to end the scoreless inning.

Báez missed his second home run of the game by only a few feet, doubling off the left-field wall to lead off the third inning, and Mazeika drove him in from third two batters later, extending the lead to 7-0. Villar continued the inning with his seventh consecutive hit dating back to the previous night, though Albert Almora, in the game for Nimmo, ended the inning with a strikeout.

Stroman displayed incredible presence of mind in the bottom of the third inning after a Bell ground ball led to a botched double play. With the shifted infield leaving no one covering third base, the runner Soto dashed towards the empty bag once Villar dropped the transfer from Báez. Seeing that no one was covering the bag, Stroman sprinted towards third base, and Báez picked up the ball and threw a strike in stride to a sliding Stroman, who tagged Soto on the knee for the second out of the inning. It was one of the most exciting plays in Stroman’s illustrious defensive career, one that gold glove voters should be shown on repeat before submitting their ballots at the end of the season.

Michael Conforto joined the party in the top of the fourth with a two-run home run to right field making the score 9-0, scoring Lindor who had reached via a single. That home run gave the Mets scoring plays in the first four innings of the game, though it would be their last offensive output for a while.

Stroman allowed his first run of the game on a bases-loaded walk to Andrew Stevenson in the bottom of the fourth. Thomas drove in the second run with a sacrifice fly to score Carter Kieboom on the next at-bat, and Escobar repeated the process with a sacrifice fly of his own to center that scored Luis García to make it 9-3. Stroman was granted the ball in the top of the fifth to qualify for the win (which he sadly would not attain), and he rewarded the decision by putting up another scoreless inning.

A couple of defensive mistakes gave the Nationals life in the bottom of the sixth inning with Miguel Castro pitching. Lindor first bounced a throw on a routine ground ball that allowed Kieboom to reach first, and a botched double-play attempt on the transfer from Báez to Lindor loaded the bases with one out. Escobar followed through with a two-run double down the left field line that made the score 9-5, knocking Castro out of the game and bringing in Brad Hand to make his first Mets appearance against Soto.

Hand forced a Soto ground ball to first base that looked like it would materialize the second out of the inning, but a hustling Soto and a bad throw from Alonso allowed two runners to score, making the score 9-7. Mazeika then couldn’t handle the next pitch from Hand, allowing Soto to reach second base. Bell kept the line moving with a single with the next batter Ryan Zimmerman representing the go-ahead run as a pinch hitter. Hand got the exact result he was looking for, however, forcing an inning-ending double play to Villar at third base. It was an inning full of defensive lapses that nearly doomed the Mets with only one hard-hit ball, and though the Mets escaped, those lapses came back to haunt them an inning later.

With the Mets unable to turn to Edwin Díaz, Aaron Loup, or Jeurys Familia, all of whom having pitched the last two days in a row, Luis Rojas handed the ball to Seth Lugo, who struck out Keibert Ruiz for the first out of the inning. A heroic dive from Jeff McNeil in left field couldn’t save a hard-hit ball from Kieboom from bouncing into the stands for an automatic double, but Lugo promptly recorded the second out on a swinging bunt that Mazeika picked up in front of home plate. And with two outs, Lugo served up a hanging change-up to Andrew Stevenson, who sent the pitch into the right-center field stands for a two-run home run that tied the game in the bottom of the last scheduled inning. Just like he had done in the previous game, Stevenson touched home plate with the tying run in the bottom of the final scheduled inning, and just like the night before, the Nats didn’t score any more runs thereafter.

It at first seemed dire for the Mets, who stranded Mazeika at second base in the top of the eighth inning after pop-ups from Kevin Pillar and Almora plus a strikeout from Villar failed to score a run. It got worse when after getting Escobar to pop up for the first out of the bottom of the eighth, Trevor May intentionally walked Soto and then unintentionally walked Bell to load the bases in a tie game with one out. He then struck out Gerardo Parra and forced a flyout from Ruiz to send the game into the ninth, nearly four hours after the first pitch.

With Kyle Finnegan on the mound for the Nationals, Lindor sent the fourth pitch he saw to the second deck in right field, giving the Mets their third home run of the game and an 11-9 lead that this time they would not relinquish. In the bottom of the ninth, Heath Hembree struck out Kieboom and then forced flyouts from García and Stevenson to end the game.

Had the Mets lost, it would have been the largest blown lead in the franchises’ history, a dubious record made even worse that it would have occurred against a team who on many occasions appeared to make decisions antithetical to winning in order to restrict their bullpen usage. It was an eventful and frustrating win for the Mets, but in this pennant race they will take whatever they can get for the chance to play in October.

*illar of the game

Jonathan Villar went 3-5 and recorded seven at-bats in a row with a base hit dating back to last night’s game.

Box scores

ESPN

MLB

Win Probability Added

Fangraphs

What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: Trevor May, +48.5% WPA

Big Mets loser: Albert Almora Jr., -30% WPA

Mets pitchers: +48.2% WPA

Mets hitters: 1.8% WPA

Teh aw3s0mest play: Ruiz flyout in the eighth

Teh sux0rest play: Stevenson home run in the seventh

SB Nation GameThreads

Amazin’ Avenue

Federal Baseball


Game 2

There is a trend that, while not scientifically researched by this writer, has stymied the Mets over the past ten or so years. For some reason, even the most middling pitcher, if making his debut against the Mets, utterly shuts them down. Aside from a rough start to the game, that’s exactly what happened with Nationals starter Josh Rogers.

Before recording an out in the game, Rogers walked Jonathan Villar, gave up a double to Pete Alonso, and surrendered the first run of the game on a Michael Conforto single. But after that, Rogers then settled down striking out two of the next three and getting through the inning unscathed.

Tylor Megill had a similarly rough start to his evening, getting touched up for a leadoff home run by Lane Thomas, and seeing Alcides Escobar score on a Carter Kieboom single. Going into the second inning, it looked like Game 1’s 11-9 score may be a portent of things to come for the teams.

But that wasn’t the case, and neither pitcher gave up a run until the fifth inning, when Escobar took Megill deep to right center for his second home run of the season. That, however, was not enough to knock out Megill, who stuck around and tossed a complete (6 inning) game. Megill struck out eight, and walked just one over the evening, but was done in for the loss by the 5th inning dinger.

The Mets had a shot in the third inning, when Rogers’s control briefly vanished, which led to walks to Alonso and J.D. Davis, but the Mets were unable to capitalize when Kevin Pillar grounded out to end the inning. Keith Hernandez kept noting on the SNY broadcast the quality of swings that Pillar was getting off of Rogers, but in his first two at-bats, he had nothing to show for it.

That would change in the top of the sixth inning.

After Conforto led off the inning with a single to right field, Pillar came up with one out and ripped a no-doubter over the left-field wall to bring the Mets within a run. That knocked Rogers from the game, and more or less reined in the Mets’ hopes for the game.

The only sign of life in the ninth inning was a walk to Villar from Kyle Finnigan, who lost the game for the Nationals just a few hours earlier. Villar made the risky decision to steal second base, and reached safely, putting the tying run in scoring position with two outs. But Alonso looked at strike three, ending the game and the Mets’ winning streak.

The Mets have two more games with the Nats this weekend. Today, Taijuan Walker toes the rubber for the Mets, with Josiah Gray going for Washington at 1:05pm.

Box scores

MLB.com

ESPN

-illar of the day

While both -illars had good at-bats today, Kevin’s two run jack brought the Mets within a run in the top of the sixth, so OF Doom gets the nod.

Win Probability Added

Mets vs Nationals Game 2 WPA Chart, 9/4/21
Fangraphs.com

What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: None

Big Mets loser: Tylor Megill, -14.3% WPA

Mets pitchers: -14.3% WPA

Mets hitters: -35.7% WPA

Teh aw3s0mest play: Kevin Pillar’s 2-run home run, +12.6% WPA

Teh sux0rest play: Alcides Escobar’s 2-run home run, -15.1% WPA

SB Nation GameThreads

Amazin’ Avenue

Federal Baseball