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Ill-fated eighth inning spoils Carrasco’s strong season debut

A combination of questionable bullpen management and poor defense from Pete Alonso resulted in the Mets’ first loss of 2022.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Mets were unable to complete the four-game sweep in Washington DC, losing to the Nationals 4-2 in the opening series finale.

Carlos Carrasco’s first start of the 2022 season began the way many of his starts did in 2021; with two outs, he hung a pitch to Nelson Cruz, which Cruz sent into the seats for his first home run as a National, giving the Nationals an early 1-0 lead. Josh Bell laced a hard-hit single after that and it looked like the inning might unravel on Cookie, but he was able to limit the damage by getting Kiebert Ruiz to fly out to right field to end the inning. However, Carrasco was already over 20 pitches in the outing by the end of the first frame.

Carrasco’s second inning of work started with some more hard contact—a deep fly ball to center field off the bat of César Hernández that almost certainly would have been a home run if not for the strong breeze blowing in, which killed the ball on the warning track and resulted in a long out. But after that, Carrasco settled in and looked quite sharp for the duration of his outing. Carrasco retired the final fourteen batters he faced in order, striking out five batters and walking none over 5 23 innings of work.

Meanwhile, the Mets were finally able to do some damage against Nationals starter Erick Fedde in the fourth inning. Francisco Lindor tied the game to lead off the inning with his first home run of the season. Fedde then bounced back to record back-to-back strikeouts of Robinson Canó and Pete Alonso. But, Eduardo Escobar hit a double into the gap in right-center and Mark Canha followed with a sharp sinking liner to right field on which Juan Soto nearly made a highlight reel catch, but the ball popped out of Soto’s glove as he hit the ground, falling for a go-ahead RBI single.

That was all the Mets could manage against Fedde. Lindor walked and swiped his first base of the season in the fifth inning, but the Mets were not able to cash in on that opportunity. With a one-run lead, Buck Showalter brought in lefty Chasen Shreve to make his season debut to face Juan Soto with two out and Shreve was able to get Soto to ground out to short, as the Mets’ headed into the late innings with their lead in tact.

Both teams threatened in the seventh, but did not score. With Steve Cishek on the hill in the top of the frame for his second inning of work, Jeff McNeil walked and Tomás Nido executed a perfectly placed bunt single to advance McNeil into scoring position with nobody out. Nationals manager Davey Martinez then brought in Sean Doolittle—who the Mets have had historic success against—to serve as the fireman. Doolittle retired the next three batters in order, striking out Brandon Nimmo, inducing a fly out from Lindor, and striking out Canó on high heat to end the inning.

Chasen Shreve also stayed in for a second inning of work, even with righty Nelson Cruz leading off the inning. Cruz rocketed one to deep right-center, but for the second time on the afternoon the Mets were lucky enough that it stayed in the ballpark and Canha gloved it for the first out. Shreve then walked Josh Bell to put the tying run on first base, but Kiebert Ruiz chased a couple of pitches from Shreve well out of the zone for a gift strikeout. In an inning full of gifts, the Nationals handed Shreve and the Mets one final gift: Bell inexplicably tried to steal second base and was thrown out by a mile by Tomás Nido to put an end to the threat.

But that was the end of Lady Luck being in the Mets’ favor for the afternoon. After Kyle Finnegan tossed a 1-2-3 top of the eighth inning for the Nationals (even after taking a liner from Pete Alonso off the thigh), Shreve was asked to get one final out in the bottom of the eighth with the lefty Yadiel Hernandez leading off. He was unable to do so; Hernandez singled to put the tying run on base with nobody out. Buck Showalter had hinted prior to the game this afternoon that both Shreve and Trevor Williams would get in the game, neither having appeared in a game yet this season. He was true to his word and brought in his long man Trevor Williams in a high-leverage spot, despite the fact that Trevor May had been warming in the bullpen earlier.

To Williams’ credit, he pitched well enough that he should have at least escaped the situation with the game still tied. But a series of unfortunate events followed that included some poor defense from Pete Alonso. Dee Strange-Gordon entered the game as a pinch runner and advanced to third on a single by Met killer Maikel Franco, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. Then rookie Lucius Fox attempted a safety squeeze and put down a solid bunt, but Pete Alonso pounced on it in time that he should have been able to nab Strange-Gordon at the plate. However, instead of whipping it overhand quickly to Nido at the plate, Pete lollipopped an underhand throw that was too slow to arrive in Nido’s glove and Strange-Gordon was able to slide across home plate safely before Nido’s tag with the tying run.

Victor Robles tried to follow Fox with a bunt of his own, but instead of executing a straight sacrifice, Robles tried to get a running start and bunt for a hit, bunting in the air back to Williams for an easy out without advancing the runners. This meant an escape of the inning with a tie still in tact was feasible for Williams and he induced the double play grounder he needed from César Hernández, but Alonso threw wide of second base and pulled Lindor too far from the bag to record the out at second. So instead of the inning being over, Juan Soto strode to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. If I were using one of the betting apps we keep seeing commercials for every five minutes during broadcasts these days, I would have bet the end of the game was coming right then and there. However, Williams pulled another Houdini act, getting Soto to hit a slow bouncer in front of the plate. This time, Alonso made a good throw home to Nido to record the force out. So once again, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

But, asking for a third miracle was a bridge too far. Nelson Cruz singled up the middle to plate two runs and give the Nationals a 4-2 lead. Again, to be fair to Trevor Williams, this was not hard contact by Cruz. It was a slow grounder that found a hole. But the Mets could only tempt fate so many times and this time, they rolled the dice and came up with snake eyes. This is the result when you use your long reliever/swingman in a situation that warranted a reliever who induces more swings and misses.

There was a small glimmer of hope for the Mets in the top of the ninth, as Mark Canha—who is really racking up the hits in the early going—singled off Tanner Rainey to lead off the inning, which brought the tying run to the plate. However, Rainey retired the next three batters in order—all on fly balls—to hand the Mets their first loss of the 2022 season.

The Mets look to shake off this defeat as they head to Philadelphia for a three-game series against the Phillies. Taijuan Walker will make his season debut against Ranger Suárez tomorrow night in the series opener.

Box scores

MLB.com
ESPN

Win Probability Added

Fangraphs.com

What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: Mark Canha, +24.2% WPA
Big Mets loser: Trevor Williams, -56.7% WPA
Mets pitchers: -34.5% WPA
Mets hitters: -15.5% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Mark Canha’s go-ahead RBI single in the fourth, +14.8% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead RBI single in the eighth, -32.0% WPA

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