Coming into last night’s start, Steven Matz and John Lackey were having quite similar seasons. Matz was 7-3 with a 3.29 ERA while Lackey was 7-4 and the same ERA. Matz had the edge in FIP with Lackey leading in WHIP, and each had gone 4.1 innings in their last start, giving up six and seven runs, respectively. Both even have similar run supports – 6.57 per nine innings for Matz, 5.95 for Lackey. If the norms held, the Mets would have been well on their way to a much-needed win over the team they triumphed against to reach last year’s World Series. Except, as I titled last week’s game recap, we’re in the midst of witnessing the new normal. Or so we thought.
For the first five innings, it looked like the same story the Mets have been writing for the better part of the season: starting pitcher gives an above-average performance but his few blunders cost the Mets the game on account of no offense. I was reminded of “Ignition (Remix)” Day from Ben Lindbergh & Sam Miller’s The Only Rule Is It Has to Work, where the playing of that song as every batter’s walk-up music led reactions of amusement, confusion, annoyance and boredom. This is how the Mets’ offensive output has become: first, collective reaction was “Ha, ha, the Mets can only score off of home runs!”, then “Wherefore art thou Mets offense?” (i.e., “Why is this our offense?”), to a hearty McEnroe-esque “You cannot be serious!”, concluding with “Okay, now this isn’t even fun to watch.” And then Yoenis Cespedes happened.
Following five strong innings of work, John Lackey appeared as if his 4.59 road ERA was to be greatly lessened. But his command began to falter just a bit, and this manifested itself in a fourseamer hung over the middle of the plate for Cespedes to absolutely bludgeon.
As was pointed out on the SNY broadcast, Cespedes’ home run was the first ever to reach the third deck in a game. It landed just in front of a sign designating section 536 and prompted him to mouth “Wow” as he crossed the plate. Though the Mets were still down 3-1 after the homer, this catalyzed them to keep fighting.
During the broadcast, Keith Hernandez noted of the Mets’ offensive performance, “The Mets have warning-track-itis,” and they found the cure in lower-trajectory balls turned into hits. This was most evident in the bottom of the seventh inning, where they scored three runs. After a Travis d’Arnaud single, John Lackey was pulled in favor of Joel Peralta. Peralta then gave up a walk to Alejandro De Aza and a Brandon Nimmo single would score d’Arnaud and put the game within a run. With runners on second and third and just one out, Peralta was replaced by Pedro Strop. Strop gave up a fielder’s choice to Neil Walker, who advanced all the way to second after a Javier Baez errant throw to third went past Kris Bryant and allowed both De Aza and Nimmo to score. Finding themselves ahead for the first time in the game at 4-3, it would be up to the Mets relievers to secure the win.
All was not easy when Jeurys Familia entered in the ninth inning for his 27th save on the year. After being up 0-2 on Miguel Montero, Familia ended up walking him. Then, Ben Zobrist hit a double over Nimmo’s head in deep right, the second such hit of the night. With runners on second and third and no outs, it appeared Familia’s saves streak was going to end; only not if he had anything to say about it. When he struck out Bryant in a tough at bat, the tide seemed to shift towards the Mets. The crowd was energized for the first time all game and sensed a chance to secure a much-needed win. The Mets intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo to load the bases with one out, and the pressure was on Familia. A strikeout and pop-up later and the game was over.
Credit should be given to Matz because, although he didn’t end up as the winning pitcher, he held an explosive Cubs offense to just three runs, and those three runs came off of the two worst pitches he threw all night. Credit should be given to the Mets’ offense for remembering that the aim of the game is to score more than your opponent. But above all, credit should be given to Familia for proving himself one of the most clutch relievers the game has.
Photo credit: Brad Penner – USA Today Sports