MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets

Game recap September 4: I’ll be there for you

After splitting the first two games of their three game set, the Mets and Nationals squared off on ESPN (collective sigh) in the finale. Seth Lugo, owner of the best curveball spin rate in baseball and a 3.12 FIP through three major league starts, was opposed by young Nationals flamethrower Reynaldo Lopez. Though the division is far out of reach, this game was of the utmost importance for the Mets as they scrap for a Wild Card berth. While the Pirates and Marlins both lost, the Cardinals beat the Reds, meaning the Mets had to win to stay a game back of the second Wild Card.

Lugo found himself in trouble early. Trea Turner reached on an infield single, and Jayson Werth followed with a ground ball single into left (a ball most competent shortstops get too, but an injured Asdrubal Cabrera doesn’t qualify). Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper both flew out to left, but Lugo clipped Anthony Rendon to load the bases with two outs for notorious Met killer Wilson Ramos. Mercifully, Lugo induced a two-foot dribbler to retire Ramos and end the threat, snapping a streak of six straight games where the Nationals had scored in the first inning.

The Mets would also threaten in the first inning, as Jose Reyes led off with a walk and Cabrera followed with a single. A wild pitch advanced both runners, and after Yoenis Cespedes struck out, Curtis Granderson drove in Reyes with a sacrifice fly to left field. Cabrera would advance to third on a passed ball, but was stranded there when Wilmer Flores flew out to shallow right. For now, the Mets settled for a one-run lead.

The lead wouldn’t last long. After Ryan Zimmerman took a called third strike to start the top of the second, Danny Espinosa absolutely destroyed a ball, parking it in the upper deck to tie the game at one. Reynaldo Lopez followed with a bloop single, but that would be the last National hitter to reach for the next three innings. Lugo induced a pop out from Turner to start a string of eleven consecutive Nationals set down.

With Lugo in a groove, the Mets seized the opportunity to jump back in front. Jay Bruce ran the Mets out of an inning in the second, but Granderson yanked a two-run, two-out home run down the right field line to give the Mets a 3-1 lead. Granderson, who has well documented struggles with RISP this year, especially with two outs, has now contributed five RBI over the past two games, with four coming with two outs. Perhaps his fortunes are turning around.

No batters on either side reached during the fourth or fifth innings. Murphy led off the top of the sixth and ended Lugo’s stretch of eleven batters retired. It also gave Murphy a hit in every game he’s played against the Mets this season. Lugo was unphased, however, inducing a ground out from Harper, a fly out from Rendon and striking out Ramos to end the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Mets would tack on another pair of runs. Flores singled off of Mat Latos (who replaced Reynaldo Lopez in the fifth), his second hit of the game off a right handed pitcher. Bruce followed with an opposite field blast that just cleared the fence onto the Party City deck, pushing the lead to 5-1 and giving Bruce his second hit of the game. Perhaps he is emerging from his struggles along with Granderson.

Lugo’s outing should probably have ended after the sixth given his lack of major league experience and expanded rosters, but Terry Collins is always going to have a hook that’s three time zones too slow, and Lugo came back out for the top of the seventh. In this case, Collins seemingly made the right decision. Lugo allowed a leadoff single to Zimmerman, but then struck out Danny Espinosa and Turner and made the play on Chris Heisey’s bunt attempt to end the Nationals’ threat. Lugo finished with seven innings of one run ball, allowing six hits, walking none, and striking out four. A tremendously clutch performance with the Met rotation so battered at the moment.

Addison Reed entered for the eighth and got himself into a bit of a jam. Werth led off with a single and three batters later, Rendon also singled to put runners on first and second with two outs for Ramos. Ramos just missed an extra base hit down the right field line that sliced foul before being called out on strikes, ending the threat. Half an inning (and three pitching changes by Dusty Baker) later, Jeurys Familia took the ball looking to seal the 5-1 win.

Using Familia with a four-run lead given his heavy workload this year is definitely a questionable move, but Terry Collins loves to overuse his relievers and gosh darn it he wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by. Thankfully, Familia had a relatively smooth outing, making Zimmerman and Espinosa look bad on strikeouts, before allowing a double to Brian Goodwin. Turner then flew out weakly to center field, securing the Met win.

Looking towards the standings, the Mets remain only a game back of the Cardinals for the second wild card spot. Even more surprisingly, the Mets are only 2.5 games back of the Giants for the first wild card spot, which would give them home field advantage in the one-game playoff. Getting one’s hopes up as a Met fan is usually a bad decision, but 11 wins in the last 15 games have created room for some cautious optimism. The Mets head to Cincinnati (a brutal Monday afternoon game after the Sunday night game) where Bartolo Colon opposes Robert Stephenson.

Photo credit: USA Today Sports

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