MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Mets

Game recap July 22: The Wilmer Flores Walkoff

Mets brought 15,000 Noah Syndergaard bobbleheads to Citi Field last night. If fans were fortunate enough, they could sit in line for hours waiting for the gates to open and actually get rewarded for it. Of course, there weren’t enough bobbleheads to go around. All those fans stuck in line arrived to a stadium ill-prepared for an early rush of fans.

It’s a perfect metaphor for the Mets 2017 season. If we show up at the right place and the right time, the Mets might provide some wonderful memories. But there are a lot of nights where we sit through heat and lines and rain just to see an under-manned team struggle to keep its head on straight. Zack Wheeler couldn’t find the strike zone and gave up four runs before the Mets got to bat. The Mets lineup looked hapless before rain started coming down in the sixth. I can’t help but wonder how many fans stuck out all nine innings to see Wilmer Flores’ walkoff home run.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Wheeler has thrown a surprising number of pitches in the strike zone, but has so little command of his offspeed pitches that hitters don’t chase. Wheeler threw a curveball right down the heart of the plate for his second pitch of the game. He didn’t fool Matt Joyce, who blasted it for a home run. Things only got worse as Wheeler gave up a walk, line drive out, single, and a walk. Great defense can bail out a struggling pitcher, but if you’ve watched the Mets all season (or even at all), you know this is the cue for a blunder. Bruce Maxwell lined to right and Jay Bruce reacted like he was running in a sand dune. The ball went over his head for a double, and a Matt Chapman sacrifice fly made it 4-0.

Wheeler walked Oakland pitcher Sean Manaea to start the second. I thought I’d have hours to come up with the best “wheels fall off” puns before he got pulled. Wheeler gave up another hit in the inning, and two more in the third, but he was able to locate the ball a bit better and keep the game from becoming a complete blowout. It was the reverse of Wheeler’s normal pattern of starting strong then running out of gas and losing command. He was most successful the third time through the A’s lineup.

Once a few fans opened their umbrellas in the sixth, the Mets opened their offense. Flores led off with a double, then Bruce homered to dead center off the left-hander Manaea. Jose Reyes “tripled” over Khris Davis’ head as he lept in the air to snatch the crown from Bruce for worst outfield defense of the night. Travis d’Arnaud went with a pitch away for an RBI single and Michael Conforto hit a two-out double down the line to make it 5-4 Oakland. Lucas Duda delivered a two-out pinch hit single in the eighth to tie the game, and Flores homered with two outs in the ninth to win it.

Mets Shuffle Infield

Asdrubal Cabrera started at third base for the first time in his professional career. The Mets discussed moving him to third back in May, but he only practiced the position one time before playing there. He didn’t immediately panic on any balls hit his way, which could be an improvement. Several contenders – most notably the Red Sox – are shopping for third basemen and the Mets seem to be auditioning Cabrera for a potential trade. Flores started at second base for the seventh time this year, although that’s expected to be Neil Walker’s job to take back after some rehab games.

Middle Relief Survives

Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins were both unavailable after Terry Collins asked them both to try a five-out save Friday. Since Wheeler threw 100 pitches over five innings, Josh Smoker came on for the sixth. Smoker, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since throwing 81 pitches in a mop up role and then going on the disabled list for a mysterious shoulder ailment, saw diminished velocity, but it’s too early to tell if that’s a fluke or a real problem. Josh Edgin threw two innings and Hansel Robles threw the ninth, combining for four shutout innings and allowing five baserunners with only one strikeout. It’s hardly dominant, but even spare part relievers are good enough to generate scoreless innings from time to time.

What’s Next?

Rafael Montero faces off against struggling rookie Daniel Gossett. The Mets marketing department may rethink whether the PR damage from only giving out 15,000 bobbleheads makes the promotion a net failure.

Photo credit: Andy Marlin – USA Today Sports

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