It’s dangerous to put too much stock in an early April series, but what the Mets just accomplished in D.C. this weekend certainly sent shots over the Nationals’ bow. New York’s 6-5 win in 12 innings on Sunday night completed a three-game sweep against their arch rivals, but the way the Mets won was indicative of the way they’ve won all year: offensive resiliency and dominant relief pitching.
The game did not start all that well for the Amazins’, as after going scoreless in the top of the first, Matt Harvey wasn’t fooling anyone early on in his second start of 2018. Adam Eaton led off the Nationals’ first with a bullet ground out to first base and Anthony Rendon followed with a rocket up the middle for a single, although to be fair, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera was in position to make the play and in all honestly should have. Mets’ nemesis and early NL MVP favorite Bryce Harper followed with a long home run into the Washington bullpen to put the home team up 2-0, but from there Harvey was able to stem the tide.
In the Mets’ half of the 3rd, Washington starter Tanner Roark pitched himself into a two out mess, walking Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Cabrera all consecutively, loading the bases for New York’s first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had been a three-pitch strikeout victim in his first AB. This time, however, the 35-year-old turned in a great piece of veteran hitting. After issuing three straight free passes, it was obvious Roark wanted to throw a strike and get ahead, and Gonzalez sat dead fastball, started early and got the barrel to the ball, crushing a long grand slam to put the Mets up 4-2 and seemingly sucking the wind out of Nationals Park.
Washington got one back in the fourth on a two-out run scoring double by catcher Pedro Severino, but indicative of the 2018 Mets, they responded immediately, pushing the lead back to two on a fifth inning solo homer from Cabrera.
In the bottom of the fifth, Harvey began to run out of steam, as a leadoff single from Harper and a walk to Matt Adams put him in immediate trouble. A 6-6-3 double play ground ball from Howie Kendrick was just what the doctor ordered, but shortstop Trea Turner plated Harper from third with a single, again cutting the Mets’ lead in half. Turner immediately stole second, a continuing problem for New York, although that’s a story for another day. The Mets then caught a break, as a swinging bunt from Michael Taylor found no man’s land on the right side of the infield, but Turner took too hard a turn around third base, and a heads up play from Gonzalez caught him in a run down between third and home, getting New York through five with a 5-4 advantage.
After two perfect innings of relief from the Nats’ bullpen to keep them within one, the home team took advantage, plating the tying run on a two-out hit from Taylor against Robert Gsellman, and from there the managerial chess match was on. The Mets used both righty A.J. Ramos and southpaw Jerry Blevins to get through the eighth, and after going down 1-2-3 against Washington closer Sean Doolittle in the ninth, Seth Lugo was tabbed to keep the Nationals off the board in the bottom of the frame, and push the game to extra innings. After an unintentional intentional walk to Harper to start the inning, Lugo made his task astronomically more difficult by throwing a pickoff attempt down the right field line, sending Harper to second with no one out. He took third on an Adams’ fly ball to center field, and Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway then invoked his most strategic decision yet, walking both Kendrick and Turner intentionally, to load the bases with one out and set-up a force at every base. In search of a double play, Lugo instead struck out both Taylor and Severino, ending the threat and pushing the momentum back to the New York dugout.
In the 10th, Washington brought in Sammy Solis in relief, and the lefty befuddled the Mets, striking out five in two innings of work, but Lugo was matching him pitch for pitch, going three scoreless himself, allowing only one hit and punching out three. In the 12th, New York finally broke through against the Nats’ relief corps, as after going 0-5 with three strikeouts prior to this at-bat, Yoenis Cespedes lined a run scoring single to put the Mets back on top.
After a five-out save on Saturday, it was obvious Callaway wanted to stay away from closer Jeurys Familia, and instead the skipper tabbed young Jacob Rhame, in search of his first career save, to attempt to close out the game and the series sweep. Rhame rewarded his manager’s confidence, and after a two-out double by Wilmer Difo put him in a little bit of trouble, Eaton grounded out to third to end the game.
The Mets have now won five in a row and raised their record to a National League best 7-1, and they’re in tremendous shape as they head to Miami, where they’ll send their top two pitchers, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, to the hill the first two nights.
Photo credit: Geoff Burke – USA Today Sports