Has a team ever needed a hit like the one Michael Conforto delivered tonight more than the 2018 New York Mets?
Mired in a miserable offensive stretch that has seen the Amazins’ get shut out three times in the last week and a half, and score only three times in their previous two games against the lowly Reds, New York’s series opener in Philadelphia looked like more of the same for almost three hours. The Mets were befuddled by Philadelphia starter Jake Arrieta for the entirety of the right hander’s outing, but their bats came alive at just the right time to secure a crucial divisional victory.
The game got off to a poor beginning for starter Steven Matz and the Mets as, for the second consecutive outing, the southpaw surrendered a first inning home run, this time to Phils’ center fielder Odubel Herrera, putting New York in an immediate hole. For the second straight start though, Matz settled in, pitching in and out of trouble in nearly every frame, but getting the outs he needed to keep his team in the contest. His heaviest lifting came in the fifth when he allowed Philadelphia to load the bases without a hit and then went 3-0 on Phillies’ first baseman Carlos Santana before rallying to get him on a ground ball to short, ending the threat. His pitch count prevented him from going deeper than five innings, but Matz has now surrendered only two solo homers in 11 innings in his last two outings, certainly a promising sign for himself and the Amazins’.
This was not a night New York wanted to be discussing silver linings during the postgame however, as with the way this team has struggled of late, this weekend series with a divisional team ahead of them in the standings is pivotal. The way Arrieta was cruising though, it was looking like the Phillies’ skinny 1-0 lead may as well have been 100. The Mets mounted just five hits against the veteran in 7.1 innings, reaching second base only twice. Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler pulled Arrieta after he retired pinch-hitter Juan Lagares to begin the 8th, and righty Tommy Hunter was able to complete the inning with little drama. New York’s bullpen was able to pick up where Matz left off and keep the game close, as Seth Lugo, Paul Sewald and A.J. Ramos each contributed scoreless innings, but the Phillies were still in position to win when they summoned their closer, Hector Neris, into the game in the ninth.
Neris got Adrian Gonzalez on a pop-up that third baseman Maikel Franco ran down in shallow left field to begin the inning, but things got dicey for him after that. Wilmer Flores found the hole on the left side of the infield for a one-out single, and after Flores was replaced by pinch-runner Luis Guillorme, Michael Conforto stepped to the plate as the go-ahead run. The Oregon State product has struggled for the majority of 2018 after missing all of spring training recovering from shoulder surgery, but he began to swing the bat better in Cincinnati. He’d carried that momentum over into this game too, reaching base twice (a single and a walk) and driving a ball to the warning track the only time he was retired. In his final at-bat, Conforto got out in front of a Neris’ splitter and crushed the pitch down the right field line, narrowly missing a game-changing home run as the ball hooked foul. A couple pitches later, however, the Mets outfielder changed the narrative of the entire night, launching a two-run blast off the facing of the second deck to give the road team a 2-1 lead. Rattled by the blown save, Neris made a mistake with his very next pitch, leaving a ball up and over the middle of the plate to Devin Mesoraco, who crushed a home run of his own to double the newfound New York lead and stun the home crowd.
Closer Jeurys Familia came on in the bottom of the 9th and retired the Phillies in order to secure his 11th save. Before Friday’s comeback, New York had dropped eight of their previous nine contests, but with any luck, the winds are shifting back in the right direction. The Mets send their top two pitchers, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, to the mound the next two days, setting them up to potentially string together a few wins. Fingers crossed.
Photo credit: Eric Hartline – USA Today Sports