For six of his seven innings Friday night, Mets starter Zack Wheeler was in complete control. The sixth inning, however, was a different story thanks to one big swing from LA first baseman Cody Bellinger.
Wheeler easily breezed through the first two innings of this game, retiring the first six Dodgers hitters with four punch-outs. Minimal trouble arose in both the third and fourth, but the righty was able to keep Los Angeles off the board in both frames, before dominating the bottom of the Dodgers lineup in the fifth. The issue though, was the same one that continues to rear its ugly head for the Mets. Aside from a few games in hitters parks in Arizona and Colorado, this club just cannot score, putting too much pressure on their pitchers to be perfect.
With the game scoreless through five, Wheeler took the mound in the sixth, ready to face the top of the Los Angeles lineup for the third time, and bad luck and a brief lack of focus put his night in immediate jeopardy. Dodgers leadoff man Joc Pederson was struck out to start the frame, there are no two ways about it. With a full count, Wheeler painted the inside portion of the plate at the knees, a pitch SNY’s K-Zone easily demonstrated should have been a called third strike, but home plate umpire Gabe Morales just flat out missed the call. Wheeler’s body language demonstrated understandable frustration during the next batter, second baseman Max Muncy, and he lost him to his second consecutive walk to start the frame. After former Met Justin Turner flew out for the first out, Matt Kemp blooped a single into right field to load the bases with one out for Cody Bellinger. Needing a strikeout, Wheeler appeared to reach back for a little extra velocity, immediately getting ahead of last year’s Rookie of the Year 0-2. His 0-2 pitch though, a fastball catcher Devin Mesoraco wanted up and out of the zone, missed its spot and settled right at the top of the strike zone. And Bellinger didn’t miss it. With one mammoth swing the Dodgers’ plated four runs, ruining Wheeler’s night and essentially ending the game.
New York did show some fight in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the Los Angeles lead in half on a two run homer from Jose Bautista, but that was as close as they would get, as Bautista himself wasted New York’s last golden opportunity to rewrite the narrative of this game a couple innings later.
In the bottom of the eighth, still trailing 4-2, the Mets got a lead-off hit from Asdrubal Cabrera before Wilmer Flores went down swinging for the first out. Up stepped Michael Conforto, who hit the most routine of double play balls to second base, but Muncy inexplicably completely botched the play. To make matters worse for Los Angeles, with the defense in a heavy pull shift against Conforto, Cabrera was able to pop up at second base and dash towards third a la Daniel Murphy in the 2015 playoffs, as the Dodgers simply had no one on the left side of the infield. The play got the crowd back into the game, and with runners on the corners and one out, New York had the tying runs on base. The positive momentum though could not have been more shortly lived. Bautista grounded the first pitch he saw into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play, getting LA to the ninth still up two.
Yasiel Puig added a ninth inning insurance home run to give the road team a 5-2 lead, and closer Kenley Jansen easily retired the Mets in order to secure the series opening win for Los Angeles. The loss dropped the Mets to 31-42, their new low water mark for 2018, as things continue to look awfully bleak.
Tonight should be fun however, as Jacob deGrom and Clayton Kershaw are about as good a pitching match-up as you can dream up these days.
Photo credit: Noah K. Murray – USA Today Sports