Most of America has been celebrating the Fourth of July all week, and on Friday night the Mets provided their own fireworks complete with a grand finale.
Jose Bautista appeared done earlier this year when the longtime Blue Jay was cut by Atlanta, but since signing with the Amazins, he’s become a surprisingly successful reclamation project. Bautista had hit 336 career home runs before Friday’s season opener with Tampa Bay, but he’d never crushed a game winning walk-off blast. He can now cross that off the bucket list.
The majority of the game went the way most of starter Jacob deGrom’s outings have gone for both him and the team. The ace righty was absolutely brilliant once again, pitching through the Rays lineup with ease all night long, but yet again he found himself unlikely to earn a win as the night progressed.
After deGrom had set down Tampa Bay in the first three frames with four strikeouts, New York got in the board in the home third thanks to a little help from the Rays defense. With one out, Brandon Nimmo hit a routine ground ball to short that Willy Adames threw away for a two base error. After Bautista drew a walk to put two on with one out, the Mets’ best trade candidate at the moment, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, singled through the hole into left field to score Nimmo with an unearned run.
deGrom tossed an easy 1-2-3 shutdown inning in the fourth after getting the lead, and the game started to feel like so many of his starts. He’d gotten his run, and now needed to try to shut the other team out to secure a victory. That hope came to an abrupt halt with two outs in the fifth, as Adames surprisingly crushed a game-tying solo homer to straightaway center. The Mets tried to respond in the sixth, when, after they got a one-out baserunner, Todd Frazier doubled to the gap in right center. The problem was the runner was Wilmer Flores, and third base coach Glenn Sherlock foolishly flapped his left arm to send the fan favorite home. Flores was gunned down by about 30 feet, and the Mets failed to score, sending this one to the later innings deadlocked at one.
deGrom would finish his night with yet another no decision, as after eight dominant innings New York went to closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth, and trouble immediately presented itself. Familia allowed a hit, a walk and hit a batter to load the bases with one out, but a force play at home and a strikeout got him out of trouble and gave the Mets a chance to walk this one off in the bottom of the ninth.
Leading off in the home ninth, Frazier drew a walk against Rays reliever Chaz Roe, setting up a fascinating presentation of National League baseball. Catcher Devin Mesoraco, who hadn’t had a successful sacrifice bunt since 2009 in class-A ball, was up next and his first few bunt attempts showed he didn’t really know what he was doing. In a somewhat surprising strategic adjustment, manager Mickey Callaway took the bunt off, and was rewarded when Mesoraco singled into left field. Amed Rosario then dropped a perfect sac bunt down to third, and New York was really in business with pinch-hitter Dom Smith walking to the plate.
Smith though, missed the memo. The former first round pick topped the first pitch he saw back to Roe for the innings’ second out, leaving Frazier pinned to third base. The Rays then chose to intentionally walk Nimmo, a strategy that didn’t work out to say the least. Tampa wanted the righty-righty match-up with Roe against Bautista, but Bautista sent the first pitch he saw deep into the second deck for a walk-off grand slam, sending the Flushing faithful home happy.
After one of the worst months in franchise history in June, the Mets have now won three of their first four contests in July, showing at least some level of competent play for a refreshing chance of pace. They’ll look to win a series for the first time in forever this afternoon, when left handers Steven Matz and Blake Snell take the hill for their respective squads.
Photo credit: Noah K. Murray – USA Today Sports