ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Mets’ West Coast road trip was so long, Taijuan Walker started three times before it was over. And it was so tumultuous that despite splitting the 10-game battle of attrition, the Mets actually lost five games in the standings.
And they’ll take it.
Will they ever.
Walker saved the best for very last, spinning arguably his most dominant performance of the season, and the Mets did just enough against Patrick Sandoval and the Angels in a 4-1 win at Angels Stadium.
With Atlanta winning its 11th straight on Sunday, the Mets retain a 5 1⁄2-game lead in the NL East and return home to face the Brewers on Tuesday.
“We played a bunch of high-quality teams and we figured out a lot about ourselves, especially since we’re not at full strength,” Pete Alonso said. “The guys we have now played hard every single day and we’re a really good team.”
The Mets were up 3-1 in the eighth when the Angels put a runner on first with one out and Mike Trout at the plate as the tying run, a scenario that meant summoning Edwin Diaz early. Diaz struck out Trout swinging on a 99.7-mph fastball down the middle and walked Anthony Rendon before dialing his fastball to 101.6 mph to strike out Jared Walsh. It was his fastest pitch of the year and the third-fastest of his career. He struck out the side in the ninth to earn his 12th save.
“He had his big-boy stuff today,” Alonso said. “It sucks for the other hitters.”
Jeff McNeil went 3-for-4 for his National League-leading 22nd multi-hit game of the year and Alonso was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. His ninth-inning solo home run gave him the National League lead in homers (18) and RBIs (57). J.D. Davis’ solo homer in the fourth broke a 1-1 tie.
After a shaky first inning, Walker (4-2, 3.08 ERA) was nearly untouchable, allowing one run, six hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts, his highest strikeout total since June 2021.
He got the Angels to swing and miss at 18 pitches, mostly thanks to a demon splitter that dropped with impunity. It’s the most swings and misses he’s gotten in any game since 2016, according to MLB’s Sarah Langs.
“He’s had some good [splitters] before, but today was one of them,” Buck Showalter said.
Walker gave up four hits in the first inning but escaped with one run allowed. Brandon Marsh doubled to lead it off and scored on Trout’s single. Rendon grounded into a 4-4-3 double play and, after back-to-back singles, former Met Juan Lagares lined out to center.
And that’s when everything clicked. Walker struck out the side in the second and the Mets’ offense picked him up in the third, with a little help from former Yankee Tyler Wade. With Brandon Nimmo on first, Marte lined a ball to center and Wade, who got a bad read on it, was too late getting back. The ball sailed over his head for a double, allowing Nimmo to score.
The Mets got a run in the fourth when Davis went deep on Sandoval’s shoulder-high 91.1- mph fastball, drilling it 337 feet to left for his second homer of the year and his first since April 27. Since becoming an everyday player on May 31 — the day the Mets optioned Dominic Smith — Davis is hitting .341.
Walker, meanwhile, continued his brilliance. He allowed two singles after the first inning, one of which was erased on a pickoff throw to first, and dominated the formidable Angels lineup. He cut down the spin rate on his splitter — down an average of 117 rotations per minute, according to Baseball Savant — introducing a greater dropping action that kept batters off kilter.
In the seventh, former Met Aaron Loup hit Nimmo — the Mets’ MLB-leading 41st hit by pitch — and walked Marte. The two attempted a double steal, with Nimmo getting cut down at third and Marte advancing to second. Then Alonso reached on an infield single to second, with Matt Duffy’s off-line throw home getting by Kurt Suzuki to give the Mets a 3-1 advantage.
“I think to break even on the road trip, guys were grinding, we got the runs when we needed to and the bullpen came and shut it down,” Walker said. “We just kind of find ways to win. We’ve had some guys banged up a little bit and it’s a tough trip against the best teams in baseball and we held our own.”