Mickey Callaway refused over and over to say Thursday night’s game against the Cubs was a must-win. Instead, the manager fell back on a familiar refrain that every game is important and the most important one is the game in front of you.
Having said all that, the Mets really, really needed a win on Thursday.
That’s why it was so shocking when Jacob deGrom allowed Victor Caratini’s tiebreaking three-run home run into the rightfield upper deck in the seventh inning. You could have heard a pin — or, perhaps, a season — drop at Citi Field (other than the Cubs fans in the crowd of 38,389).
The rightfield second deck at Citi Field frames home runs beautifully. But it was ugly and painful for the home team.
The Mets never recovered from Caratini’s blast and went on to a 4-1 defeat. They have lost six in a row — all at home after sweeping the Indians to start the homestand — and have fallen five games behind the Cubs for the NL’s second wild card spot.
“Things have snowballed,” Callaway said. “Six in a row — that’s a big snowball. We have to start tomorrow and get a win and start the snowball in the opposite direction.”
Friday’s game now becomes the most important one for the Mets (67-66). It doesn’t get much easier as they begin a six-game road trip to Philadelphia and Washington to play two of the teams ahead of them in the division and wild card standings.
“There’s still hope,” Jeff McNeil said. “We’re five games out. The Phillies are ahead of us, too, so we’ve got to beat them, take care of them. We’ve got to play really good baseball.”
They haven’t this week. First it was the NL East-leading Braves and then the Cubs with the sweeps.
“We know we have to win every single game — or every game that we can,” McNeil said. “We have to win a lot.”
Going into the seventh, deGrom had allowed one baserunner — Caratini, who homered into the rightfield upper deck in the second inning. Caratini, filling in for the injured Anthony Rizzo at first base, tied the score at 1 with his first homer after J.D. Davis hit a monstrous 432-foot blast past the Home Run Apple in centerfield off Jon Lester with two outs in the first. It was Davis’ 18th of the season.
The Cubs had no other chances off deGrom in the first six innings. The Mets had a few off Lester, but in a continuation of their recent pattern, they were unable to get the big hit with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-3 in their only chances in innings one through three. Then they had only two baserunners in the final six innings against Lester (11-9) and three relievers.
Still, the score was tied into the seventh and deGrom was nearly impeccable.
That’s what makes the next sequence so disquieting for the Mets and their fans: With one out, Kris Bryant hit a one-hopper to Amed Rosario’s right that clicked off the shortstop’s glove. It was scored a single. Javier Baez followed with a multi-hop ground ball single to center. That brought up Caratini, a 26-year-old catcher / utilityman in his third big-league season.
DeGrom got ahead 1-and-2 before Caratini unloaded on a 90-mph slider for his second homer of the night and ninth of the season. He had three coming into 2019.
“That one stings,” deGrom said. “I felt like I had really good stuff. Couple soft-hit balls there after I got the first out in the seventh just found their way through. And then the home run. So it’s definitely frustrating.”
DeGrom (8-8) finished the inning and ended up allowing four runs, five hits and no walks with seven strikeouts. Four of the hits came in the seventh.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “But we play again tomorrow.”
Yeah. Big game.