CORRECTS TO METS' JEFF MCNEIL NOT TRAVIS JANKOWSKI - New...

CORRECTS TO METS' JEFF MCNEIL NOT TRAVIS JANKOWSKI - New York Mets' Jeff McNeil, left, scores past St. Louis Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner during the ninth inning of a baseball game Monday, April 25, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

ST. LOUIS — At the moment that Cardinals closer Giovanny Gallegos turned to look at first-base umpire Mark Wegner, eager to learn whether the game was over, Jeff McNeil realized that his mad dash was only halfway over.

In the top of the ninth inning of an eventual 5-2 victory, the Mets were trailing by one and down to their last out, with runners on second and third. When pinch hitter Dominic Smith pulled a ground ball down the first-base line, Paul Goldschmidt made a pretty diving stop, but Gallegos was late getting to first base. Smith — with a headfirst slide into the bag to avoid a potential tag — beat him, allowing Travis Jankowski to score the tying run.

Gallegos glanced at Wegner to be sure.

“I knew right then,” McNeil said, “it was time to go.”

That extra half-second was plenty of time. McNeil scored from second base on the play, well ahead of Gallegos’ throw, to put the Mets ahead.

After Brandon Nimmo’s two-run homer against T.J. McFarland moments later, they finished with more runs in the ninth (five) than they had hits entering the final frame (four).

The Mets (13-5) are feeling awfully good about themselves. Manager Buck Showalter again praised the team’s maturity. Smith said the Mets “have a really good baseball group.”

 

“These are the wins we didn’t really have last year,” McNeil said. “They were kind of the other way around, teams coming back on us, which [stinks]. It feels good to be the team to do it to them.”

Smith added: “It shows the identity of our team, especially what Buck preaches to us every day. We’re a resilient team. We’re in it to the last pitch every night, and even the games that we don’t come up with a win, we make it tough on our opponents when they do beat us. It showed our DNA and what we’re about.”

The dramatic ninth inning had plenty of noteworthy moments. Eduardo Escobar had a one-out single and advanced to second on defensive indifference. Mark Canha fell behind 0-and-2 against Gallegos, putting the Mets a strike away from a loss, but wound up working a seven-pitch at-bat that resulted in a grounder to third. Nolan Arenado, one of the Cardinals’ five 2021 Gold Glove Award winners, threw it away for an error and the Mets’ first run. McNeil doubled. Then Smith contributed what McNeil called “the fastest 90 of his life, probably.”

“I felt slow, but I was trying to run hard,” Smith said with a laugh. “I was trying to run my fastest.”

For most of the night, the game was about Max Scherzer and Miles Mikolas, who were practically equals as they each threw seven shutout innings. Scherzer had 10 strikeouts, one walk and two hits allowed; Mikolas had five strikeouts, one walk and four hits for St. Louis (9-6).

“Tip your hat off to Miles tonight,” Scherzer said. “Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw. He really did his job tonight. I’m pitching on pins and needles there. I have to make every pitch. It was the kind of thing, even a solo shot might lose it.”

The battle of the bullpens got ugly. Trevor May allowed four of his first five batters to reach base — including Tyler O’Neill on a two-run single, the first runs of the game — in the bottom of the eighth, putting the Mets on the brink of a sudden loss.

“We knew there was still a chance,” McNeil said. “Their pitchers pitched fantastic tonight. It was just us grinding. We were only down two runs going into the ninth. That can be done pretty easily.”

As Showalter put it: “It was worth the wait.”