It was a strange sight, almost unnatural.
No, not the 75 adult humans dressed as hot dogs sitting together in the field level seats (yes, really). What was really unusual was that things actually went well for the Mets for a little while: three players were named to the All-Star team -- Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom. And, after that, a strong return from Noah Syndergaard, coming back from a hamstring strain and looking no worse for wear.
And then, though the Braves had managed to score three runs off Syndergaard and load the bases in the sixth, an even stranger sighting: A reliever – Chris Flexen – coming in with the game on the line and getting the out the Mets needed for the moment. Don’t worry, though – the unusual occurrences stopped there. Flexen, who came in with a 1.29 ERA dating to June 16, coughed up the lead in the seventh.
(In case you’re wondering, the hot dogs were there as an ESPN marketing ploy, advertising their latest "30 for 30" documentary on the Coney Island hot dog eating contest – a common enough occurrence in the viral age.)
In the end, though Syndergaard left with a no-decision, the Mets must be pleased with his health. He scattered seven hits, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings, with three walks and five strikeouts. More telling, perhaps, was that he threw 106 pitches. Before the game, Mickey Callaway said he would keep him to around 90 – maybe 100 – to save Syndergaard from over-taxation. He hadn’t pitched in a major-league game since June 15, when he had to leave in the seventh inning for what later was discovered to be a mild hamstring strain.
“He will be on a pitch count,” Callaway said. "It’s almost stretched out all the way, but we do have to keep an eye on him.”
And the eye test was solid. Syndergaard’s fastball touched 99 mph, and he was mostly able to weave in and out of trouble, despite the Braves’ scary lineup.
Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the game with a single, and then, with two outs, Josh Donaldson jumped on a 99-mph fastball, lining it to right for a run-scoring double. Syndergaard was able to limit the first-inning damage to just that one run, which the Mets got back in the bottom of the frame. McNeil kicked it off with a single, and came around to score on J.D. Davis’ opposite-field single.
In the second Syndergaard made quick work of the bottom of the Braves' order, retiring the 6, 7, 8 batters on 11 pitches. With one out in the third, though, Acuña struck again, sending an 89-mph slider 437 feet to the visitors' bullpen in right center. It was the only big mistake Syndergaard would make that inning, though it could have been a lot worse. After Acuña, Dansby Swanson hit softly into the infield grass, a ball Amed Rosario couldn’t quite glove in time, resulting in a single. Freddie Freeman hit a single that snuck by a diving Robinson Cano, and then both runners stole a base. Syndergaard, though, got Josh Donaldson on a popout to second base and whiffed Nick Markakis to keep it at 2-1.
That allowed the Mets' offense to help out their pitcher again. This time, they responded with Alonso’s walk, Davis’ single and Todd Frazier’s run-scoring single, all in quick succession with one out in the third. That tied the score at 2. Cano then singled to load the bases for Rosario, who hit a sacrifice fly to right to give the Mets their first lead.
Things, though, began to unravel in the sixth inning for Syndergaard. That’s when he walked the first two batters and had a brief chat with pitching coach Phil Regan before getting an out on a fielder’s choice. He struck out Austin Riley, and looked like he would dance out of trouble again, but Johan Camargo singled in a run to tie it at 3. Syndergaard walked the next batter to end his night, and give the game over to the bullpen – always a shaky proposition, but one the Mets knew to be inevitable.