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Luis Rojas' strategic double switch pays off in Game 1, Marcus Stroman strong in nightcap as Mets sweep Phillies in doubleheader

Jonathan Villar #1 of the New York Mets

Jonathan Villar #1 of the New York Mets celebrates his eighth inning game winning base hit against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first game of a double header at Citi Field on Tuesday, Apr. 13, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jonathan Villar was the star of the Mets’ doubleheader sweep of the Phillies, contributing the walk-off single in the first game, a 4-3 win, and the go-ahead double in the second game, a 4-0 win.

But give Luis Rojas credit for a deft managerial touch to help set up the first of those highlights.

In Game 1, when Rojas called on righthander Trevor May for the top of the eighth — the first extra inning in a seven-inning doubleheader contest — he made it a double-switch, taking out Dominic Smith. That meant the pitcher’s spot was third in the lineup.

Under MLB’s pandemic extra-innings rule, the batter who made the final out of one inning automatically begins the next frame on second base. That would have been Smith, who in the first inning homered off of Chase Anderson (four innings, two runs). But because Smith was replaced by the pitcher, it reverted to the batter before him — Francisco Lindor, who is much faster and a much better baserunner.

 

The strategy worked to perfection. Lindor scored easily on Pete Alonso’s RBI single to left, which tied the score ahead of Villar’s game-winner.

"We did it purposely to keep Lindor as the runner at second base starting the inning," said Rojas, whose Mets (4-3) have a winning record for the first time since July 28, when they won their fifth game of the 2020 season and improved to 3-2. "We started talking about it before the inning was over, do that double-switch because of that rule and we could have Lindor at second. And it came through that way. So Lindor started at second and did a good job scoring on that liner. He had to wait until it went through the infield, and he still scored. That worked out really well."

That late drama came after emotions flared in the sixth inning.

With consecutive 100-mph pitches, Phillies reliever Jose Alvarado came up and in on Michael Conforto, who ducked out of the way, and then hit Conforto’s right wrist. That got the attention of several people in the Mets’ dugout, including Smith. He jawed at Alvarado, who waved him off.

Rojas said he came out to talk to plate umpire Joe West and show his team he had it under control.

"Somebody in our dugout said something when Conforto got hit," Rojas said. "I’d say that typically happens in the game. A teammate gets hit, and somebody says something. At one point, we’re both sides yelling. So I came out just to see if I could help tone it down and talk to Joe."

The Mets received solid starting pitching, especially in the nightcap.

Marcus Stroman tossed six scoreless innings, scattering four hits and striking out three. Although the Mets let him bat in the sixth inning — suggesting he was going to get a shot at his first shutout since he was a rookie — he pulled himself from the game after drawing a walk and spending several minutes on the bases in the cold.

"That was heads up," Rojas said.

Hours earlie, Taijuan Walker allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings. He teetered toward the end, allowing four of his final six batters to reach base (three via walk). But he eluded trouble in the fourth courtesy of a double-play grounder from Jean Segura, smoothly turned by Jeff McNeil and Lindor, and in the fifth courtesy of Miguel Castro, who escaped a two-on, one-out jam.

"I’m frustrated at myself," Walker said. "My goal is to go out there and go as deep as possible — six, seven, eight innings is always my goal, every night to go out there. So I’m a little frustrated that I didn’t get to do that today."

That was enough to give the Mets a chance, especially on their best all-around day on the young season. They finished the doubleheader tied with the Phillies (6-5) for first in the NL East.

"To be able to play like we did tonight, to come together as a team and have such a great team win, that’s how we drew it up," said Brandon Nimmo, who reached base in five of eight plate appearances. "Very relieving to have that one in the books and play that well."

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