The first two plays of Sunday’s series finale between the Mets and the Phillies were two of the most exciting of the game. Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera hit Marcus Stroman’s second pitch for a sinking liner to rightfield that Michael Conforto snared with a dive. J.T. Realmuto drove the righthander’s fifth pitch into centerfield, where Kevin Pillar laid out for a diving grab.
The Citi Field crowd of 25,488 was instantly electrified. Little did they know that those hard-hit outs would be omens of an atypically bad day for Stroman.
The former Patchogue-Medford High star lasted only three innings and former Met Zack Wheeler tormented his old team for seven scoreless innings as the Phillies prevailed, 4-2.
The Mets offered Stroman little help after the first inning, making a pair of errors that led to unearned runs in the second and third innings as Philadelphia built a 4-0 lead. And manager Luis Rojas left himself open to scrutiny when he let long reliever Corey Oswalt hit in the fifth inning with two on, one out and the Mets still trailing by four runs in what became an empty frame.
Stroman already was pitching against a dark backdrop. He came out of Tuesday’s game against Atlanta after one inning with discomfort in his left hip, and he posted via social media that his grandmother passed away Friday. Said Rojas, "He was there for his family the last couple days but he wanted to come in and pitch today."
Little seemed different about Stroman at first: He came in from his warmup jaunty and exhorting the crowd. That’s where a typical Stroman performance ended, though. He gave up four runs, five hits and three walks with three strikeouts and was uncharacteristically inefficient. He needed 24, 23 and 23 pitches to get through those three innings.
Until this week, Stroman (6-6) had been one of the Mets’ truly reliable performers; in 11 of his 15 starts before Sunday, he pitched at least five innings and allowed two or fewer runs.
"He came in dancing and electric," Rojas said. "The one thing I can say about his outing is that he didn’t have his slider . . . Defensively, we cost him 20 pitches or more, so it was just a different [type] day for him, and one reason was because he didn’t have his signature pitch."
Stroman left the park quickly to rejoin his mourning family, wasn’t able to discuss his performance in the postgame news conference and did not travel with the team for Monday’s game in Washington.
Oswalt tossed four innings of scoreless ball in relief of Stroman, but Rojas’ decision to let him bat in the fifth with the Mets in position to cut into their 4-0 deficit stood out as odd.
"You know how much we’ve used our bullpen lately with all the doubleheaders — and we have another game tomorrow — so we wanted to save the guys," Rojas said. "When your starting pitcher gets out that early, you’ve got to protect your bullpen, especially when we know there are no off days on the horizon like we have."
Oswalt put down a perfect sacrifice to get the two baserunners into scoring position
, but they were stranded when Jeff McNeil flied out to end the inning.
Pete Alonso singled home a run with one out in the eighth, but Jose Alvarado struck out Michael Conforto and James McCann to end the inning.
Pillar’s homer in the ninth cut it to 4-2 before Archie Bradley got groundouts from Luis Guillorme and pinch hitter Patrick Mazeika to end the game.
The Mets managed only 25 runs in an eight-game homestand in which they went 4-4, but Alonso pointed to the impending return of players from the injured list making the batting order fully healthy again. Alonso said he believes "this team is ready to put up a bunch of runs consistently."
Wheeler (6-4) scattered four hits and two walks in seven innings, striking out eight. The righthander made six starts in June and went 2-2 with a 1.45 ERA, striking out 38 in 31 1⁄3 innings.
As Alonso said, "When he has his good stuff . . . he’s a tough day for hitters."
McNeil and Guillorme made errors that made Stroman’s tough day even tougher.
McNeil, covering first on Wheeler’s sacrifice, dropped Stroman’s throw to load the bases with one out in the second. That opened the door for Herrera’s sacrifice fly.
Guillorme made a throwing error on Ronald Torreyes’ two-out infield hit to give the Phillies their third run of the third inning. Earlier in the inning, former Stony Brook University star Travis Jankowski’s sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third, setting up Alec Bohm’s RBI grounder and Nick Maton’s RBI double.
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