It’s starting to look real.
It looked real enough when Steven Matz nearly succumbed to one disastrous inning — the thing that’s marked his career — but then walked it back to escape unscathed. It looked real when Todd Frazier hit two home runs, and again when Jeff McNeil hit another two. But it looked really real after the sixth inning, when a stadium full of Mets fans found themselves cheering for the Braves.
Minutes after McNeil hit his second second-decker of the game, the scoreboard flashed a clip from the Phillies game, where the Braves had eked out a two-run lead. Here in Flushing, the Mets were manhandling the Diamondbacks, winning 9-0. And the second wild-card spot – the goal that looked unreachable at the All-Star break— was suddenly very much in focus. The Mets leapfrogged the Diamondbacks and tied the Phillies in the fight for the last wild-card spot. The Brewers, who won, and the Cubs, who lost, are two games ahead of the Mets for that second spot.
“I pay attention to it,” Matz said after the game. “I think we all do. It doesn’t change what we’re trying to do out here, but we realize we’re in a race here, so we do try to pay attention.”
The Mets have one more game against the Diamondbacks, and then the Dodgers on the horizon. And though the Dodgers have steamrolled the competition this season, they’ve also already clinched their division.
The Mets victimized Robbie Ray from the very beginning. Amed Rosario led off with a double and, one batter later, McNeil was hit by a pitch. A double steal placed both runners in scoring position for Wilson Ramos, whose groundout scored Rosario. McNeil scored on J.D. Davis’ single. And they were just getting started. Frazier and Brandon Nimmo followed those two runs with back-to-back homers — the 11th time the Mets have gone back to back — to go up 5-0. Juan Lagares doubled and advanced on a wild pitch before Ray was pulled for a reliever.
Matz, though, looked primed to give some — if not al l— of that back in the second, when he walked the first three batters. He struck out Carson Kelly swinging on a 3-and-2 sinker, and then pinch hitter, Kevin Cron hit a grounder to third. Frazier stepped on the bag and threw to first for the inning-ending double play. Callaway credited pitching coach Phil Regan, who settled Matz down, with the reversal of fortunes. It also saved a bullpen that has both been unreliable and now, overly taxed, with Justin Wilson and Seth Lugo both used heavily in recent days.
“He relaxed a little bit after that,” Callaway said of Matz. “He had done something that was going to be probably the hardest thing to do all day and he settled in and just made pitches from there. To end up going as deep as he did with as many pitches as he threw in the second inning, that was pretty impressive.”
He pitched six scoreless innings, allowing four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. He threw 109 pitches, 71 for strikes. Meanwhile, McNeil hit the first of his home runs off Taylor Clarke in the second, a towering 444-foot blast that made it 6-0. Frazier added another solo shot in the third. Then, in the sixth, McNeil destroyed Yoshihisa Hirano’s 91-mph fastball for a two-run homer to right, making it 9-0. McNeil had seen only four pitches up to that point, and was hit by one, and homered on two.
The Mets collected nine runs with 11 hits, which Callaway called “a little bit of destiny.”
“It was really big, and we needed it at this moment” — a stretch of 13 straight games, Callaway said. “Great game. We needed it kind of the way we won it.”
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