As the ball left the bat of pinch hitter Andrew Stevenson in the ninth inning on Saturday, a gasp rang out from some in the crowd at Citi Field. Some fans stood up to watch the flight of the ball, worried that the Mets’ one-run lead was about to evaporate.
Who could blame them? They had seen five home runs by the Mets and two by the Nationals on a crisp, sunny day. They had been teetering between hope and despair for more than three hours.
Funny thing was, Stevenson had flied to medium centerfield. Nothing more. Juan Lagares gobbled it up easily for the second out of the ninth. One out later, the Mets had a rousing 6-5 victory.
Stevenson’s ball never had any chance to be anything other than an out, but these people had seen some things on Saturday and could not be certain what the final destination of any fly ball would be.
Sure, there were some no-doubt homers, such as the one Michael Conforto hit into the upper deck in right in the fourth and the two-run shot Wilmer Difo clobbered off Jeurys Familia to give the Nationals a 5-3 lead in the eighth.
But there also was the first of two hit by J.D. Davis, which even he thought was going to be merely a gapper until it carried over the right-centerfield fence.
And there was the one that had everyone talking: the off-balance shot hit by Pete Alonso to centerfield in the eighth inning — another ball that carried as if it were a 95-degree day in the middle of summer. It only added to the legend of Alonso.
Alonso’s first Citi Field home run brought life back to the Mets after Familia saw a 3-1 lead get away in the seventh and eighth innings. The Mets trailed 5-3 entering the bottom of the eighth, but Alonso and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back homers to tie it and Keon Broxton lined a two-out RBI single to give the Mets the final lead of the afternoon.
After it was over, a tie-less and tireless Brodie Van Wagenen slapped hands with players in the Mets’ clubhouse. The rookie general manager has put together a deep team, deep enough that manager Mickey Callaway has difficult lineup decisions to make every day — something Callaway didn’t have in his rookie season of 2018.
Remember 2018? It seems so long ago. Callaway had to give 302 plate appearances to Jose Bautista, 251 to Jose Reyes, 210 to Austin Jackson and 187 to Adrian Gonzalez. None of those players has a job this season.
Some Mets fans were howling on Saturday that Callaway started Davis over Jeff McNeil at third base against lefthander Patrick Corbin. But that’s why Van Wagenen got Davis from the Astros — to cause mayhem against lefties. Davis hit his first two Mets home runs and McNeil was hit by a pitch — “he wore one,” as the ultra-quotable Alonso put it — as a pinch hitter just before Broxton’s go-ahead hit against lefthander Tony Sipp.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez had the option to bring in a righthander, but Callaway could have countered with Dominic Smith, who is 5-for-10 this season. So Broxton got to face a lefty specialist and made the Nationals pay.
“It’s fantastic,” Callaway said. “We’re able to do the things we did at the end of the game . . . Whoever’s starting and whoever’s sitting on the bench all have very good strengths, and we want to utilize all of those strengths. We have a lot of depth. Guys picking each other up. We’ve got Broxton, who hasn’t played a ton, getting the biggest hit of the .”
With the exception of backup catcher Tomas Nido, every Mets position player got into the game. The pitcher’s spot was in four different locations once Callaway started double-switching and pinch hitting during a highly entertaining innings 6 through 9. (Please, no DH for the NL. In fact, no DH anywhere, ever. Thanks.)
While the Mets overcame Familia’s struggles, the Nationals couldn’t do the same with their less-than-stellar bullpen. Washington’s failure (so far) to sign free agent Craig Kimbrel — such an obvious move that it’s stunning it hasn’t been done — could doom what is otherwise a talented team in the first season after Bryce Harper.
But that’s not the Mets’ problem.
“We’ve got a pretty good team,” Familia said.
The Mets said the same thing last year. This year, it actually might be true.