The Mets made it look easy for a while.
The sparkling 14-5 start. The breathtaking comebacks. The 10-series unbeaten streak. Building a seven-game lead atop the NL East in a little more than a month.
That’s why it was reasonable to expect that the Mets were going to pull off another improbable victory Sunday, helped by what seemed like a brain-cramp gift from the Mariners, before a re-energized crowd of 37,140 at Citi Field.
Why not? The Mets rallied for two runs in the ninth, trimming their deficit to 8-7, when Seattle manager Scott Servais made the highly questionable call to intentionally walk Francisco Lindor and load the bases for Pete Alonso.
The real head-scratcher? Servais chose to do so with the slider-reliant Diego Castillo, increasing the odds of a wild pitch or a walk that would force in the tying run. As those in the Mets' dugout tried to conceal their glee, Brandon Nimmo watched from second base in amazement.
“I thought that was going to come back and bite them,” said Nimmo, who fueled the rally with an RBI double. “Loading up the bases with a slider guy.”
The move very nearly did. Within a few inches, in fact. Alonso worked the count full but couldn’t check his swing on a sixth straight slider. As Alonso froze, there was a brief moment of suspense until first-base umpire Chad Whitson gave the definitive arm pump. Alonso indeed had struck out. Game over. Mets lose, 8-7.
“I didn’t think so,” Alonso said. “But after a while, kind of thinking about it, I thought maybe I went a little too far. Oh, well. Got to move on to tomorrow.”
Five weeks into this season, we were used to the Mets getting that call. Or the hit. Or the other team screwing up.
On one of these rare NYC spring days when the sun actually was shining, you can bet those thawed-out fans at Citi were ready to believe it was going to happen again.
But here’s the funny thing about baseball. Teams don’t roll along at a .737 clip for six months. The Mets weren’t going to win 119 games (the regular-season record is 116, by the way). Eventually, Buck Showalter & Co. were going to reach the grind section of 2022. And after Sunday’s defeat handed the Mets their first series loss, they
are 9-8 in their last 17 games.
And the past three days took a toll on their roster. First they lost catcher James McCann for as long as six weeks with a fractured hamate (wrist) bone, then Tylor Megill followed him on the injured list Sunday with right biceps tendinitis.
The Megill news was somewhat of a relief after an MRI revealed nothing more serious, but he had been one of the shinier surprises to this early season and now is gone indefinitely.
The impact is immediate, with middle reliever Trevor Williams now getting Monday’s start against the Cardinals, who are visiting Citi Field for a four-game series.
Megill was the fill-in for Jacob deGrom, and his absence now underlines a slowly building concern about the starting rotation. Carlos Carrasco could barely keep the Mets in Sunday’s game, giving up eight hits and four runs in 41/3 innings. That pushed the rotation’s ERA to a more pedestrian 4.56 during the past 17 games (since April 27). Also, the bullpen has buckled, with Drew Smith crashing back to Earth this weekend, teeing up a monster two-run homer by Cal Raleigh in the sixth inning that reached the base of the Shea Bridge.
These are not crippling events. The Mets have relied on contributions from every man on the roster, and that’s no fluke. A night earlier, Patrick Mazeika — fresh up from Triple-A Syracuse as McCann’s replacement — delivered the winning homer. That’s not to say such instant success stories are automatic, but these Mets appear to be developing a mojo of sorts.
And they’re going to need every ounce of it to get where they want to go. The Cardinals come to Queens seeing red over the beanball exchanges at Busch Stadium earlier this month, then the Mets hit the road for Denver and San Francisco. Not to say this is a critical stretch, but consider the next week-plus another test. With plenty more to follow.
“Winning in the big leagues is hard — really hard,” Showalter said. “You go through periods where things don’t go your way.”
On Sunday, that thing turned out to be the final pitch, a slider out of the zone that Alonso couldn’t resist turning into strike three. It happens.