In the hours leading up to Wednesday’s series finale at Citi Field, the Mets pledged to be ready for any retaliatory action by the Phillies.
Instead, all they could do was watch. And watch. And then watch some more.
Because the Phillies’ revenge was delivered in agonizing slow motion, courtesy of Rhys Hoskins, who channeled the anger from Tuesday night’s head-seeking missiles into a delicious, in-your-face homer off Mets’ reliever Jacob Rhame — the same goggle-eyed assassin that targeted him the previous night.
But it wasn’t enough for Hoskins to take Rhame over the leftfield wall. Oh no. As soon as the ball disappeared, Hoskins downshifted, and broke into what resembled maybe a gear above leisurely stroll. In rounding third, it looked as if Hoskins might walk the rest of the way. But he stopped a step from the plate, then hopped over sideways before partying with Bryce Harper, directly in Rhame’s sightline.
“I enjoyed the moment,” Hoskins said. “I just enjoyed the moment. I think to put an exclamation point on a win like that when you really needed it, I think that’s what everyone here is most excited about it.”
Sure. The Phillies’ 6-0 victory did prevent a sweep at the hands of the Mets, but to say Hoskins enjoyed that trot was a major understatement. And sending Rhame out there for the ninth, to set up an emotional rematch with Hoskins, was a bad miscalculation by Mickey Callaway.
Rhame buzzing Hoskins with a pair of 98-mph fastballs in the ninth inning the previous night was a big topic of conversation before the game. The Mets were proudly unapologetic for pitching around Hoskins’ dome, evidently fed up with getting hit 15 times this season, including twice Monday. Callaway went as far as to say his crew would be prepared for whatever happened in the finale.
“We’re not concerned with how they feel, how they think,” Callaway said before Wednesday night’s game. “If you need that to light a fire under you, you probably got it the wrong way.”
Maybe the Phillies didn’t need it. But they sure used it to their advantage. If that wasn’t obvious enough, Hoskins spelled it out afterward.
“A couple of guys said the phrase, don’t poke the sleeping bear,” Hoskins said. “And seemed to be that the last couple of innings was a pretty good indication that may have happened.”
The Mets not only opened a motivational door for the Phillies, they helped nudge them through. All they could do was try and shield their eyes from the fallout.
“Going through my mind is I shouldn’t throw one right down the middle to him,” Rhame said. “That’s about it.”
Rhame had plenty of time to think about the mistake. Hoskins’ stroll was clocked at a ridiculous 34.23 seconds. And if you’re having trouble visualizing just how slow that is, here’s a reference point: Bartolo Colon made it around in 30.5 seconds after his first-career homer in 2016 at Petco Park.
“I think that if a ball goes over your head the night before, the best way to get back at the pitcher is by putting the ball in the seats,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “So I thought that it was worthy of him having at that moment, and really taking it all in, soaking it all in. He deserved that. I think he earned it.”
So what happens next? If Rhame’s initial head-hunting was payback for the Phillies drilling Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, and Hoskins’ Citi glide was exacting his own pound of humiliation, then where do we go from here? Do the Mets have to drop Hoskins later down the line?
“It is what it is,” Todd Frazier said. “What do you want me to say, I’m [ticked] off at him? A guy hit a home run. I’m [ticked] off that we lost. That’s basically it.”
Frazier was the player the Phillies did hit Wednesday night, when Vince Velasquez plunked him on the left shoulder with a 92-mph fastball to lead off the fourth inning. Plate umpire Brian Gorman then warned both benches, but it seemed procedural. The Phillies only led 1-0 at the time and it was clearly unintentional.
They would get their satisfaction later, and it turned out to be much sweeter than any fastball to the ribs could ever be. And for the Mets, in a way, more painful to stomach.
“I don’t look at it as retaliation,” Hoskins said. “I was just enjoying the moment.”
Any time somebody enjoys it that much, for that long, it tends to leave a lasting impression.
MLB hit-by-pitch leaders entering Wednesday’s games:
1. Mets 15
2. Cubs 14
3. (tie) Angels 13
5. (tie) Tigers 12