PHILADELPHIA — Aside from one catastrophic first inning, when Steven Matz threw beach balls and Amed Rosario played shortstop wearing an oven mitt, the Mets pretty much went toe-to-toe with the new-look, “stupid-money” Phillies during their initial meeting at Citizens Bank Park.
If Michael Conforto was able to coax a few extra feet of carry from his ninth-inning fly ball to the track in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss, maybe the Mets would have escaped Philly with a series victory rather than dropping two of three.
Or if pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos got to swing rather than be drilled by the first pitch from a shaky Hector Neris. Or if Mickey Callaway had another difference-making bat on the bench to replace Keon Broxton, who whiffed on a 3-and-2 pitch for the final out.
Instead, the now second-place Mets (10-8) jetted to St. Louis thinking about what might have been. And in a division as tight as the NL East, who knows how many games ultimately will separate the champion from the rest? In the series finale, Jake Arrieta was just a little better than Zack Wheeler, who allowed only three runs in seven innings but was burned by two homers.
Still, the Mets’ seven hits were two more than the Phillies, they just didn’t get the distance. Four of them didn’t leave the infield, with Pete Alonso’s 109-mph grounder slamming into Arrieta’s midsection for a pinball single that prompted Gabe Kapler to yank him in the ninth.
Conforto at least got one over the rightfield wall leading off the seventh inning — his fifth homer of the season and 16th in 51 career games against the Phillies, the most versus any opponent. But none of the other Mets could supply any firepower, so on a day the Mets got the Good Zack, they wound up with an L regardless.
“We just have to do more,” Conforto said. “We’ve just got to put it all together. We didn’t do enough while we were here.”
One of the prime culprits was Robinson Cano, the veteran bat in charge of leading the Mets’ young lineup from the No. 3 spot. Brodie Van Wagenen made the big early splash by getting him from the Mariners — a move later countered, repeatedly, by the Phillies — and he hasn’t been consistently performing yet like an eight-time All-Star.
Cano had a two-run double in Monday night’s 11-inning, 7-6 victory, but went 0-for-3 before taking a pitch in the back Wednesday, putting him at .185 (5-for-27) through the first seven games of this pivotal road trip. Overall, Cano is hitting .192 with a .582 OPS, super-soft numbers that offset whatever hard exit velocity he’s been generating in the process.
“They’re going to fall one day,” Cano said. “It’s going to be a bunch. It’s raining. Just got to keep grinding.”
As for the Phillies’ headline-acquisitions, it was a mixed bag this series. Bryce Harper, the $330-million D.C. defector, was fairly contained, going 2-for-11 with a pair of singles, an RBI and four strikeouts. The Mets never dreamed of bidding on Harper this winter, so there’s no FOMO when it comes to him. J.T Realmuto, however, is a different story.
Van Wagenen was actively in the hunt for Realmuto, and even talked about a three-way trade with the Yankees, a proposal that included Noah Syndergaard, in an effort to land the Marlins’ All-Star catcher. Watching him torture the Mets this series reminded us why as Realmuto went 6-for-14 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. Not only don’t the Mets have him, they have to deal with Realmuto for 19 or so games a season.
On the pitching front, Syndergaard and Aaron Nola both were mediocre in Monday night’s opener, while Nick Pivetta (8.35 ERA) looked like Cy Young compared to Matz by sticking around Tuesday night for five innings. Wheeler had the misfortune of dueling with Arrieta, who stifled the Mets for eight innings. As far as the bullpens go, Edwin Diaz put a scare into the Phillies by striking out the side Monday night in the 11th — Harper, Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, all swinging — while David Robertson wound up on the IL with a flexor tendon strain.
The good news? The Mets won’t need to wait long for revenge. The Phillies arrive Monday night at Citi Field for another three-game set.
“It’s a dogfight,” Callaway said of the NL East. “It’s coming down to the wire.”
Whoa, Mickey. Labor Day is a long way off. There’s 5 1/2 months to go, and from the Mets’ perspective, definitely room for improvement.