New Year, Old Mets By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
“You want the hot dogs to be hot. The popcorn to be good. Parking not to be a challenge. Not too much traffic. Sun’s out and when people go home you want them to come back.” Those were the words from Mets’ Manager Buck Showalter prior to his team’s second home game of the season. In their first one, the Mets beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 10-3 in front of the ninth-largest baseball crowd in Citi Field’s history. Along with the win the hot dogs were hot. The popcorn was good, the sun was out and people wanted to come back.
Now, as Howie Rose likes to say, the second game of the homestand is “in the books” and this time the result was a 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks that left the Mets contemplating one that got away.
On the mound the matchup appeared to favor the Mets out of the gate as Carlos Carrasco opposed Arizona’s righty, Zac Gallen, who was making his season debut. In Carrasco’s first start of the season (at Washington), the Venezuelan righty lasted 5.2 innings while allowing one-run – a first inning home run – on two hits, five strikeouts and no walks. Against Arizona, Carrasco lasted only five-innings, but struckout eight batters (versus allowing only two walks, one intentional) and surrendered just three hits and no runs on 82 pitches (53 strikes).
Meanwhile, Gallen tried to navigate, not only the Mets lineup, but a cut on his thumb that caused his start to be pushed back four days. In his first action of the season Gallen tossed four-innings of shutout ball, allowing just two-hits, one walk and struckout two on 66 pitches (43 strikes).
In the end, the game was decided by the Mets’ bullpen; which is an all too familiar story for the franchise. Seth Lugo was brought in with one-on and no out in the top of the seventh-inning and proceeded to allow the inherited runner to score as well as two others; putting the Mets in a 3-0 hole they couldn’t fully climb out of.
“We’ve been spoiled by Lugo for a long time,” said Mets’ Manager Buck Showalter. “He’s been very busy already for us this year. He’s a solid pitcher.”
Here’s an inning-by-inning breakdown of how it all happened.
Carrasco struckout the first two batters of the game – Daulton Varsho and Ketel Marte – utilizing a fastball in the low-to-mid-90s and a mid-80s changeup that kept the batters off balance. The third batter, David Peralta, forced Carrasco to work from behind before popping out to third baseman Eduardo Escobar for the final out of the top of the first inning.
In the bottom of the first, Gallen worked around a one-out walk to Starling Marte to retire Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso.
The top of the second saw Carrasco rack up two more strikeouts (Christian Walker and Pavin Smith) – one on a changeup and one on a fastball – before surrendering a sharp single to Seth Beer. Carrasco came back to get Carson Kelly to fly out to left field to end the inning.
Onto the bottom of the second and Robinson Cano tallied the first Mets’ hit of the game – a single to left – following an Escobar strikeout. Dominic Smith traded places with Cano on a 4-6 Fielder’s Choice and then the inning came to a close on Travis Janowski’s foul pop to third base.
A groundout to first by Sergio Alcantara began the top of the third and was followed by Yonny Hernandez’s groundout to second as Carrasco induced soft contact from the bottom of Arizona’s order. With two-outs Varsho hit a hard grounder down the first base line that Pete Alonso sprawled out to grab before tossing the ball to Carrasco for the inning-ending out.
Gallen began the bottom of the third by striking out Catcher Tomas Nido before allowing a sharp, linedrive single to right field off the bat of McNeil. With one on and one out, Gallen induced a soft liner from Marte that fell in front of Ketel Marte, who flipped it to Alcantara at second for the force out. Lindor followed with a harmless flyout to left to end the third.
The Diamondbacks mounted the first rally of the game in the top of the fourth. Ketel Marte singled. Peralta doubled to set up a two-on, no-out jam for Carrasco. The Mets’ righty bore down, struckout Walker (looking) and Smith (swinging, on another changeup) before intentionally walking Beer. He followed that up by getting Kelly to flyout to deep left field to end the threat.
Pete Alonso popped out to first to begin the bottom of the fourth and Escobar followed by grounding a ball up the middle to the shortstop Alcantara, who threw him out at first. Cano grounded weakly to first to send the game to the top of the fifth.
Carrasco began the fifth by ringing up Alcantara on yet another changeup for his seventh strikeout of the afternoon. Hernandez followed with a full-count, check-swing walk that most thought should have been Carrasco’s eighth strikeout; instead it was one-on, one-out. Varsho gave the ball a ride out to left but McNeil ran it down at the wall for the second out of the inning; an impressive play for sure.
Hernandez then stole second while Ketel Marte was up in the count 2-0. Carrasco came back to strike out Marte with a changeup to end Arizona’s attempt at a rally. The strikeout was Carrasco’s eighth of the afternoon, with seven being of the swinging variety and six coming via changeup.
Kyle Nelson replaced Gallen to start the bottom of the fifth and promptly hit Dominic Smith with a pitch, drawing the ire of the Citi Field crowd. Jankowski then lined the ball back at Nelson, who turned it into a 1-1-3 double-play to quiet the fans in attendance. Nelson then induced a strikeout from Nido to end the frame.
Joely Rodriguez entered the game for the Mets to start the top of the sixth. Rodriguez sandwiched strikeouts of Peralta (swinging) and Smith (looking) around a pop out to center field by Walker for a quiet inning.
Nelson came out for the bottom of the sixth to begin his second inning of work and immediately walked McNeil. That prompted D-Backs Manager Torey Lovullo to go back to his bullpen as he brought in right-hander Sean Poppen. Starling Marte popped up to shallow center field but Varsho ran it down at the last moment. Lindor popped out to Peralta as Arizona’s left-fielder battled the sun to make the catch. With two-outs and one-on Pete Alonso brought the crowd to its feet with a fly ball to left but Peralta ran it down well short of the wall to end the sixth.
Rodriguez began the seventh by promptly allowing a softly hit liner to left for a base hit off the bat of Beer. That resulted in Showalter making the call to the bullpen for right-hander Seth Lugo. Number 67 struck out Kelly but then gave up a long, loud two-run home run to right center field off the bat of Alcantara for the first runs of the game. 2-0 Diamondbacks. Hernandez ricocheted a grounder off Lugo. The ball skipped over to Escobar at third, who threw Hernandez out at first. A walk to Varsho followed and then Marte roped a double to right that scored Varsho. Marte advanced to third on the throw home. 3-0 Arizona. Lugo finally got out of the inning by striking out Peralta but the damage was done.
Poppen started the bottom of the seventh by getting Escobar to pop out to Peralta in left, who made a sliding catch by the tarp. Joe Mantiply then came on to relieve Poppen, who left having tossed 1.1 perfect innings. Mantiply got Robinson Cano to ground out to short before giving up a single to Dominic Smith; the first hit by a Mets batter since McNeil’s third-inning single. J.D. Davis pinch-hit for Jankowski and fouled tipped the ball into Kelly’s glove for the final out of the inning.
The Mets made a few changes to start the top of the eighth. Trevor May replaced Seth Lugo. Starling Marte moved from right field to center. And Matt Reynolds took over in right field after Davis pinch-hit for Jankowski in the seventh. May proceeded to strikeout Jake McCarthy looking before giving up a single to right off the bat of Beer, who tallied his third hit of the afternoon. (McCarthy took over for Smith in right field the previous inning). Kelly then grounded to Lindor at short, who flipped to second for the forceout to end the top of the inning.
Ian Kennedy came on to start the bottom of the eighth. The first batter he faced was pinch-hitter Luis Guillorme, who grounded out meekly to second. McNeil then lined a single to center, just the fourth Mets’ hit of the day. Then, Starling Marte followed with a mammoth two-run home run to left-center field to draw the Mets within 3-2.
Lindor then worked a walk to bring up Alonso as the potential go-ahead run. Unfortunately for New York, Alonso rapped into a 6-4-3 double-play to send the game to the ninth, with the Mets trailing 3-2.
James McCann replaced Nido at catcher to start the ninth. And Adam Ottavino came on to try and keep the Mets deficit at one. Ottavino struck out Alcantara (swinging) to start the inning and then gave up a sharp single, off the glove of a diving Alonso, to Hernandez. Varsho followed with a hard-hit single of his own to advance Hernandez to third with only one-out. Varsho stole second three pitches into Ketel Marte’s at-bat to give Arizona two runners in scoring position. Marte then struckout to allow the Mets infield to back up. Showalter ordered an intentional walk to Peralta, thus bringing Walker up to the plate with the bases loaded and two-outs. Ottavino struckout Walker looking to send the game to the bottom of the ninth with the Mets still trailing by a run.
Mark Melancon came on in the bottom of the ninth to try and close things out for the Diamondbacks. Escobar popped out to left to start the home-half of the inning. Cano then struckout to leave the Mets’ fate in the hands of Dominic Smith. Smith too struckout, ending the game. The Mets’ 3-2 loss also ended their 11-game home win streak vs. the Diamondbacks.
Prior to the game the Mets honored the late Gil Hodges, who will finally be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July. Hodges’ two daughters – Irene and Cynthia – his son Gil Hodges Jr., Joe Torre and Josh Rawitch addressed the media. They each gave their heartfelt thoughts on what it means for Hodges Sr. to finally receive the one honor that eluded him. The one thing that stood out was how much the word “class” was used to describe Hodges the person, the player and the Manager.