To most appearances, when the Mets opened a weekend set with the Nationals Friday night , it looked like this could become the weekend in which the Mets were driven far enough down that they might not get back up again. Battered by the disabled list and losers of nine out of ten—including the previous weekend’s sweep by the Nats in New York—the Mets didn’t just look beaten, they looked half buried.
For their part, the Nats came off a rather arduous criss-cross road trip—Atlanta, New York, Denver—on which they still managed to hang up a 9-1 record. If they could do what well under conditions like that, especially the 42-run battering they laid on the National League West-leading Rockies, the Mets had three chances against the Nats in Washington: jack, diddley, and squat.
Then came Friday night and Max Scherzer, who started for the major league-leading Nats. You know Scherzer. He came into the game with a 1.70 ERA and a 0.67 walks/hits per inning pitched against them. Not to mention a no-hitter. And this would be the night before the Mets had the pleasure of squaring off against Stephen Strasburg, he with a 2.53 lifetime ERA against the Mets and who hadn’t lost in April since 2015.
Naturally. ‘Twas but one course for the Mets to follow—concession before embarrassment. Right? Wrong. ”This is definitely going to be a good series and a good fight,” said Nats manager Dusty Baker before Friday night’s skirmish, “because these guys were in the World Series a couple of years ago, they’re not going to give up.”
On Friday night the Mets sat all over Scherzer’s fastballs—especially catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who had the audacity to hit two- and three-run homers against Scherzer. They also laid off his breaking balls and came away with a 7-5 win. On Saturday afternoon, they refused to let Strasburg get anything better than a pair of punchouts while waiting for his less than top of the line offerings—one of which Michael Conforto smashed into the right field seats— and they came out with a 5-3 win.
This keeps up come Sunday, with Noah Syndergaard starting for the Mets, don’t be shocked at a 3-1 win.
“Before the series started, they were reeling,” Baker said after Saturday’s skirmish, “but at the same time, a good-pitched game can stop you’re reeling. And they’re pulling out all the stops.”
Harper was a big victim again Saturday afternoon, when one of the Mets’ overworked bullpen bulls, Jerry Blevins, struck him out with Trea Turner aboard and two outs in the seventh. In fact, Harper might have re-horsed enough to look like he’s gunning for a second MVP award most of April but he’s been punched out six times by the Mets since they hit Washington.
Mets manager Terry Collins did his part to make sure the Mets would come into the set with a little extra fire after the Braves finished them off in Citi Field last week. Yes, he knew the team began looking like post-op in a M*A*S*H unit. Yes, he knew the weather currents affected some players.
And, yes, he knew he’d missed a ball when he had to scratch Syndergaard with biceps tenderness but pitching coach Dan Warthen forgot to tell Matt Harvey he’d go in Syndergaard’s place Thursday—leaving Harvey little enough time to prepare and plenty of time to get spanked by the Braves for six runs on five hits and a career high-tying five walks.
And, yes, Collins was only too aware the Mets would have to live without Yoenis Cespedes for at least another week, on top of missing Lucas Duda (hyperextended elbow), Wilmer Flores (knee infection), Steven Matz (flexor tendon), and Seth Lugo (partial UCL tear).
And he cared—to a point.
“I understand that also. But we can no longer sit back and say hey look, it’s ugly weather, we’ve got some guys hurt,” Collins said Thursday, transcribing (sort of) the postgame talk he gave his players. “No one cares. (The Braves) don’t care, the Nationals don’t care, [the press] don’t care. The only things that matters are the guys in that room. That’s the product. They’ve got to care, they’ve got to go out and give us some energy and get this thing going and I truly believe we can do it.”
There’s little better for a big energy bolt than d’Arnaud abusing Scherzer Friday night, unless it was Jacob deGrom—surrendering a pair of bombs to Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters in the bottom of the second—getting so furious over them that he struck out ten of his last fifteen after Wieters teed off.
Or, unless it was Conforto having himself a 3-for-4 Saturday including a second, solo bomb off reliever Enny Romero, sailing the opposite way into the left field bullpen in the top of the eighth. After Jose Reyes’s miscue on Turner’s leadoff grounder set Turner up to score on a two-out infield single by Zimmerman in the fifth, that blast pushed the Mets back ahead by two.
But Edgin got Daniel Murphy, who’s been a pain in the Mets’ backsides since he left as a free agent, to line out to right. And Hansel Robles got rid of five out of six including four punchouts, before Blevins struck out Harper.
About the only really dicy moment for either side Saturday was in the fourth, when Jayson Werth, aboard with a leadoff walk, stole second crashing into Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera as the throw sailed past. Werth got up and shot for third but was thrown out by about half a mile, and Werth argued futilely he should have been given the base on what he called Cabrera’s interference. The umps called it no way, Jay, and the game went on.
Zimmerman’s bomb in the bottom of the eighth made it 4-3. Reyes then atoned for his fifth-inning misplay with two out in the ninth, when he lined up Shawn Kelley, the Nats’ second reliever on the day, and smashed a 1-2 pitch over the right field fence.
This time, Jeurys Familia, who’s been struggling since his return from a suspension tied to the domestic violence charge that was dropped long before getting the sit-down, found his groove. He got Adam Lind to line out, Turner to ground out, and Michael Taylor—whose three hits on the day would be wasted—to strike out swinging for the game.
The Nats played with their own handicap, Adam Eaton hitting the disabled list with a knee strain. That came on the Friday night play in which he hit first base awkwardly to load the pads in the ninth after beating out a throw. Setting up Harper for a prospective game overthrower. But compelling Collins to lift Familia in favour of the lefthanded Edgin for the better matchup.
Setting up instead a double play easy as 1-2-3—which is just how the play went, Harper bouncing back to the mound, Edgin throwing home, and catcher d’Arnaud throwing to first. And maybe setting the Mets up in good enough morale to go out against Strasburg as if they were just going out for a sunny day at the park having only to ward off some gnats.
Two straight against the first-place Nats could only be a morale boost. Sweeping on Sunday, which depends in big part on whether Syndergaard’s biceps strain is lapsed enough for him to pitch like the ace he now is, the Mets just might launch themselves on a run enough to think that this was the weekend their season turned for the way better.
“We had a feeling that this was coming,” Conforto said after Saturday’s game. “We have a lot of faith in ourselves. Things were going bad for a bit, but there’s no panic in here.” Treating the Nats like Gnats reinforces no-panic feelings.