These Mets can hang with the big boys. We just forgot to remind ourselves it means hanging themselves. Adolf Eichmann himself didn’t hang from a gallows as big as the one the Mets’ bullpen built in Nationals Park Tuesday.
It takes a rare enough talent to blow a game your team has in the bank. But it takes genius to blow one your team secured in Fort Knox. Just when you thought the Mets’ pen began swearing off arson, and even meaning it, they remind you why you shouldn’t trust them with even a tea light.
Actually, let’s get the facts right. The Nats’ bullpen built the gallows for themselves in the top of the ninth. And they were in not necessarily dire shape but not necessarily pronounced revived fully, especially with overworked closer Sean Doolittle on the injured list.
Then the Mets’ bullpen yanked the Nats’ hapless bulls away from the rope and said, “Thanks large for saving us the trouble! Let us help you to the largest ninth-inning comeback in your franchise history. Least we can do for you building such a nice gallows for us!”
And when Kurt Suzuki, the Nats’ catcher, hit the game-ending three-run homer after Paul Sewald, Luis Avilan, and Edwin Diaz couldn’t get more than one out all inning long, it yanked the noose so tight the Mets looked decapitated as well as hanged.
(The last team to yield five runs or more in the top of the ninth and score more runs than that in the bottom of the ninth? The Red Sox, in June 1961. Against a different Washington franchise. What a difference over half a century makes.)
It didn’t matter that the Mets thumped Nats ace Max Scherzer for four runs in the fourth, beginning with ex-Nat Wilson Ramos extending his hitting streak to 26 games with an RBI double. Any more than it mattered that the Nats pried runs out of Jacob deGrom in the first, the sixth, and the eighth.
But it suddenly mattered even less that Pete Alonso made the score 10-4 in the top of the ninth when he finished a four-run inning with a two-run homer. And, less than that that two Nats relievers—Roenis Elias and Daniel Hudson—got strafed for the four runs before Juan Guerra finally ended that destruction by getting Michael Conforto to fly out for the side.
Because what really matters is three Mets relievers in the bottom of the ninth—Paul Sewald, Luis Avilan, and Edwin Diaz—making a chump out of their manager Mickey Callaway, who’s looked like a chump a little too often this year.
Callaway thought Seth Lugo working a perfect eighth before the five-run Met ninth meant it was perfectly safe for a change not to extend him for a second inning to protect a six-run lead. It was like telling a Brinks guard it was perfectly safe to let Bonnie and Clyde into the bank vault to double check their safe deposit box.
With Victor Robles leading off beating out an infield hit, Sewald got Howie Kendrick to fly out for the first and only Nats out of the inning. Because Trea Turner hit a 1-2 meatball to the back of right field for a double. And after Asdrubal Cabrera singled up the pipe for first and third, Anthony Rendon, the Nats’ should-be MVP front runner, singled home Turner.
Callaway then reached for Luis Avilan to pitch to Juan Soto, whose RBI double in the first opened the game’s scoring in the first place and whose two-run homer in the eighth pulled the Nats back to within a single run just before the Mets started their ninth-inning runaway-that-wasn’t. Soto singled to right to load the pads for Ryan Zimmerman pinch hitting for Matt Adams.
Out went Avilan and in came Edwin Diaz, who only looked in his last couple of outings as though he’d ransomed his once-deadly slider out of its kidnappers’ clutches. In his previous seven outings, he’d surrendered only two earned runs in five and two-thirds total innings. Maybe not close to the Diaz who was lights out in 2018 but not exactly the one who’d dissipated most of this season, either.
The problem was, only the first two of those gigs could be called high-leverage gigs. Diaz hadn’t seen anything like that in over two weeks until Tuesday night. And it showed when Zimmerman hit the second pitch of the plate appearance to deep right to send home Cabrera. But Diaz gamely wrestled Suzuki for seven pitches, a 3-1 count after opening with a swinging strike, then a pair of fouls.
The eighth pitch caught so much of the plate Suzuki could have been tried by jury for neglect if he didn’t send it over the left field fence.
Just like that, the Nats’ worries after losing to the Mets on Labour Day—especially filling their number-five starting rotaton spot after the Mets abused Joe Ross for two and a third, on a day Noah Syndergaard might as well have been the Invisible Man so far as the Nats were concerned—were over. For another day, at least.
With one swing Suzuki silenced the traveling 7 Line Army—a gang of Mets fans whose doings include making numerous road trips including to Washington this week, and who often sounded louder than Nats fans on Monday. In one half inning the poor 7 Liners got silenced almost as fast and hard as they’d been hot and loud in the top.
And Suzuki also punctuated a cold reality about these Mets. That magnificent post-All Star run not only ended ignominiously when they finally got to take on the bigger boys, it now looks like a cruel tease of a dream.
Their apparent crisis addiction remains their number one enemy. You thought the Mets were suddenly beginning to be exposed when they blew a set in Atlanta that they could have won, and won the third game of that set despite opening what looked like a blowout and managing to survive the Braves cutting the margin to a pair?
Who says a team that can blow a seven-run lead they’d built by the fourth inning against the Braves can’t blow a six-run lead they’d built in the top of the ninth against the Nats? Who were only too happy to dance over the Mets’ Tuesday night corpses? The backside of that, of course, is who says a team of Dancing Nats can’t pick themselves up from a six-run deficit at the eleventh hour?
And don’t discount the revenge factor when you think about that. It now seems like centuries ago, but the Mets overthrew the Nats in the bottom of the ninth to open a two-of-three Mets series win in New York last month. They did it almost the reverse of what the Nats did Tuesday night, with a three-run homer to tie and an RBI single to win. But it still left the Nats feeling deflated.
The Mets have been deflating themselves lately. After sweeping the Indians in New York they dropped back-to-back sweeps to the Braves and the Cubs, also in New York, before taking three of four from the Phillies before coming to Washington. That’s now a 3-8 record since 23 August.
Tuesday night may or may not demoralise the Mets completely. But it turned their hopes for even a second wild card into unreality. It probably, really was a sweet dream that they could have played and thought like contenders even for that card for as long as they did.
The Nats reminded the Mets in the worst way possible what happens when a contender real or alleged decide the other guys have no business hanging themselves while the Mets happen to be in the house.
But the Nats better be careful themselves. They have better teams to face yet. And those teams won’t be so inclined to stop them if the Nats insist on building and hanging on their own gallows.