If the coronavirus doesn’t get the New York Mets, their pitching staff might based on Sunday’s lack of results. With apologies to Clark Griffith, Mets fans like home runs as much as the next fans, and—Jacob deGrom excepted—they seem to have assembled a pitching staff that is certain to please them.
Especially in the middle of the 14-1 massacre.
When Hunter Strickland, a relief pitcher who has surrendered a few significant launches in his past, is the first and only Mets pitcher to work an inning without surrendering anything more than a base hit that wasn’t cashed in one way or another by the Atlanta Braves, something is amiss.
Reviewing the Mets’ maiden season of 1962, Jimmy Breslin (in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?) ruefully observed, “For a Mets pitcher in 1962 only two things were certain. Either he was going to be hit for some of the longest home runs in baseball history, or he was going to have to stand helpless and watch his teammates make those amazing plays.”
Reviewing Sunday afternoon, any writer old enough to have seen the Original Mets is liable to write likewise. Except that Sunday’s Mets committed only one error through eight innings. They’re definitely not going to cut the mustard in Marvelous Marv Throneberry’s rumpus room at his Elysian Fields residence.
Four Braves hit for distance against the Mess Sunday, and they started that bombardment after the Mets already helped the Braves to a 7-1 score. The Braves started building that score on a pair of first-inning RBI singles and three RBI doubles in the third. The lone rude interruption was Brandon Nimmo doubling home Tomas Nido in the second. Why, the nerve of him.
The cardboard cutout of Jeff McNeil’s Alaskan malamute pup, Willow, was joined by cutouts of five more Mets doggie friends. Maybe manager Luis Rojas should have sent Willow and her friends out there to pitch.
Instead, he started Rick Porcello, the erstwhile Boston Red Sox pitcher and very erstwhile Cy Young Award winner. The good news: Porcello didn’t give up a single home run. The bad news: His afternoon only began with those back-to-back RBI singles, with two out in the first, escaping only when former now-you-see-him/now-you-don’t Met Matt Adams—who hit one of those RBI singles through that delicious open meadow created by an infield overshift—was thrown out trying to take third on the second of those.
Porcello shook off back-to-back one-out singles in the second by tricking Ronald Acuna, Jr. into dialing Area Code 5-4-3. Nimmo returned the favour in the bottom of the inning when he drove Atlanta starter Sean Newcomb’s 1-2 meatball to the back of left field to send home Nido, who’d walked with two outs.
Then, after McNeil mishandled a throw from short on Ozzie Albies’s inning-opening grounder, the third inning is where the fun really began. For the Braves. With one RBI double to left center by Marcell Ozuna and, a walk to Adams later, a two-run double to the same neighbourhood by Dansby Swanson on a meatier meatball.
Rojas finally decided Porcello was punished enough for punishing the Mets and brought in Corey Oswalt to relieve him. Remember, the three-batter minimum for all relief pitchers this season, which can prove dangerous if the reliever in question hasn’t got much to deliver. Oswalt didn’t. Except as far as the Braves were concerned.
Did the Mets have to find a young pitcher who was especially certain to please the home run lovers among their fans? Oswalt was making his twentieth major league appearance. When it ended at last, he could claim to have given fans eighteen major league home runs worth of pleasure.
Met fans would prefer that he’d hit them instead of served them.
He fought Austin Riley to a full count before walking him. He threw Endier Inciarte a canteloupe down the middle and Inciarte ripped it to the rear end of right field, sending Adams and Swanson home on poor Porcello’s dollar. That’s how Porcello’s box score ledger shows seven earned runs allowed and only six outs obtained. Oswalt isn’t likely to appear on Porcello’s Christmas list this coming winter.
Then Oswalt got three straight outs to escape further use, misuse, and abuse. But the poor young man was sent out to pitch the fourth. Just when it looked as though he’d escape Freddie Freeman’s leadoff double, with two outs and a full count on Swanson, he threw Swanson a sinker that rose instead of sinking. And Swanson sunk it over the right field fence. Unlike his teammate Adam Duvall on Saturday, Swanson’s bomb didn’t hit a single doggie cutout in the seats. Oh, well.
Same old song and dance in the Atlanta fifth. Almost. Again Oswalt had two outs and a man on second. Only this time it was two outs to open the inning and Acuna doubling to left. This time, Oswalt threw the canteloupe to Albies for the RBI double to the back end of right.
The worse news was that Oswalt seemed too anxious to get the worst of it over with in the top of the sixth. Ozuna must have sensed it, too, because he drove a 2-1 service over the left field fence to open the inning. Oswalt then got two swift outs that looked soon enough as though he were just dying to serve up the next cantaloupe, this time to Riley, who sent it likewise over the left field fence.
Rojas finally decided Oswalt had suffered enough for his sins and sent Paul Sewald out to pitch the top of the seventh. We may be using “pitch” facetiously here.
Sewald had William Contreras 1-2 when he served something just enough for Contreras to whack into right for a leadoff hit. He tricked Acuna into forcing Contreras out at second on a grounder to third. To which Albies said, “It’s not nice to trick Junior Nature,” driving a 3-1 fastball over the center field fence.
Sewald escaped with a ground out, a walk, and a swinging strikeout. The scoring ended on the day. The final two and a half innings must have seemed like simply trying to put the Mets out of their misery once and for all. You didn’t even have the heart to tell them they’d faced four Atlanta pitchers, gone 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and left ten men on base.
Nor did you have the heart to remind them that Newcomb was taken out of the game after three and a third innings, despite an eight-run lead, because he was actually erratic enough to start seven of his first nine batters faced with balls instead of strikes, threw only slightly more than half his 82 pitches for strikes, plunked two, and threw a wild pitch. Because it would have reminded the Mets that they had but one run to show for such generosity.
The Mets didn’t waste any time after the game sending Oswalt to their alternate training site in Brooklyn after he worked those four horrific innings to be saddled with the official loss. Far as Oswalt’s concerned, it just might be the sweetest relief he experienced all Sunday long. Might.
The word emerged when the game was just about over that, presumably for safety’s sake, the Mets planned to travel to Boston for an engagement with the Red Sox aboard six chartered buses. Outfielder Michael Conforto said lots of Mets planned to bring their XBoxes and/or PlayStations for lots of Call of Duty play.
They may miss things like team dinners or dinners among groups of teammates on the road, but better to be safe than sorry and, anyway, they’ll have lots of Call of Duty players to help ease the burden. Except that what they need most in Boston is lots of baseball players. On Sunday afternoon, they didn’t seem to have many.