The Mets used three long balls and some surprisingly clutch defense to squeeze out an improbable win in Washington.
Once again, the Nationals put an irregular lineup on the field, including a very raw rookie starting pitcher. Erick Fedde started shakily. In the top of the first, Brandon Nimmo reached on a sharp grounder that was cuffed around by second baseman Howie Kendrick. Juan Lagares then took a 2-1 pitch square in the back. Asdrubal Cabrera then skied one to right center that kept carrying over the fence and the Mets had an instant 3-0 lead. It was stretched out to 5-0 in the third, when Cabrera drew a one-out walk and Wilmer Flores deposited a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left center. Now, you’d think that would be enough for Mets’ starter Tommy Milone to cruise to an easy W, but — this being the Mets and all — that wasn’t to be.
Milone did pitch pretty well — probably his best start of the year — but it kind of tells you something that he was only able to go four and a third innings in his best start. He surrendered six hits, one walk, one earned run and struck out five in that too-short stint. That one run was the first chip in stripping away that five-run lead. In the fifth, Rafael Bautista hit an infield single back to the mound leading off. Fedde dropped a bunt to first to move him to second. Kendrick hit a hard liner to right to put runners at first and third. Wilmer Difo drove Bautista home with a line single to left. Manager Terry Collins displayed a quick hook on Milone, bringing in Hansel Robles to face Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman. He fanned them both. A couple of more chips fell in the sixth, when Michael Taylor walked with one out against new pitcher Rafael Montero. Taylor promptly stole second and scooted to third on a bad throw by catcher Travis d’Arnaud. He trotted home when Alejandro De Aza stroked a double to the right field fence. Bautista hit a liner to right for a base hit. Lefty-hitting Andrew Stevenson pinch-hit for Fedde and lefty Josh Smoker immediately replaced Montero. That backfired, though, as Stevenson walked on a close 3-2 pitch. That was it for Smoker. Paul Sewald came on and surrendered a sacrifice fly to Kendrick to cut the score to 5-3. The final chips fell away in the seventh, when Zimmerman laced a one-out single to right and Matt Wieters did the same. Taylor then hit a long double to left, knocking in Zimmerman and sending Wieters to third. Jerry Blevins replaced Sewald at that point. De Aza then hit a long fly to left and the game was tied. All that did was set up the late game drama.
The Nats made some defensive replacements in the eighth, including double-switching in Daniel Murphy to play second with Joe Blanton the new pitcher and shifting Kendrick into left. Blanton got the first two outs easily, but rookie Amed Rosario sent a deep fly that kept on carrying over the centerfield fence and just like that, the Mets had the lead back. It would be a precarious two innings trying to hold onto it.
In the bottom of the eighth, Blevins hit Murphy with a pitch. The Mets then made some defensive switches of their own, shifting Nimmo from right to left, with Travis Taijeron double-switched into right and closer A. J. Ramos coming on to pitch. Kendrick bunted his first pitch down the third base line for a single. Difo hit a sinking liner to Nimmo for the first out. Rendon skied one to center, but Zimmerman drew a pass. Needing an out in the worst way, Ramos got Wieters to hit a slow grounder to short. Ranging far to his right, Rosario made a quick scoop, but threw high to first. Dominic Smith was able to stretch high and keep his foot on the bag, somehow, for the third out. Blanton struck out Taijeron to start the ninth, then was replaced by Sammy Solis, who got Nimmo on fly ball, gave up a single to Lagares and walked Cabrera. Matt Albers replaced Solis and got Flores on a fly to right.
But the bottom of the ninth contained the most drama of all. Ramos struck out Taylor and De Aza to start the inning. Adam Lind pinch hit for Albers and stroked a base hit up the middle. He was pinch-run for by a pitcher Edwin Jackson. That brought up Murphy — the ultimate Met-killer — as the winning run. Murphy hit a rope to right center that Taijeron knocked around. It was smartly picked up Lagares, who hit cutoff man Cabrera perfectly. Jackson tried to score when he saw the ball batted about the outfield. Cabrera made a perfect throw to d’Arnaud, who slapped the tag on Jackson to end the ballgame after a replay challenge.
It’s Seth Lugo vs. Tanner Roark in the second game of this double-dip tonight.