It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. That hoary cliché fits this game to a T. Jacob deGrom squared off against Stephen Strasburg in Washington’s home opener and the Mets sent the crowd to dinner in a funk. It didn’t look that way at the beginning.
After the Mets went out 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Adam Eaton sent deGrom’s first pitch into the gap in right center for a double. Anthony Rendon then hit a single to right that squibbed under Jay Bruce’s mitt for an error and the Nats’ first run. In what turned out to be a portent of things to come, though, deGrom struck out Bryce Harper on three pitches, then got the dangerous Ryan Zimmerman to hit a comebacker for a 1-6-3 double play to end that part of things. The Mets squared things in somewhat bizarre fashion in the top of the second. Bruce hit the first pitch he saw to deep right for a double off the top of the wall. It missed being a tying homer by about a foot-and-a-half. Todd Frazier grounded back to the pitcher and Bruce had to hold. Adrian Gonzalez hit a slow grounder to the right side and Bruce crossed to third. Kevin Plawecki then drew a walk, bringing up Jose Reyes. For some reason, though, Strasburg got the yips and double-clutched a throw over to first, trying to keep Plawecki close and Bruce trotted home on the balk, so the game was tied anyway. It came untied in the bottom of the third. After two quick outs, deGrom walked Eaton on four straight balls and Rendon roped a double to left. Eaton steamed around third as Reyes took the throw from Yoenis Cespedes, but Reyes relayed wide of the plate. Plawecki still might have had a play, but he banged hit glove into the dirt and lost any chance as the Nationals regained the lead. But Cespedes knotted things up again in the top of the fourth, golfing a sizzling liner into the left field seats.
The Mets took the lead for good in the top of the fifth. Plawecki led off with a base hit and crossed to second an an infield grounder by Reyes. After deGrom struck out, Michael Conforto smacked a long fly to left that was initially ruled a double, but replay review showed that the ball actually hit a pipe in the flower bed behind and above the right field fence and Conforto suddenly had his first homer of the year and the Mets had a 4-2 lead. They came dangerously close to surrendering that lead in the bottom of the sixth, but deGrom pulled a late Easter rabbit out of his orange and blue cap. He gave up a single to Brian Goodwin — replacing Eaton for an unknown reason — leading off. He then threw eight straight balls to Rendon and Harper, loading the bases with nobody out. Zimmerman hit a fly ball to Bruce, not deep enough for anyone to advance. Howie Kendrick hit a line drive right into Reyes’s glove at short. Trea Turner then struck out on three pitches — the last one he considered so egregious that he gave an earful to plate umpire Doug Eddings and was given the rest of the afternoon off by the arbiter.
The Mets salted the game away in the top of the seventh, when Brandon Kintzler came on in relief of Strasburg. After a Reyes popout, Brandon Nimmo pinch hit for deGrom and laced a double to right. Conforto drew a four-pitch walk. After Asdrubal Cabrera struck out, Cespedes battled for a seven-pitch at bat, drawing a pass. Bruce then had a seven-pitch at bat of his own, blasting a non-sinking sinker over the centerfield wall for a grand slam and a prohibitive 8-2 Mets lead.
Note should be taken of the job Hansel Robles did in the eighth. In his second spectacular appearance in two days, Robles struck out the side — again — sandwiched around a Rendon double. One of his victims was Harper, by the way. On the season, his line is an insane — for him — 2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 6 K. If pitching coach David Eiland has figured out a way to get Robles straightened out, who knows what might lie ahead for this team.
Off-day tomorrow. Steven Matz will take on Gio Gonzales on Saturday, weather permitting.