A little less than a month ago, the Mets and Yankees played a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, the second game of which featured a pounding of Yankee starter James Paxton. This intra-city rite of summer picked up again tonight at Citi Field, with the Mets hoping to repeat that performance. They’d send Zack Wheeler to the mound to try and stem the Yankee juggernaut. It turned out to be a terrific game.
Pitching around a one out walk to Aaron Judge in the first inning, he would not be so fortunate in the second. Didi Gregorius led off with a solid single to right. Edwin Encarnacion did the same to left field. Gleyber Torres slapped a single just inside the third base bag and the Yanks had a quick 1-0 lead, with Encarnacion crossing to third. Brett Gardner bounced into a force play, but Encarnacion inexplicably held. Paxton then dropped a perfect bunt, trickled up the third base line. Wilson Ramos pounced on it and threw Paxton out, but never gave a look to Encarnacion, who chugged home on the throw. The Mets threatened in the bottom of the second, but were done in by some spectacular Yankee defense. Todd Frazier and Robinson Cano singled and Ramos hit an infield fly to second. That brought up Michael Conforto, who scorched a grounder towards second. Torres dove to his left and snuffed it, then made a tremendous, half-sitting throw to Gregorius to start the inning-ending double play.
Both pitchers then settled in. The Mets got two on in the third, but couldn’t bring anyone around, and Wheeler retired nine straight after Torres’s RBI. That string ended when Gardner led off the top of the fifth with a sharp single to center. Paxton got his second sac bunt of the night. D.J. LeMahieu grounded out softly to the mound, sending Gardner to third. That brought up the always-lethal Judge, who waved at a curveball on the eighth pitch of the at bat, Wheeler’s 96th pitch of the night. Met fans all over the tri-state realized — with a gulp — that that would probably mean an early night for the bullpen. But, no: Wheeler batted for himself with a man on and one out in the fifth, popping up his bunt attempt for the second time in the game. That cost the Mets a run when Jeff McNeil singled and Pete Alonso struck out. The laboring Wheeler came out for the sixth and gave up a long double to Aaron Hicks, who would have had a triple if he hadn’t been admiring the flight of the ball. Gary Sanchez grounded out and Gregorius hit another long fly to right center, moving Hicks to third. But Encarnacion grounded out weakly and Wheeler had escaped another jam.
The Mets finally got on the board in the sixth, when J.D. Davis launched a missile to the opposite field, into the bleachers. After Frazier flew out, Cano ripped a single up the middle. Ramos followed with a walk. That brought up Conforto, looking for a measure of revenge, but he hit into another double play. Amazingly, Wheeler came out to start the seventh having already thrown 109 pitches, and struck out Torres. That was all he needed to do, with the recently returned Justin Wilson coming to face the left-handed Gardner. Wilson induced a ground out. Gio Urshela pinch hit for Paxton and lined out softly to Cano. If the Mets were going to win this game, they’d have to do it against the superlative Yankee bullpen.
Tommy Kahnle took over for the Yankees and retired the Mets in order. Seth Lugo pitched the eighth and walked Hicks with two outs, but got Sanchez on a grounder. Adam Ottavino came on and got Alonso to hit a grounder to third, but LeMahieu short-armed the throw and Alonso was on. Davis, representing the go-ahead run, worked a 3-2 count before firing another projectile, this one in the park but out of Hicks’s reach in left center. Alonso powered all the way around and the game was tied. Juan Lagares pinch ran. Frazier struck out, and Cano was intentionally walked. That brought up the slow-footed Ramos who lined to left, but Gardner pulled up on it and let it drop in front of him. That was it for Ottavino, Zach Britton coming in to face the struggling Conforto. He hit the first pitch on a line past Gardner, one hop off the wall to knock in Lagares and Cano. Now it would be up to the beleaguered Edwin Diaz to close it out.
Gregorius reached on a botched infield single leading off. Encarnacion struck out on a slider. Torres hit a fly to Lagares in center. Gregorius stole second. Rain started falling. Gardner worked an eight-pitch at bat. On the ninth pitched, he foul-tipped it off Ramos’s glove, off Ramos’s right hand and back into Ramos’s glove for the final out.
More excitement to follow tomorrow night, Domingo German vs. Jason Vargas at Citi Field.