The Mets fire up in the ninth after brutal pitcher’s duel

Jeff McNeil roars after crossing home and helping the Mets take the lead against the Cardinals. Source: MLB

Back in September 2019, the Mets were eliminated from postseason contention even after a massive post-All Star Game comeback rally. But in their last game of the year, Dom Smith hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eleventh against the Braves, giving the Mets a 7-6 win and causing Gary Cohen to coin a new name for the blue and orange: The never-say-die Mets.

Those same never-say-die Mets were on full display on the evening of April 25. After falling behind 2-0 to the surging Cardinals on a Tyler O’Neill single, and within one strike of a loss, the Mets worked together in the top of the ninth to score five runs, forcing a bottom of the inning where Edwin Diaz put a surprise Mets win in the books. Here’s how this shook out:

  • Giovanny Gallegos is pitching for the Cardinals. Before this game, he had a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 IP of relief. He will end this inning with an ERA of 6.43.
  • First, Pete Alonso flew out to center field at the top of the inning. Expected win probability (WPE) for the Mets is 3%.
  • With one out, Eduardo Escobar singles to center field. WPE goes up to 8%.
  • Robinson Cano flies out to left field. WPE back down to 3%.
  • With two outs, Mark Canha comes to bat. Defensive indifference from the Cardinals helps Escobar go to second. After seven pitches that work him to a full count, Canha hits a ground ball single to Nolan Arenado and keeps the Mets alive.
  • Now, you would think this is where it all ends for the Mets, but then Arenado totally whiffs the throw to first allowing Escobar to score and Canha to take first. The Mets get a run on the board, but WPE only goes up to 8%.
  • Travis Jankowski comes to pinch run for Canha. Jeff McNeil comes to bat and whacks the ball to right field for a double. McNeil goes to second, Jankowski goes to third, and the chances of a Mets win soar to 20%.
  • And now, the crowning moment of the game: Dominic Smith comes in to pinch hit. Dom Smith has needed a big hit all season long. And by the grace of God, he gets it: A single deep down the first base line allows Dom to touch first, Jankowski to race home to tie the game, and McNeil to book it around third and towards home to give the Mets the 3-2 lead. The Mets’ chance of winning the game skyrockets to 83%. Gio Gallegos gets yanked off the mound in favor of T.J. McFarland.
  • So good small ball and rocky defense from the Cardinals has helped the Mets get in front. But just for good measure, Brandon Nimmo comes up to bat, and on the first pitch of his at-bat, he homers to right field. The Mets have now scored five runs in the top of the ninth with two outs, and their expected win probability has jumped from 3% to 96%.
  • Finally, Starling Marte strikes out looking, but no one cares.

Reading the play-by-play, it almost seems as miraculous as the parting of the Red Sea.

Of course, all of this came after a brilliant pitching duel between Max Scherzer and Miles Mikolas in the first seven innings of the game. Scherzer threw 101 pitches, struck out ten, walked one, and allowed just two hits. His ERA for the year dropped to 1.80. Meanwhile, Mikolas threw 95 pitches, struck out five, walked one, and allowed four hits. His ERA for the year: 1.21. Both pitchers more than proved themselves on the mound and made what happened in the last two innings of the game possible. Scherzer may not have grabbed the win – Trevor May did, although you wouldn’t know it from his performance – but at least Mikolas avoided taking the loss.

The Mets’ record shoots up to 13-5. They’ll face the Cardinals for two more games: Chris Bassitt vs. Jordan Hicks and Carlos Carrasco vs. the former pitching prince of the Mets, Steven Matz. Consider the Mets’ pitching and defense in the beginning of last night’s game and their hitting in the face of elimination. If they can keep up that never-say-die attitude throughout this series, they’ll be able to overtake the Cardinals, win the series, and put to rest any lingering rumors that the Mets can’t beat good teams.

Also again note that the Mets’ performance early in this season mirrors their surge in late 2019. Early that year, the Mets had little chance of success; if they’d had this fire then, they could have been real contenders. This year, it really does look like the Mets have learned how to get the fire lit early; now let’s see if they can keep it burning. (And perhaps at the trade deadline they can get some help in the pen, but maybe that’s just me.)

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