By the late innings, after a rare questionable decision from the manager and then some shaky defense, this one had the feel of a game that was getting away from the Mets. Except they obviously have something special going that makes them practically unbeatable at the moment.
Call it resolve, call it Mickey Magic, call it whatever you want, but the Mets pulled out a 3-2 win over the Brewers on a walk-off home run by Wilmer Flores, as they continue to ride this wave they may look back on as the difference if they go on to win the NL East.
As it is, they’ve already jumped out to a six-game lead over the big, bad Nationals, and have a chance to bury them a little deeper in the standings over the next three nights at Citi Field.
Sure, the Phillies and Braves are playing better than expected, and who knows, maybe their young talent will move their rebuilds ahead of schedule. But more than likely the Nationals will hit their stride at some point, so it’s vital the Mets pile on while they can.
After all, the division champs are struggling and clearly miss Daniel Murphy’s presence in their lineup, as the ex-Met continues to rehab from microfracture surgery on his knee.
And as was the case in Washington when the Mets earned the three-game sweep, they’ll miss Max Scherzer in this series, and Stephen Strasburg this time as well.
So the opportunity is there to widen the gap a little farther, and the way these Mets are playing, raising their best-ever start to 12-2 on Sunday, you surely wouldn’t bet against them at the moment.
Wilmer Flores and the Mets have jumped out to a 12-2 start.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)
They continue to get contributions from up and down the roster. On Sunday it was a pair of bench players who changed the script: for while Flores hit the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth, Brandon Nimmo had gone deep in the bottom of the sixth to tie game 2-2 just minutes after the Mets had given away a 2-0 lead.
So the rather remarkable ability to bounce back quickly in games this season has become perhaps their most defining trait, and you can hear the belief it has created in the clubhouse.
“Anybody in here can be a hero on any day,” was the day Nimmo put it. “That’s the feeling here. A lot of the guys say it’s the most talented team they’ve ever been a part of, so at-bats might be tough to come by for me, but I want to be part of a team that can win a World Series.”
Yes, it surely says something about this team that it is off to such a hot start even while Yoenis Cespedes, the most important hitter in the lineup, is hitting just .190, with 26 strikeouts in 14 games.
Mostly these Mets are simply finding ways to win, but it all starts with their pitching. The bullpen got the job done again, even though Robert Gsellman wasn’t sharp, but perhaps more importantly, Noah Syndergaard offered reason to believe there is a lot more dominance to come from him.
He struck out 11 hitters, including eight straight in the middle innings, with a fastball-change-up combination that had the Brewers hitters muttering to themselves.
The Mets will once again avoid facing Max Scherzer.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
“Good luck,” Travis Shaw told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel when asked about hitting against Syndergaard. “Freakin’ wiffle balls at 98 mph. His change-up’s disgusting.”
Still, the Brewers did make Syndergaard work hard, especially in the early innings, and he lasted only 5 1/3 innings because Mickey Callaway didn’t want to push him past 101 pitches on a frigid day.
Afterward Syndergaard was pleased, and yet still a tad frustrated that he hasn’t been able to go deeper into games, unable to pitch into the seventh inning yet this season.
As he said afterward, “Today I caught a glimpse of what I’m capable of. But I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.”
Syndergaard didn’t want to come out of Sunday’s game, saying afterward, “I felt like I was just hitting my stride. I definitely wasn’t gassed.”
On a warmer day deeper into the season, perhaps Callaway would have let him go longer, as he has said he wants to push both Syndergaard and deGrom deep into games this season.
Despite only lasting 5 1/3 innings, Noah Syndergaard looked sharp Sunday.
(Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
On this day, however, the manager said the combination of 101 pitches in only 5 1/3 innings, plus the cold weather, made it an easy decision to pull him, and never mind that the Brewers wound up scoring two runs in the inning, partly because of a walk by Gsellman and an error on a tough play by Amed Rosario.
“I think we pushed him enough” was the way Callway put it.
It’s hard to second-guess him on that, as Job One for him is keeping the starters healthy, as long he can juggle the workload in the bullpen enough not to burn out his key relievers.
So far he’s had the golden touch, obviously. Even when a rather strange decision to pinch-hit Jay Bruce for catcher Tomas Nido, knowing the Brewers would walk Bruce, left him with Syndergaard making the final out of the fifth inning with the bases loaded, could have come back to haunt him, it didn’t.
Right now it’s all coming up Mickey for the Mets. A few more days of this and the Nationals could have a long, long climb to catch them.
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