Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Mets-Padres Series Showcases Young Stars, But Vets Steal Show In Opener

Pete Alonso of the Mets digging in against San Diego's Chris Paddack. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Mets opened a three-game set with the San Diego Padres at Citi Field on Tuesday night, and it was clear this series would be a showcase of four of the best young stars in the game.

San Diego sent 23-year old Chris Paddack to the mound with a record of 6-4 with a superb 2.70 ERA. In his prior outing, on July 17 at Miami, he took a perfect game into the sixth and a no-hitter into the eighth, as he went 7 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit and one walk, while striking out eight. His 0.87 WHIP is the best in Padres history among starters who have made 15-plus starts, ahead of Randy Jones' 1.03 WHIP in his 1976 Cy Young Award-winning season.

Leading off for the Padres was 20-year old shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr., who entered Tuesday hitting .324 with 16 home runs and 39 RBI.

Tatis, Jr., will certainly be in the Rookie of the Year conversation with Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who made the All-Star team and won the Home Run Derby.

Alonso has already set franchise records in home runs, RBI, and extra base hits. He entered this one with 33 homers, 75 RBI, and 56 extra-base hits, while hitting .265.

Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said of Tatis, Jr., before the game, "He's a young talented player with energy, he can swing the bat. You make a mistake, he's going to hurt you. Defense is pretty good, so he's going to be a good player for a long time. Obviously, he's got the pedigree, he's got the family name," referring to his father, who played for Texas, St. Loius, Montreal, Baltimore, and the Mets in an 11-year career (1997-2010).

Callaway continued, "I think he's got a lot of confidence; that's the one thing that sticks out about a lot of these young players that are playing the game these days, the Alonsos, and even Paddack, whose throwing against us tonight. These guys have a lot of confidence. They go out there, they know they can play and it seems like the older players allow them to just be themselves, which is different than what you've seen in the past. They would kind of, you know, bend their ears back if they thought they were acting too out of line, but I think that the veterans nowadays let these young kids play and it's kind of fun to watch."

The other young anchor in the Mets' lineup is second-year player Jeff McNeil, who entered with a National League-leading average of .339, with 9 home runs and 41 RBI.

With all these big performances, it's a wonder both teams entered this one well below .500, with San Diego at 47-52 and the Mets at 45-54, and hanging on to any hope of a run at the second wild card spot.

In Tuesday night's game, the Mets were led by a pair of 36-year-olds, as Robinson Cano hit three home runs, and Jason Vargas threw six shutout innings, allowing just one hit, as they won, 5-2.

Cano is just the 13th Met in history to have a three-homer game, and only the third at home.

Callaway said of Cano's big night, "We were seeing signs of it a little ways back when he was hitting the ball hard, but hitting it at people, and then he went through that period where the groundballs started finding holes, and now he's driving the ball. Three homers, I mean it doesn't happen often - that's the first time he's ever done it - but you could see the power and the stroke coming. So, he's done a great job of working hard, he's been on a plan, and he's been working diligently every day to have a night like tonight."

Cano's first homer was a solo shot in the fourth, which was just the Mets' second hit of the game against Paddack.

In the sixth, after Alonso led off the inning with a walk, he launched another bomb to right field for a two-run shot off Paddack to give the Mets a 3-0 lead.

The same formula worked again in the seventh, as Alonso drew a two-out walk, and then Cano launched another homer, this time against Logan Allen, into right field to make it 5-0.

San Diego got one in the eighth against Robert Gsellman as Tatis Jr. got a single and scored on a sacrifice fly from Hunter Renfroe.

In the ninth, Mets reliever Justin Wilson walked the first two batters he faced, and he was pulled for closer Edwin Diaz.

With two out, Tatis, Jr. laced an RBI double up the gap in left field to make it 5-2, and then got Margot to line out to left to end it.

Vargas had perhaps his best outing of the season, as he did not allow a hit until the fifth inning, scattering four works and striking out eight. He improved to 5-5 on the season and lowered his ERA to 3.96.

Callaway said of what he saw from Vargas in this one, "Just wicked changeup, and they can't lay off of it. That thing must look thigh-high coming through the zone, next thing you know, it's down at their shoestrings, so he just continues to execute pitches. I love when a guy's throwing 83 and he pounds you and backs you off the dish. That's one of the coolest things ever; you try to get guys that throw 95 to do that and they won't, and then we get a guy that throws 83, 84, and he backs them off and then executes a changeup away. He just knows how to pitch, you know, he's not afraid; he's going to execute pitches. He's never going to give in, and lately, well, for a long period of time, most of the year this year, he's done a heck of a job, and been the Jason Vargas that we knew he could be."

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