|Marcus Stroman on the mound for the Mets. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Mets have been on quite a tear since the All-Star Break, as they have worked themselves into the thick of the Wild Card race. They hosted one of the teams they're chasing, the Washington Nationals, who hold the top Wild Card spot, at Citi Field on Friday night for the start of a three-game set.
This was a far different atmosphere than when Washington came into New York in late May. At that time, both teams were hanging on for relevancy and with the job statuses of both managers, the Mets' Mickey Callaway and Washington's Dave Martinez, a point of discussion.
"I'm excited that the Washington Nationals are here in front of our fans in this situation," Callaway said of getting to play their rivals in meaningful games in August. "This is what our fans deserve, there's going to be energy and it's going to be fun."
Callaway then said of the fact that they can prove how good they are against Washington after racking up wins against three weaker teams in Pittsburgh, Miami, and the Chicago White Sox, "I think that, obviously, we understand what the schedule's been, but we're playing good baseball, and if we continue to play the way we have and sync everything up, we're not too worried about who our opponent is. We have to take care of ourselves first, play to our strengths, do all the small things right, and I feel like we have the talent to compete with everybody."
Callaway said on whether he feels any vindication for this recent hot stretch the Mets have been on after being questioned if he's up for this job, "You know what, I don't think, when I look at my job, that I'm trying to be someone special. My only motivating factor is to do something special with a group of guys. So, none of that stuff really bothers me, I come every day and try to do my job to the best of my ability, and that's what I hang my hat on at the end of the day.
"I think everybody's entitled to their opinion, and I understand at times things have not gone great, and I share in their frustrations during those times, I promise them, but my job is to be consistent, to be a leader, and to make sure these guys never quit."
Marcus Stroman made his Citi Field debut for the Mets against Washington's Stephen Strasburg. His debut with the team, after his stunning acquisition on July 28, came last Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
Callaway said before the game of the energy Stroman brings to the team, "I think we're going to find more and more out about that as we go, right. We've seen him pitch once; even when he's in the weight room, our strength coaches are like 'this guy's energy's off the charts,' you know, he's bouncing off the walls, he's getting his work done, so we're excited that he's like that. It's good to have different personalities. I'm sure you guys know how laid back most of our starters are, and to have one that's a little bit of a different mold is pretty cool, and what an athlete, and I'm excited to watch him pitch here in New York."
Stroman was greeted by cheering from the fans the second he appeared to warm up before the game, as the crowd anticipated his every move on a night at Citi Field that had a playoff atmosphere.
Callaway said of how Stroman dealt with the electricity in the building, "He's been feeding off of it for a couple of days, you know. He's brought energy to us, but tonight, you could really feel it. When he walked out of the dugout to go warm up, it started getting a little crazy. He was pumping his arms up, getting the crowd going, and this is 35 minutes before the game starts."
The first batter Stroman faced, Trea Turner, reached base when he hit one that was just out of reach of Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. Stroman then got Adam Eaton to fly out to center and struck otu Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto to get out of it.
That started a run in which he struck out seven over the first three inning, which matched his season high for an entire game.
Strasburg also got off to a fast start, as he retired the Mets in order for the first three innings and made some history in the process.
Strasburg's strikeout of Todd Frazier in the third inning set the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise record. His 1,621 strikeouts surpassed Steve Rogers' record, which stood since 1985.
The game changed in the fourth when the Nationals rallied against Stroman.
Eaton led off with a single, then Rendon laced an RBI triple that landed in right-center field between Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil. Soto followed with a two-run home run to deep left field, his 22nd of the season, to make it 3-0 Washington.
The Mets came right back int he bottom of the fourth with a two-out against Strasburg, as Pete Alonso hit a two-run bomb to deep left, his 38th of the season, and then J.D. Davis hit a solo shot to tie it at 3.
The Nationals had a big scoring chance in the sixth when Soto led off with a double, followed by a single for Matt Adams, which got so quickly to the outfield that they held Soto at third.
Kurt Suzuki then grounded to third base, and Todd Frazier went home to catch Soto in a rundown, but it was so drawn out that Suzuki and Adams snuck into second and third.
Brian Dozier then hit a liner to shoter, and Amed Rosario went full extension to make the grab.
The Mets then intentionally walked Victor Robles to load the bases and get to Strasbug, who struck out to end the inning.
Callaway said of Stroman's performance to get out of that jam, "I tell you what, he battles, there's no doubt about it. This kid is going to battle, and you're going to have to beat him. That's what you want out of every guy on your team, and I think our team has that personality, and there's no doubt that Marcus Stroman has that personality."
Stroman came back out for the seventh, but was lifted after walking the leadoff batter, Turner.
The Mets then turned to Justin Wilson, who struck out the first batter he faced Eaton, before allowing a two-run homer to Rendon to make it 5-3 Nationals.
Strasburg then retired the Mets in order in the seventh, and that was all for his night, as he allowed 3 runs (all earned) on 4 hits and 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts.
The Nationals tacked on a run in the ninth when Trea Turner singled against Robert Gsellman, then reached second on a bunt single by Eaton, and went to third on a fly out by Rendon. With Luis Avilan in the game, Turner took the plate on a wild pitch to make it 6-3. Avilan struck out Soto and Adams to escape further trouble.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets erupted against Washington closer Sean Doolittle, as Todd Frazier hit a laser down the left-field line for a three-run homer to tie the game, and then Michael Conforto won it with a walk-off single.
Stroman got the no-decision for the second straight time, and his final line read: 6+ innings, 9 hits, 4 runs (all earned), 3 walks, 9 strikeouts.