Sunday, June 5, 2022

Buck's Bets Pay Off As Mets Earn Split In Los Angeles


Adonis Medina (68) and Tomas Nido after the Mets closed out Sunday's win. @Mets.

The Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-4 in 10 innings, on Sunday afternoon to split their four-game set at Dodger Stadium.

The Mets, improved to 37-19, and they leave L.A. with the best record in the National League, a game ahead of the Dodgers (35-19). They passed a major test to open this 10-game road trip, in which they also play three in San Diego against the Padres, and three next weekend against the plummeting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

After the Dodgers won the first two games of the series - 2-0 on Thursday night and 6-1 on Friday night - it wasn't hard to think, "here we go again," "same old Mets," and "June swoon." 

The Mets' record against the Dodgers fell to 5-24 since 2017, their lowest winning percetage (.172) against any team during that span. Their record at Dodger Stadium fell to 3-14 since then, proving what a house of horrors it has been.

But, like all things with the Mets this season, there is a massive difference: Manager Buck Showalter.

Saturday night's game looked like a total mismatch, as the Mets sent lefty David Peterson to the mound, and Los Angeles sent their ace, Walker Buehler, who entered this one with a 6-1 record, to the hill.

The Mets got on the board first, as Francisco Lindor, who has been red hot lately and much improved in year two in New York with Buck at the helm, hot a solo home run in the first to give them a 1-0 edge.

The Dodgers came right back in the second, as they put up a four-spot, with the big blow coming from Mookie Betts, who had a three-run double that made it 4-1.

The Mets responded in kind in the this when Starling Marte had an RBI double, followed by an RBI groundout from Lindor, and Pete Alonso had the big blast, a two-run shot, to make it 5-4.

Eduardo Escobar added to the lead with a solo shot in the top of the fourth inning.

That set up an early gut-check moment for the Mets in the bottom of the fourth, as they were up 6-4, and Betts was coming up with a runner on and two out. 

Peterson, who was up to 89 pitches, tried to sneak a curveball by Betts to open the at-bat, and he creamed it down the left-field line in foul territory.

It seemed as if the second the ball landed, Showalter was out of the Mets dugout to get his starter. This showed how big a game it was in Buck's mind, as he went to pull him during a count, and he had the foresight to see what damage it could do if Betts bopped one and they lost their early edge.

In came Colin Holderman, whom the Mets recently called up to shore up the bullpen, and the moment at first got to him, as he threw three in a row out of the strike zone, but he made it a 3-2 count as Betts looked at a sinker, and then he watched a cutter go by for strike three.

That was the only out Holderman got, and really was the last big chance the Dodgers had in the game. 

The Mets blew it open in the seventh when Alonso hit his second home run of the night, a three-run shot that made it 9-4. It was the first baseman's 16th home run of the season, to go along with 53 RBI. He went 3-for-5 with two home runs and 5 RBI.

Holderman started a great night for the Mets' bullpen, as they held the Dodgers scoreless the rest of the way. Adam Ottavino pitched the fifth, as he gave up a hit but notched two strikeouts; Chasen Shreve pitched a perfect sixth, Drew Smith threw 1 1/3 innings after the Mets blew it open, and he worked around a hit and a walk; Joely Rodriguez threw 2/3 of an inning, and Set Lugo closed out the ninth, as he allowed a walk and got a strikeout.

Even though the winning pitchers are usually whoever is on the hill in the fifth, Holderman earned the win for getting Betts out to end the fourth, as that unquestionably was the biggest out of the night. The right-hander is now 3-0 on the season, with an 0.82 ERA.

Sunday afternoon's game was a pitchers' duel, as the Mets' Trevor Williams allowed just a two-run homer to Trea Turner in the fist inning, and the Dodgers' Julio Urias  only yielded a solo shot to Starling Marte in the third. 

Williams, the tall right-hander, went five innings, allowing two runs on six hits and no walks, with five strikeouts, in arguably his best outing of the season. Urias, the hard-throwing lefty who has struggled this season, went 5 1/3 innings, allowing a run on three hits and three walks, with four strikeouts.

The game was still 2-1 Los Angeles in the top of the eighth with Brusdar Graterol, who closed out the seventh with a strikeout of Marte, on for the Dodgers.

The Mets put together an inning we have become accustomed to seeing from a team that embodies a Buck Showalter offense. Lindor led off with a ground-rule double, and he came in to score on a double by Pete Alonso to tie the game. J.D. Davis grounded out, to move Alonso to rhird, and then Mark Canha was hit by a pitch to give the Mets two runners on base with one out. Eduardo Escobar then hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Alonso and make it 3-2.

That was all for Graterol, and in came Alex Vesia. He walked Luis Guillorme, and then Tomas Nido singled to bring in Canha and open up a 4-2 lead for the Mets. Brandon Nimmo flew out to left field to end the inning.

For the second game in a row, Showalter defied conventional wisdom and went with his gut, as he brought in his closer, Edwin Diaz, in the eighth, with the top of the Dodgers' lineup coming up.

Diaz got Betts and Freddie Freeman to both fly out to left field, and then struck out Trea Turner looking to end the inning.

Even though Diaz threw just 15 pitches, Buck turned to Seth Lugo for the ninth inning with the Mets still up 4-2. Lugo has had plenty of experience closing games, especially in 2019, when he would routinely throw 2-3 innings to close out games when Diaz struggled that season.

Los Angeles opened the ninth with a bang, as Will Smith launched a homer to right field a few rows back to cut the Mets' lead to 4-3.

Lugo then got Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger to each ground out to second base, and then Chris Taylor kept it alive with a double to left field, and then Eddy Alvarez, who made his season debut on Saturday night, singled to center field to bring in Taylor and tie it at 4. It was Lugo's second blown save of the season, but he then retired Gavin Lux on a line out to right field to end the frame.

The Mets would not be fazed, as Alonso took his spot as the "ghost runner" at second base in the tenth, and he wouldn't be out there long. J.D. Davis took the third pitch from Craig Kimbrel and hit a liner to left field to bring in Alonso and make it 5-4.

That would be their lead entering the bottom of the 10th, and Showalter would be faced with another dilemma, as he already burned his closer and top setup men, Lugo and Aam Ottavino (who pitched the sixth), and Stephen Nogosek. 

The Mets decided to turn to right-hander Adonis Medina, whom they called up on Tuesday when they demoted Dom Smith, to close it out. It was only making his sixth appearance of the season, and obviously his most massive one. Gavin Lux was the ghost runner for L.A., and they had the top of the order up.

Betts flew out to right field, and it was not deep enough for Lux to move up to third, which was pivotal when Freeman followed with a groundout to shortstop for the second out. 

Lux took third on that, and then the Dodgers got another runner on when Nido was called for a pass interference with Trea Turner up, but Medina responded by striking out Smith to end it. Yes, Medina did not allow the "ghost runner" to come in against the top of the Doddgers' vaunted lineup.

Lugo ended up with the win, his first on the year (1-1 overall record), and Medina would earn the massive save.

Holderman and Medina were the unlikely stars out of the Mets bullpen in this series, and rewarded Showalter's faith in them, and by extension, his entire team. This was such a contrast to the Dodgers' Manager Dave Roberts basically giving up by trying to bring a position player in to pitch down five, at 9-4, in the ninth inning Saturday night, which wound up being against the new six-run margin rule. 

Showalter once again proved why this team is atop the National League despite not having their aces Jacob DeGrom (for the whole season) and Max Scherzer (since May 18).

With bets like ones Buck took this weekend, the Mets should keep coming up aces.

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