|Justin Verlander pitching to Pete Alonso in the first inning. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Houston Astros, backed by a stellar performance from pitcher Justin Verlander and a two-run home run from Jason Castro, beat the Mets, 2-0, on Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field to sweep the brief two-game series, and win all four games between these top teams in the past week.
The Mets fell to 47-29 on the season, and their once-gigantic lead in the National League East (10 1/2 games over Altanta on June 1) is now down to three games as the Atlanta Braves (44-32) beat the Phillies, 4-1, in Philadelphia, 4-1, their second straight win over the Phils. The Mets are off on Thursday, while the Phillies and Braves play their series finale.
The Astros are in the midst of a nine-game stretch against the New York teams, and they are now 6-2, as they split four games with the Yankees over the weekend at The Stadium in addition to going 4-0 against the Mets. They conclude it tomorrow with a make-up game of one lost to the lockout against the Yankees in Houston. They are now a season-high 20 games over .500, at 47-27.
Verlander was incredible, as he went eight innings, allowing no runs on just two hits and a walk, while striking out six. The ageless wonder, at age 39, is now 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA.
The Mets' best chance against him was in the first inning when Brandon Nimmo hit the very first pitch of the game for a double up the left-center field gap. Starling Marte then swung at the first pitch he also saw, but he hit a lazy fly ball to center. Francisco Lindor hit a ground out to first base for the second out, which did move Nimmo to third base. Pete Alonso then drew a walk, so the Mets had two on base for Jeff McNeil, but he struck out.
That began a stretch in which Verlander retired twelve straight Mets in a row, and was broken up by a dribbler down the first base line by Ender Inciarte, who was playing in his second game with Mets, with this being his first hit, with two outs in the fifth.
Tomas Nido then grounded out to third base to end the frame, and that began a run in which Verlander retired 10 in a row to end his afternoon.
Mets starter Taijuan Walker matched Verlander for 7 1/3 innings, in which he didn't allow a run on four hits and two walks, with three strikeouts. Walker had the type of game he specualizes in, as he got the Astros to make 12 outs to the third baseman Luis Guillorme, with ten of them on the ground and two of them for force outs, and one started a double play hit into by Yuri Gurriel to end the fourth.
Walker left after getting Jake Meyers to ground out to third for the first out of the eighth inning, and the Mets, showing the importance of this game, turned to their closer, Edwin Diaz, as the Houston lineup turned over.
Diaz hit Jose Altuve with a pitch, followed by a single by Jeremy Pena, but Diaz got out of it by striking out Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman.
In the bottom of the eighth, there was a scary moment, as Dom Smith hit a pop-up to shallow left field, and the shortstop Pena was going out for it as the left fielder Alvarez was running in for it, and as Pena made the catch, they both collided. Both lay motionless on the grass, with Pena coming up first, and Alvarez, who got hit in the face by Pena's glove, was eventually carted off. Pena also left the game.
Verlander was unfazed by the delay and the emotion of seeing his teammates get hurt, as he got Inciarte to fly out to center field and Nido to strike out.
Diaz did not come out for the top of the ninth, which was mystifying since he had not pitched since Saturday in Miami, the Mets have Thursday off, and he threw just 14 pitches to get through the eighth.
Drew Smith was given the task of keeping it tied in the ninth. He allowed a single to Kyle Tucker, who was then erased in a force out hit into by Gurriel before Aledmys Diaz flew out for the second out. Castro followed with the two-run shot to right field, his first of the season, to break the scoreless tie and make it 2-0.
Ryan Pressly came on to close it for Houston, and he retired the Mets in order to earn his 16th save of the season.