Saturday, July 1, 2023

Vintage Verlander Gives Mets Big Start To July

Justin Verlander throws a strike to Joc Pederson in the sixth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

“I hope so, I mean, people say, ‘oh, it’s just another day, just another month,’ but I don’t look at it that way,” Mets Manager Buck Showalter said in his pregame press conference on Saturday, July 1, and the chance for the Mets to turn the page on the month of June, in which they went 7-19 and left them with a record of 36-46.

“I’m glad June’s over, but it’s only worthwhile if July’s better, right, and you know who controls that, right. So we’ll see, show me…At some point, you’ve got to make it happen.”

The Mets had one of their aces, Justin Verlander, on the mound in Saturday evening’s game against the San Francisco Giants in the second game of the three-game set after a dispiriting 5-4 loss in the series opener on Friday night.

Justin Verlander pitching to Wilmer Flores in the first inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

It was a vintage Verlander performance, as he went seven innings, and allowed just one unearned run on five hits and a walk, with six strikeouts. He improved to 3-4 and lowered his ERA (earned run average) by nearly half a run, from 4.11 to 3.66.

The Mets offense backed him up with three solo home runs - all no-doubters, from Francisco Alvarez, Brandon Nimmo, and Francisco Lindor - in the third inning against Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani, who entered this one with a 4-7 record and a 4.28 ERA.

It was Alvarez's 13th home run of the season, Nimmo's 12th, and Lindor's 17th. 

Brandon Nimmo approaching third base, where he's greeted by 3B coach Joey Cora, rounding the bases on his home run. Photo by Jason Schott.

Then, with Sean Manaea on for the Giants in the fourth, Pete Alonso drew a walk and came in to score on an RBI double from Tommy Pham.

By this point, Verlander had allowed just one hit, to J.D. Davis in the first inning, and had retired 10 in a row through the end of the fourth.

Thairo Estrada led off the fifth inning with a single, and then the Mets flashed some leather. Blake Sabol popped one up in foul territory to third baseman Brett Baty, and Estrada tried tagging up to second base, but Baty through him out to complete the unlikely 5-6 double play.

Blake Sabol popping out the other way to third base. Photo by Jason Schott.

Verlander then got Austin Slater to fly out to right field to end the fifth. 

In the sixth, Luis Matos got a one-out single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but Verlander then struck out Joc Pederson looking, his third reverse-K of the day, and then he got Flores to line out to third to end the frame.

Verlander, whose pitch count was pretty low, came back out for the seventh. 

Davis led off with a single, and then Patrick Bailey bounced one to Alonso, who fired to second base for a double play, but he threw it over the head of the shortstop, Lindor, and into the outfield. Davis went all the way to third base on the errant throw, for which Alonso received his second error in as many games.

Estrada then bounced into a double play, with Davis coming in to score to make it 4-1 Mets.

Sabol then kept the inning alive with a double that one-hopped the wall in left field, which was followed by Slater drawing a walk.

Brandon Crawford was next up as the tying run, and he battled Verlander in a seven-pitch at-bat that the Mets ace won by striking him out with a slider.

Justin Verlander walking back to the dugout as the jovial Citi Field crowd gave him an ovation. Photo by Jason Schott.

That closed Verlander's day, and Drew Smith came on to pitch a perfect eighth inning before Adam Ottavino worked around a walk to earn his sixth save of the season.

The rubber game of the series is on Sunday night, with David Peterson going for the Mets looking for his second straight quality outing since his return from the minors. This will be their last home game before they hit the road to finish up the first half of the season with three apiece in Arizona and San Diego before the All-Star break.

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