Can one calamitous inning undo 2 ½ brilliant weeks?
We are about to find out.
“We can’t let this put us into a tailspin,” Mickey Callaway said.
But if one inning can be that perilous, that ruinous, this was that kind of inning, even for game 15 of an otherwise fabulous season. Because over the course of one endless, torturous inning, the Mets went from dancing on the graves of the Washington Nationals to turning Citi Field into a funeral parlor.
“It’s a rare thing,” Callaway said.
It better be. Because if the top of the eighth inning is going to serve for any kind of blueprint for what the Mets have in store for themselves the next few months, then there isn’t enough Maalox in the tri-state area to treat all the ulcers that will flare.
The Mets, after all, were toying with the Nationals, leading 6-1, and Jacob deGrom was at his brilliant best, tying the Nats into knots, having his way with their depleted lineup. He wasn’t just cruising, he was sailing. He wasn’t just dominant, he was overpowering.
“I was feeling good,” he said. “But then I couldn’t get out of the eighth.”
For all the carnage that came later, the confederacy of ineptitude that came marching out of the bullpen, this was the ironic truth: it was deGrom who started it. It was deGrom, clearly tiring, who sandwiched a strikeout of Michael A. Taylor — his 12th — with two singles, one to pinch-hitter Moises Sierra, one to Trea Turner.
“I knew if I didn’t get Taylor,” he said, “that I was probably coming out of the game.”
It seemed a good idea at the time. DeGrom threw 103 pitches, he was the first Mets starter to see the eighth inning. The Mets’ bullpen had been one of the foundational strengths of this 12-2 dash from the gate. The modest Citi Field gathering of 22,829 gave him a standing ovation, most of them probably plotting when to make their exits.
The smart ones left then.
Because what followed was as surreal as it was remarkable: a parade of pitchers — Seth Lugo, Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos, finally Jeurys Familia — who couldn’t stop the bleeding, who actually deepened the wounds minute by minute. Lugo walked the only man he faced. Blevins allowed a hit to the only man he faced. Ramos struck out Ryan Zimmerman, but walked two others including ex-Met Matt Reynolds with the bases loaded.
“One of those days,” Ramos said. “That’s baseball.”
A 6-1 laugher had become a 6-4 gut-crusher. Now it was Familia’s turn. He induced a ground ball by Wilmer Difo — but it found the narrow alley between Wilmer Flores at first and Asdrubal Cabrera at second. That tied the game. Familia plunked the next hitter, Sierra. And walked Taylor.
And it was 7-6. It ended 8-6. Not even the Mets’ most reliable weapon this year— their resilience, their almost stubborn insistence to follow an opponent’s crooked number with one of their own — was anywhere to be found after this. This was a knee to the solar plexus.
“It’s one inning,” Callaway insisted. “It wasn’t even the game. We outplayed them for the rest of the game. We have to learn from it. We’re a really good team and we’ve been showing that.”
And then, again, for emphasis: “This doesn’t have to throw us into a tailspin.” If they really are the equal of their record, the equal of what we’ve seen from them so far, then they really will leave this behind them, try to jump on one of their perennial nemeses, Gio Gonzalez, ride the resurgence of Zack Wheeler.
And forget all of the turning-point at-bats in that turning-point eighth inning, when the Mets had their spikes on the necks of the Nats and couldn’t keep them there.
So much good piled up across those first 2 ½ weeks: five straight series won, a 3 ½-game lead in the division, a shocking seven-game loss-column lead over the Nationals. deGrom was brilliant, and the lead swelled to 6-1, and you could almost sense what was on everyone’s mind inside the yard: This is too good to be true.
And it turned out it was.
Does it have to be the kind of game you’ll look back upon and circle depending on how the next few months go? It doesn’t. Doesn’t have to be a tailspin, as the manager said. Still, until proven otherwise? That’s one that might leave a mark. For a while.
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