NEW YORK — After two days of obfuscation, arrogance and general silliness, Mets players made clear Friday what Mets manager Buck Showalter refused to say: Jacob deGrom will start Game 2 of the National League wild-card series .
Showalter said Thursday that the team would decide its Game 2 opener based on the outcome of Game 1. He didn’t elaborate, but even a casual observer could tell the idea would be to maximize the one-two punch of New York: Win Game 1 with co-star Max Scherzer, use No. 3 baseman Chris Bassitt to try to sweep the Padres in two games and keep deGrom, the other ace, available to start either game 3 winner takes all or, ideally, Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.
Well, all that skill doesn’t do you much good if the first ace gets knocked out. By the time Scherzer left the mound with two outs in the fifth, seven Padres had crossed the plate, the boos of 41,621 enraged fans providing the soundtrack, the outcome all but decided. The Padres would win 7-1.
Maybe the Mets should have spent less time outplaying the Padres and more time playing them. Instead, a week after having a chance to clinch the NL East and avoid this series altogether, New York faces the possibility that its season could end before the weekend.
The Mets didn’t exactly blow the 10 ½-game division lead they had through June 1, but they did control their destiny heading into last weekend’s three-game series against a red-hot Atlanta team. They lined up their first three in the right order: deGrom, Scherzer, Bassitt. Those three allowed 11 runs in 14 ⅓ innings. They were scanned. Six days later, all they have to show for their 101-win season, the second-best in franchise history, is a chance to stave off winter for one more day.
Let’s not put all the blame on Scherzer, who looked bewildered after his quad, which usually leads or appears to go up, instead appeared to break to the side and down. It was easily his worst postseason start and tied for his worst start of any kind since 2014. He became the first pitcher since 1939 to allow four homers and seven runs in a playoff game. He said he was not injured.
“I thought I did the right thing – I had a feel for what was going on at the start of Atlanta,” he said. “I thought I made the adjustment for him to get me right. That’s why I can’t — tonight I don’t know why the fastball ran. I don’t know why I didn’t have my good fastball, the way I can usually pitch and locate. There are only several fastballs I watched tonight where the fastball almost looked like it was sinking relative to the drive. Yes, this will be a late night for me.”
It should be a late night for the lineup as well, which will face San Diego’s No. 2 lefty Blake Snell. On Friday, New York’s hitters did their part to end the season early, going 1–11 with runners in scoring position. (He didn’t score a run; his only run came on a home run by Eduardo Escobar with the game already decided.) Yu Darvish dazzled them, throwing at least seven different pitches (two different cutters, a quad, a slider, a sinker, a curveball and a splitter, and maybe a few more spray variations) and held them to a streak over seven innings, but they had chances: In each of the first two frames a runner reached third base with less than two out Both times he was still there when the inning ended. They left eight men at the base.
As he watched the impotence unfold, deGrom began to emotionally prepare for the start of Game 2. He said he agreed with the plan — deGrom deLay, we might call it — and that the blister he said had been bothering him against Atlanta had fully healed. The team seems to agree. Showalter and general manager Billy Eppler didn’t have a fourth starter, either right-hander Taijuan Walker or Carlos Carrasco, as insurance.
Time will tell if this decision was the right one. The decision to get cute with the top three clearly wasn’t. The Mets committed one of baseball’s cardinal postseason sins: They started trying to win Game 2 before winning Game 1. Then they lost Game 1. Now they have to hope there’s a Game 3.
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