New York’s 12-2 record before Monday night was the best start through 14 game in franchise history, and their .857 winning percentage going into this week’s three-game series with the Washington Nationals was the National League’s best and second-best in the majors behind only the Boston’s Red Sox (13-2, .867).
The NL East-leading Mets won their first five series, including their three-game sweep of the Nationals in the nation’s capital last week.
The Nationals, on the other hand, were coming off a 3-7 homestand, were 7-9 overall on the season, and in fourth place in the division they’d won in each of the last two seasons and in four of the last six.
With his team struggling to score runs, or come up with big hits, first-year manager Davey Martinez talked after the series finale with the Colorado Rockies on Sunday about what the Nationals needed to do in big situations if they were going to start to turn things around.
“In big moments we’ve got to stay in the middle of the field,” he explained.
“We did that yesterday really well, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do. Just drive in a run. Don’t try to be a hero, just drive in a run, that’s what we’re asking for, and when you start doing that good things happen, but we’ll continue to press forward, there’s no doubt about that, and like I said, we’ll snap out of this and we’ll start winning games consistently.”
So with the Mets off to a hot start, with a 6.0-game lead over the Nationals going into the series, was it more significant than an average April matchup, especially considering the fact that the Mets swept the first series of the season between the divisional rivals?
“I think it’s more winning games in our division, that’s the bottom line,” Martinez told reporters before Monday’s series opener in Citi Field.
“We want to play good in our division, and the Mets are in our division, so we’ll go out there and compete.”
Bryce Harper homered early in the first of three in Flushing, Queens, NY, getting the Nats out to a 1-0 lead after one, but the Mets tied it up in the bottom inning, took the lead with one in the third, added two in the sixth, and two more in the seventh, jumping ahead, 6-1.
Jacob deGrom gave up leadoff and one-out singles in the eighth, however, and he left the mound after 103 pitches, and the Mets’ bullpen, which started the night with a combined 1.51 ERA, lowest in the majors, and a .193 BAA, faltered. Seth Lugo walked Howie Kendrick, loading them up in front of Bryce Harper, who drove in two with a single to right field off lefty Jerry Blevins, and one out later, after Ryan Zimmerman K’d looking against A.J. Ramos, backstop Pedro Severino loaded them back up with a single to left.
Matt Reynolds took a bases-loaded walk to make it a two-run game, 6-4 Mets, so NY skipper Mickey Callaway turned to closer Jeurys Familia, who gave up a two-run single by Wilmer Difo, 6-6, before a hit-by-pitch on Moises Sierra, and another bases loaded walk, by Michael A. Taylor, put the Nationals ahead, 7-6.
Howie Kendrick added to the lead with a ninth inning home run, and Brandon Kintzler in the eighth, and Ryan Madson, in the ninth, locked down the improbable win with the Nationals’ closer, Sean Doolittle, unavailable after throwing in two straight games.
“That was big,” Martinez said after the comeback win.
“Super big. I’m not going to sit here and lie. I said the boys are fired up. Testament to them.
“They don’t quit. They’re going to keep battling, and you saw that today. Each and every one of those guys played with unbelievable heart today.”
What was different in the eighth, aside from the fact that the Mets’ pitchers struggled to get outs?
“It’s the quality at bats that they had, you know,” Martinez explained. “Nobody was trying to do too much, they were all trying to stay in the middle of the field like we talked about, and they put good at bats together.”
“All of them had big at bats, the walks, not chasing pitches, they were all great at bats,” he added.
The feeling in the dugout as they came back to take the lead?
“You could see it happening,” Martinez said, “and like I said, these guys they didn’t quit.
“They kept battling back. They went up there and they were going to battle, and even the last inning, when Howie hit that home run they were really fired up.”
Could this be the spark that starts to turn things around?
“For them and for us it’s a big pick me up,” Martinez continued. “Like I said, I told them all along, we’re going to do this, we’re going to snap out of it, and when it happens it’s going to be really fun, and you saw it happen and it was fun, like I said, that dugout was electric.”