Doldrums and rain came to play a Mets-Phillies affair this Saturday afternoon. Neither team put their best foot forward, and in the end the Phillies fatal flaw came from a surprising source. Nevertheless, the flaws were abundant.
The Phillies walked backwards into their first pair of runs. With one out in the fourth, Mets 3B T.J. Rivera botched a slow bouncer from Tommy Joseph. Nick Williams and Maikel Franco drew walks to the load the bases. Then Wheeler induced a perfect double-play ball to Lucas Duda at 1B but failed to catch the return throw from Jose Reyes, as he looked for the base to step on just before the ball arrived and ricocheted off his glove to the dugout fence. Joseph and Williams scored and the Phillies held a brief 2-1 lead.
Cameron Rupp followed Wheeler’s error with a double down the thirdbase line and chased Wheeler from the game. Wheeler finished with an odd line: 3.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 4 K, 2 BB. When he left he’d thrown 82 pitches, which is a lot for 11 outs but still short of a typical starter’s allotment. Clearly, the Mets had Wheeler, who was making his first start after coming off the DL for biceps tendinitis, on a short leash.
The Phillies third run was another cavalcade of Mets’ mistakes. Aaron Altherr drew a walk from Erik Goeddel. He subsequently stole second and moved to third on the errant throw from Travis D’Arnaud, who also doubled clutched and held fire on an attempt in the first. Tommy Joseph then laced a double over the leftfielder’s head to tie the game at 3 in the fifth.
For his part Jeremy Hellickson had a fine but blemished outing. Coming off consecutive stellar starts, Hellickson at times showed the kind of precision he needs to keep balls off of barrels and hitters off the bases. His fastball command looked especially precise against Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce who never reached base against him. Unforunately, Hellickson relies so much on precision and weak contact that even a little slip can lead to runs easily. Although Hellickson gave up only 7 hits, 6 of them went for extra bases and he couldn’t get a strikeout when he needed to keep a runner on third from scoring with less than two outs. This is life with Hellickson. He can pitch his game mostly perfectly but end up with middling results because he doesn’t generate whiffs. Thus even though the Phillies chased Wheeler in the fourth and Hellickson cruised through 6 innings at 78 pitches, the Phillies and Mets were tied at 3 heading into the last third of the game.
(As an aside, Hellickson’s momentary imprecisions were more galling today because the home plate umpire was calling a wide and low strike off the outside edge on both sides of the plate.)
Heading into the 7th, the game was puttering along almost perfunctorily. No excitement but dragging out for no reason. Then the Phillies did something no one would have predicted. They leapt ahead of the Mets on a single swing. Leading off the 7th, Freddy Galvis singled. Altherr followed with another. With two on and no outs, Tommy Joseph kept his good day going. He walloped a moonshot off the left field upper deck facade. Instantly, the Phillies doubled their runs and took a three-run lead. The game had changed face.
Not to be left behind the Mets retaliated. Hellickson started the bottom of the 7th by grooving a fastball to T.J. Rivera, who deposited it over the fence in leftfield, 6-4. Hellickson retired Jose Reyes and then departed for Pat Neshek. Neshek was not the invincible reliever he’s been all year. D’Arnaud greeted him with a double. Wilmer Flores, pinch-hitting for the Mets’ pitcher, brought him home with a single. Neshek struck out Curtis Granderson to bring the inning to the brink of ending. But then Asdrubal Cabrera launched a power-ally dinger to give the Mets a one-run lead, 7-6. The game had become exciting but again became unfun.
In the top of the 8th, a thunderhead rolling over the east coast finally reached New York and shut down the game for a while. Terry Collins hilariously chased the crew chief, Brian O’Nora, around the diamond both trying to confront him and avoid being enveloped by the tarp. Apparently, he didn’t think a few raindrops and impending severe lightning should halt play mid inning. But then rain fell like bamboo stalks from an angry panda’s paw.
When the game recommenced, the 8th inning went quickly. Hoby Milner continues to look like a potential LOOGY, as he set down Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda in order to bring on the ninth.
It began with a bang and finished with a whimper. Altherr led off by driving a high-arcing fly ball to the opposite field to the very top of the wall in the right-center power alley. He missed tying the game by inches. Tommy Joseph then battled Addison Reed until he took a pitch that tailed just off his barrel to center field. It hung up long enough for Granderson to settle under it and keep Altherr at second. From there, Nick Williams, who got on base in 3 of 5 PAs, grounded out weakly and Maikel Franco hit a pop fly to Bruce to end the game. Just another one-run loss to the Mets. Blech.