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PHILADELPHIA — Yeesh.
Steve Cohen said Monday afternoon that he was “starting to get my sea legs here,” as the Mets’ rookie owner. Then his reign officially launched and it turned out that sea legs were at a premium among his employees.
Starting with, but certainly not limited to, his manager.
The Cohen/Francisco Lindor Era began in disastrous fashion Monday night, as the Mets wasted a characteristically terrific Jacob deGrom effort by suffering a gut-punch, 5-3 loss to the undefeated Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
“We saw more positives than the negatives even though we lost the game,” Luis Rojas said, surely evoking millions of eye rolls among Mets fans.
You could see the negatives through eyes wide, rolled or closed. The Phils’ five-run eighth turned the contest around in a blink and highlighted all of the Mets’ anxieties: Questionable bullpen, shaky defense, inexperienced tactician.
Granted, the key error came from third baseman Luis Guillorme, who had just checked in for J.D. Davis and rewarded Rojas for his faith by fielding Alec Bohm’s grounder off Aaron Loup and throwing high to home, the ball tipping James McCann’s glove and going behind him, allowing lead-run Rhys Hoskins and insurance-run Bryce Harper to score. So let’s move on from that good process and terrible result. Because plenty of questionable processes preceded that moment.
Go back to the fourth inning, when the Mets loaded the bases with one out, their two runs already on the board, compelling Joe Girardi to lift his starter, lefty Mike Moore, for right-hander Brandon Kintzler to go after leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar, a righty. What a perfect spot to turn to lefty-swinging Dom Smith off the bench, right? Go for the kill!
Not in the eyes of Rojas, who stuck with Pillar (.258/.305/.394 against righties) and saw him end the inning with a 6-4-3 double play.
“We did talk about it briefly,” Rojas acknowledged. “Pillar is also a good hitter. The other thing is defense. We’re up 2-0 because Pillar is in center,” as Pillar helped stop Philadelphia’s Hoskins from registering a first-inning triple.
When a reporter posited that Rojas could’ve pinch hit Smith (.263/.313/.514 vs. righties) for Pillar, then gone to Albert Almora Jr. on defense, Rojas said he didn’t want to burn two players in the fourth inning of a National League game. Wouldn’t it be better to try and create enough distance from your opponent so you need not worry about later moves?
If the lifting of deGrom after only six shutout innings and 77 pitches raised eyebrows, deGrom validated his manager, saying, “I felt like that was the right decision.” The ace hadn’t pitched to batters in 10 days, thanks to the Nationals’ COVID outbreak, and his six “ups,” as baseball folks now call “innings,” wore him out sufficiently. It’s hard to get too worked up over protecting deGrom.
Yet if the Mets can’t build a bridge from deGrom, their most durable pitcher, to closer Edwin Diaz, then they should be concerned. After Miguel Castro tossed a scoreless seventh, Trevor May started the eighth and completely mauled his Mets debut, allowing three straight batters to reach base. With lefty Harper and righties J.T. Realmuto and Bohm due up, Rojas turned to his southpaw Loup with the knowledge that he’d have to face all three batters unless he could summon a double (or triple) play.
“We liked the matchup with Loup,” Rojas said. “Loup has been good against right-handers and left-handers in his career.”
Better against lefties (.232/.301/.319) than righties (.264/.333/.424), and his Mets debut hardly went much better than May’s, as Loup hit Harper with a pitch to force home the first run and served up a Realmuto single to tie the game before Guillorme’s game-losing error.
Three years ago, say, the Mets had two great options to turn to there. Yet Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia now stand as pricey bullpen question marks.
Plenty of fodder for this first night, not enough joy. In this ultra-competitive National League East, the Mets had better find some more sea legs soon.
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