Behind Guillorme's heroics, Scherzer's gem, Mets walk off in finale

July 17th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Sent up to bunt by Mets manager Buck Showalter, had failed. His first attempt careened foul. His second nearly struck his cleat, causing Guillorme to toss his bat down in frustration. Guillorme is a good bunter. He has always been a good bunter. In this season of spiraling frustration, his inability to do so with the winning run on second base stung.

But, as Guillorme chuckled in retrospect, what happened next was “a little bit better.” Rather than attempt to bunt with two strikes, Guillorme turned on a Nick Robertson pitch and slashed it down the right-field line, past Freddie Freeman for a walk-off, RBI double in the 10th inning of a 2-1 win over the Dodgers.

“That’s why Buck’s our manager,” Mets closer David Robertson said, grinning. “It was the perfect call. Worked out just like he wanted it to.”

Sure, why not? In what continues to look more and more like a lost season for the Mets, the team will take every positive quirk it can find. For much of Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, the Mets appeared lifeless, waiting through a nearly four-hour rain delay just to deliver the same old brand of baseball. Max Scherzer did his part and then some, holding the Dodgers to one hit over seven shutout innings. But Showalter’s decision to use Trevor Gott rather than Robertson in the eighth inning resulted in the tying run crossing home.

At that point, the night’s intensity ratcheted. Badly, badly, the Mets needed a win. Losers of four straight, the team was at risk of falling into a double-digit deficit in the National League Wild Card race, which is its only realistic vehicle back into playoff contention. The idea of a big hit was alluring, but from whom? Brandon Nimmo had driven home both Mets runs over their first 27 innings of the series. Middle-of-the-order hitters Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso were a combined 1-for-32.

Enter Guillorme -- a light-hitting, seldom-used infielder who spent much of the early summer in Triple-A. After Robertson stranded his automatic runner on third base in the top of the 10th, escaping “by the skin of my teeth,” Showalter asked Guillorme to move the Mets’ own automatic runner forward 90 feet. Even in an 0-2 count, Showalter gave Guillorme the option to bunt again if he wanted.

“Luis is sharp,” Showalter said. “You’ve got to trust what they’re feeling.”

In the batter’s box, Guillorme didn’t love that idea. He feared being tied up on a second consecutive inside pitch. He also saw Freeman inching forward at first base, honoring the possibility that Guillorme might attempt a two-strike bunt. That gave Guillorme just enough space to ground his walk-off double -- the Mets’ first pinch-hit RBI since Patrick Mazeika delivered two in a week back in 2021 -- down the right-field line.

“It’s great to redeem myself a little bit and get that for the team,” Guillorme said, adding that “it’s always great to at least get one [win].”

Taken in context, Sunday’s walk-off victory was no panacea for a Mets team that remains well behind the pace of other NL contenders. But it was at least a start. The Mets can’t make up nine games in the standings without first making up one, and a sweep to the Dodgers would have made the idea of an implausible playoff run close to impossible.

“I hope it’s a starting point” was Showalter’s assessment, fully aware that such optimism hasn’t led to much in the past. Previous walk-offs, late dramatics and fine pitching performances never became traction for sustained Mets competence. But that doesn’t mean Guillorme’s hit is doomed to the same fate.

If nothing else, the utilityman’s walk-off double softened two nights’ worth of ugliness, complete with jeers and boos. One of Showalter’s preferred adages comes from David Cone, who played for him for a half season with the Yankees. As Showalter retells it, Cone’s recipe for combating negative fan reaction was to give fans reason to cheer for him. To win, plain and simple.

“Yeah, we just need to win ballgames,” Scherzer agreed. “You try to look up at the standings and it looks insurmountable. But just take it one game at a time. One day at a time, just come in here and win. Just play team baseball, and hopefully it snowballs and we find a hot streak.”