RARE double play caps wild finish to London Series

Incredible play to cap London Series marks first recorded game-ending 2-3 ground-ball DP

June 9th, 2024

LONDON -- Had this been English football, a local reporter told Mets manager Carlos Mendoza, the ninth inning of Sunday’s London Series finale would have been best described as “squeaky bum time” -- a term generally credited to legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. When it was all over, reliever Drew Smith offered a more American translation, calling the scene at London Stadium “absolutely hectic.”

Following eight relatively normal innings, the Mets -- thanks in large part to Philadelphia closer José Alvarado’s wildness -- scored three times in the top of the ninth to take a two-run lead. Rarely content to go quietly, the Phillies responded with a rally of their own in the bottom of the inning, plating one run and loading the bases with one out.

That brought up Nick Castellanos, who hit a nubber just in front of home plate. Popping out of his crouch, Mets catcher grabbed it, stepped backward to touch home then fired to first as pinch-runner Garrett Stubbs bowled him over with his slide. The result was not only a 6-5 Mets victory, but the first game-ending, 2-3 ground-ball double play in recorded AL/NL history.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” Mendoza said.

He absolutely hasn’t, because before Sunday, no one had. Only seven times in AL/NL history had a game ended on a ground-ball double play to the catcher, and none was scored precisely 2-3 (catcher to first base). Since 1912, which is as far back as MLB’s data on the subject goes, the only other game-ending 2-3 double play occurred on a popup.

That quirk put a historic end to a historic series in a historic city, though the Mets were less interested in such oddities as they were in the result: a victory that ensured them a long, happy flight back across the Atlantic, having avoided another crushing defeat at the hands of their rivals to win for the fourth time in five games.

“We were kind of due for a little bit of payback on being able to come back on them,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said of the Phillies.

For the Mets, everything that happened this week -- from pints of Guinness after landing on Thursday, to sightseeing around Buckingham Palace and the Thames, to a brutal six-run inning in the London Series opener on Saturday -- funneled into the final play of Sunday’s game. As soon as Castellanos hit his swinging bunt off Smith, Torrens became singularly focused on fielding the baseball and stepping on home. If he could subsequently spin and record a game-ending double play, even better.

“I was just thinking about getting the ball, touching home plate and then throwing to first,” Torrens said through an interpreter. “I knew that Castellanos was trying to bust it down the line.”

Much like a middle infielder, Torrens indeed whirled and threw, sticking around long enough for Stubbs’ spike to slam into his left ankle. (The catcher spent a moment down on the turf after the play but was not seriously harmed.)

More than a historic play, it was the latest evidence of Torrens transforming both the Mets’ fortunes and his own. Less than two weeks ago, Torrens was a Minor Leaguer in the Yankees’ organization hoping for another shot. Seeking a short-term upgrade while they waited for starting catcher Francisco Alvarez to recover from left thumb surgery, the Mets bit, paying the Yankees $100,000 for the rights to a 28-year-old who hadn’t appeared regularly in the Majors since 2022.

They have since enjoyed a handsome return on the investment. In the Mets’ final game before the London Series last Wednesday in Washington, Torrens hit two home runs and threw a runner out at second base. So inspired has his play been that even team owner Steve Cohen name-checked his backup catcher before Sunday’s London Series finale, while speaking on the subject of his front office’s improved decision-making.

“A perfect example is we bring in Luis Torrens, right?” Cohen said. “For $100,000 -- and he helps us win a game. When you’re fighting for a playoff spot, winning one game or winning two games really matters.”

These are certainly reasons for the Mets to keep Torrens around beyond Tuesday, when Alvarez is tentatively due back from the injured list. But that’s no guarantee. For the past several days, Mendoza and other Mets officials have been weighing the merits of Torrens or Tomás Nido as Alvarez’s backup -- what Mendoza referred to as “a tough decision.” Both have performed well in relatively small samples.

Performing historic feats in “squeaky bum time” can only help Torrens’ chances.

“Not only his at-bats, but that play to end the game,” Mendoza said, “it says a lot about him as a player.”