PHILADELPHIA -- The ball traveled so far that both batter and pitcher had plenty of time to watch. For the Phillies' Jorge Alfaro, it was a proud gaze as he admired his 426-foot go-ahead home run land deep in Citizens Bank Park's left-field seatsDrew Smith, though, turned quickly and shot
PHILADELPHIA -- The ball traveled so far that both batter and pitcher had plenty of time to watch. For the Phillies' Jorge Alfaro, it was a proud gaze as he admired his 426-foot go-ahead home run land deep in Citizens Bank Park's left-field seats
Drew Smith, though, turned quickly and shot a stare of disgust toward the outfield as the sixth-inning pitch that fated the Mets' 5-2 loss Tuesday night sailed away. New York's defeat, which dropped their record against Philadelphia this season to 11-7, guaranteed the Mets a .500 season at best with 11 games to go.
"These are good lessons for a young reliever," New York manager Mickey Callaway said. "He's going to be a guy that we're going to count on in the future because he's got such good stuff and swing-and-miss ability. I think he's just learning how to go about that right now. Because it's a little different when you've got runners in scoring position than coming in with a clean inning. I think we can help him with that, and I'm sure that he'll get better and better at it."
The Mets took a two-run lead into that disastrous sixth thanks to the multi-tool performance from starting pitcher Steven Matz, who hit a solo home run off National League Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola in third inning to open the scoring and closed his fifth and final scoreless frame with a ridiculous snag of a comebacker to start a double play.
But all of that mattered little when the Mets' bullpen erased the joy of such non-pitcher feats from its predecessor on the mound. Jerry Blevins started the inning by walking Carlos Santana and plunking Aaron Altherr. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, with a full 40-man roster at his disposal, pinch-hit for his all-rookie left side of the infield with veterans Wilson Ramos and Justin Bour. Both logged RBI hits off Smith before Alfaro blasted a curveball to turn a tie game into a Phillies lead.
Anthony Swarzak plugged the damage with strikeouts of Rhys Hoskins and Roman Quinn to end the inning. Tyler Bashlor and Jacob Rhame combined for three strikeouts in over the game's final two innings. Out of the trio of Smith, Bashlor and Rhame, none has logged 40 Major League innings in his career. They will have a role on next year's team that has no plans of repeating what's been a disappointing 2018.
"I've learned that they all have a lot of potential," Callaway said of his bullpen. "I think that they all still have some work. That's not knocking them -- that's just how we view it -- and we're going to continue to work on those things that they need to work on because they're going to be very impactful relievers moving forward."
The same can be said for other players who have been a large part of the Mets' current 26-18 stretch. Brandon Nimmo singled and walked and has now reached base in a career-best 25 games, positing a .485 on-base percentage in that span. Jeff McNeil, who collected two hits, has hit safely in 27 of his last 30 starts, posting a .384 average since that stretch began on Aug. 13. Dominic Smith clubbed an RBI double in the fourth.
And Matz, while allowing five walks, gave up just two hits to prevent those free passes from turning into runs. He's posted a 2.29 ERA in his last six starts. Extra bullpen sessions and mechanical adjustments from pitching coach Dave Eiland, Matz said, have been the key since his ERA rose to 4.60 in mid-August.
"He weathered the storm a bit and came back and started getting in a groove again, and hopefully, he can continue to finish strong," Callaway said. "I think it's important to finish on a good note and come into next year ready to go."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Settling in: Two arduous innings to start the game contributed to Matz's pitch count reaching 91 in just five innings. Matz walked three Phillies in a 28-pitch first before walking another and allowing a single in a 23-pitch second, but Matz stranded six Phillies in the first three frames alone.
"A little erratic early," Matz said, "but I did feel like I had the crispness on my pitches that I needed."
Can't come back: The Mets had three innings to make up for the Phillies' five-run sixth but could not produce much at the plate. Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris combined for five strikeouts and allowed one baserunner to seal the Phillies' win.
After hitting his his first career home run during his last start against Miami, Matz got the Mets on the board with a solo home run off Nola in the third inning. The only previous Mets pitchers to homer in consecutive appearances were Tom Seaver in 1972 and Ron Darling in '89.
"I've got no explanation for you there," Matz said.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With Hoskins on first base and one out in the fifth, Quinn ripped a liner back at Matz, who instinctively fell to the ground to avoid getting drilled. In the process, Matz somehow caught the ball behind his legs and threw from his knees to easily double up Hoskins at first base and end the frame.
HE SAID IT
"I told [Jacob deGrom], 'That was for my friend there.'" -- Matz, on his home run off deGrom's Cy Young competitor, Nola
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Quinn appeared to beat out Amed Rosario's throw from shortstop to first base for an infield hit in the first inning, but the Mets challenged the original safe call. Replay showed that the ball reached Smith's glove just before Quinn's foot hit the base. Quinn was out, and the Mets improved to 11-for-24 on challenges this season.
Noah Syndergaard (12-3, 3.26 ERA) will try to build off his first scoreless outing of the season as the Mets face the Phillies at 6:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday for the final time in 2018. Syndergaard went seven innings Friday at Fenway Park, blanking the Red Sox while allowing just three hits with three walks and six strikeouts. The Phillies will start right-hander Zach Eflin (10-7 4.26).
Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.