BOSTON -- As soon as the Mets announced they would combat Major League Baseball's best offense with a rookie spot starter on a pitch count on Saturday, it became clear that they planned to lean heavily on their bullpen. That's not necessarily a bad thing for a team evaluating all of its arms heading into the winter, with bullpen help a top offseason priority.
The Mets experienced both the upsides and downsides of their youthful arms in a 5-3 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Daniel Zamora, in particular, shined, but Paul Sewald allowed four runs, and Drew Smith gave up a go-ahead, two-run double to Brock Holt in the fifth.
"It's very important not only just to continue to get a look at them, but to get some confidence going into the offseason that they're going to be in our plans," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of his young relief corps. "They're all going to be with us next year in some capacity. I know they all want to put themselves in position to help the Major League team out as much as possible. They're going to get the opportunity to show what they can do."
For the first half of the afternoon, the Mets seemed headed to a fifth consecutive victory. Spot starter Corey Oswalt worked around some early wildness -- and two Dominic Smith errors -- to limit the Red Sox to just one unearned run in 2 2/3 innings. The Mets then took a lead on Brandon Nimmo's three-run homer off Rick Porcello in the fourth.
But after Zamora struck out four of the five batters he faced, and Sewald recorded the first two outs in the fifth without issue, New York's bullpen cracked. The next two batters singled off Sewald, who then allowed a fly ball to Jackie Bradley Jr. off the top of the Green Monster. Initially ruled a homer, the hit turned into a game-tying, two-run double following a crew chief review.
Two batters later, Smith entered and served up Holt's go-ahead double, also high off the Green Monster.
"The one thing I think he's going to learn is when you're coming in with runners in scoring position, runners on, the hitters are going to come out hacking," Callaway said of Smith. "Other than that, he settled in and did a great job."
Before the game, Callaway called out Smith by name as one of the relievers who has most impressed him late this season. But Smith is far from the Mets' only future option. Outside of Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Anthony Swarzak, who figure to be locks for the 2019 bullpen, the Mets have few answers. They expect to sign a veteran reliever or two this winter, then fill out their bullpen with some mix of Smith, Zamora, Sewald, Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor and others.
Consider September, then, the start of a competition that should last through Spring Training.
"It's a huge opportunity," Zamora said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity. I'm going to try to do my best to take advantage of the opportunity, and try to help the team win some ballgames."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nimmo goes deep: Easily one of the Mets' top second-half performers, Jeff McNeil sparked their fourth-inning rally with a leadoff single and a steal of second base. Todd Frazier drew a walk with two outs to bring up Nimmo, who arced a Porcello sinker a projected 394 feet, according to Statcast™, into the Red Sox bullpen.
Zamora now has 14 strikeouts in seven career innings. His rate of two whiffs per inning is tops in the Majors among pitchers who have faced at least 20 batters.
"He spins the ball really well," Callaway said. "He doesn't give in. He sneaks his fastball in there when it's convenient to get them off that slider, and he executes."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Knocked for his defensive aptitude in the Minors, McNeil has proven routinely excellent at second base since his promotion to the Mets. Perhaps McNeil's most impressive play to date occurred in the sixth inning, when he ranged back to make a diving grab of a J.D. Martinez blooper that seemed destined for the outfield grass behind him.
"I saw he got a little bit jammed on it so I knew it wasn't going too deep into the outfield," McNeil said. "I got a really good break on it and … just jumped, and made the catch."
HE SAID IT
"You don't teach that. That's him just getting a good read off the bat, not giving up on the ball ever, and just going for it." -- Callaway, on McNeil's catch
A pair of Cy Young favorites will oppose each other when Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale take the mound Sunday for a 1:05 p.m. ET series finale at Fenway Park. Sale's 1.96 ERA would lead the American League if he had enough innings to qualify (he needs just two on Sunday to do so). Only deGrom has been better, pacing the Majors with a 1.71 mark.