Mets do the little things to capitalize on chances
Club scores go-ahead run on dropped third strike, adds on with hustle in 7th
CHICAGO -- Rookie Michael Conforto acknowledges that the moment sped up on him. Seeing Yoenis Cespedes on third and having an opportunity to drive in the go-ahead run with two outs off reliever Trevor Cahill, Conforto whiffed at three Cahill curves.
The sequence got the run home anyway.
Conforto's inning-ending strikeout turned to an inning-extending one when the third strike skipped far enough past Miguel Montero that the Cubs' catcher had neither a play to retire Conforto at first nor a way to prevent Cespedes from scoring what would stand as the game-winning run in a 5-2 National League Championship Series Game 3 victory that moved the Mets one win away from the World Series.
It about summed up Game 3 for the Mets, too, a game in which they capitalized on every opening the Cubs provided to create their own good luck.
"All you can do is laugh right there," said Conforto, of what he labeled the biggest strikeout of his career. "Things were going right."
It was the second time in postseason history that a go-ahead run scored on a wild pitch, the other coming in Game 2 of the 2011 American League Division Series on a strikeout of Texas' David Murphy.
"I had blocked three before that," Montero said. "I've blocked pitches like that many, many times. But I didn't block that one."
While Conforto's alertness to take off to first helped the Mets capitalize, it was Cespedes who set up the scoring opportunity. After moving to second on a Lucas Duda sacrifice, Cespedes, seeing that Cahill was paying no attention to him, took off for third. He swiped the base easily and then reacted without hesitation when there was an opening to move 90 feet further.
"That was our fault," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the stolen base. "We permitted him to do that. ... They've done little things well and they've taken advantage of us in different moments."
The Mets did so three more times over a three-batter span to pad their lead in the seventh. A double-clutch by third baseman Kris Bryant, hesitant break back by left fielder Kyle Schwarber and split-second decision to tap first base before throwing home by Anthony Rizzo helped New York to two runs.
Buoyed by their aggressiveness -- a challenge manager Terry Collins put out there before the series started -- the Mets made their own breaks.
"I think we can't solely rely on hitting home runs to score runs," David Wright said. "Once you get ahead of a team, I think you have to continue to put your foot on the gas and do those small things."
The only bit of bad luck the Mets had came from some ivy interference. The game's outcome made it more a footnote than a focal point, but there was some initial worry that a ball lost in the ivy could have cost the Mets a critical run.
It happened in the sixth, just after Conforto's productive strikeout. He broke on an 0-1 pitch, which Wilmer Flores lined to shallow right. An ill-advised diving attempt by Jorge Soler allowed the ball to skip all the way to the right-field wall, before it was eaten up by the ivy.
Conforto was a few steps from home when Dexter Fowler threw up his arms, the universal signal at Wrigley Field that a ground-rule double is in order. Conforto was sent back to third. Flores was stopped at second.
"I knew the rule," said Collins, who nevertheless vigorously argued the ruling. "It's ... just ... it kind of [stinks] when it happens to you."
An inning-ending flyout stranded both runners, leaving the Mets with just a 3-2 lead. The add-on runs and shutdown pitching that followed made it sufficient.
"It's a testament to the guys that we kept our nose down," reliever Tyler Clippard said, "and didn't let it affect us."