Mets' platoon subs run out of pinch-hit magic

August 6th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Sometimes, against a good team, you just get beat, and on Friday night the Mets did. But a few weeks ago, they might have been dead in the water in this game. Instead, they were only one big swing short of a huge comeback against the Braves.

The Mets are a deeper team entering the stretch run thanks to the moves they made before the Trade Deadline. Even in Friday's 9-6 loss to Atlanta at Citi Field, which evened this five-game series between the leaders of the National League East, you could see how the Mets can use that new depth to win matchup battles against a playoff-caliber opponent.

Key pinch-hit at-bats by Darin Ruf, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha set the Mets up to have a chance in a game they trailed 8-0 after 1 1/2 innings. In two of those three at-bats, manager Buck Showalter's moves paid off, resulting in big hits that pulled New York within striking distance -- including Ruf's first hit and RBIs as a Met.

"You want to come back, you expend the effort to come back, and you have the quality at-bats to try to come back," Ruf said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out."

The Mets needed to hit on all three tries, since they were in such a deep hole. And the last one, the one that could have tied the game, ended in a strikeout.

But they made the right moves, and such a series of matchup plays in the middle innings of a late-season game is only possible because of the bats the Mets acquired: Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin and Ruf.

Here's how the Mets made use of their hitting depth Friday:

• The left-handed-hitting Naquin, who knocked his first two Mets home runs in the series opener, drew another start against righty Ian Anderson. But when the Braves pulled Anderson for lefty Dylan Lee with Naquin coming up with two on and two out in the fifth inning, Showalter summoned Ruf as a pinch-hitter to make his Mets debut.

"Tyler and Vogey have been swinging the bat really well, so I felt like I needed to pull some weight for some of the new guys," Ruf said.

The Mets got Ruf specifically to hit left-handed pitching -- he entered the game with a .929 OPS against them in his career -- and he delivered with a two-run double off the right-field wall. That made it 8-4.

"As advertised," Showalter said of Ruf. "We had a chance to get back in the game there, and we took a pop at it -- and were able to."

• After Ruf, the Mets had another lefty hitter due up, Luis Guillorme. But they also had two right-handed bats ready to come off the bench in Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, options at their disposal because Naquin and Vogelbach were starting in left field and at DH. In other words, the Mets were set up to win the platoon advantage against both the Braves' starter and relievers in important situations.

Here the call was for Escobar, who could replace Guillorme at third base. He roped a pinch-hit, two-strike RBI single to make it an 8-5 game.

"Any time you play a divisional opponent, especially one you're real close to in the standings, you try to do everything you can to win every single game," Ruf said. "I think [Showalter] felt like that was a good opportunity to try to get some runs. Luckily I came through and then Escobar came through."

• The very next inning, the Mets were able to put the tying runs on base. And it was Vogelbach, with home runs in his previous two games, due up against right-hander Collin McHugh.

Braves manager Brian Snitker went to his ace lefty reliever A.J. Minter. Showalter countered with Canha.

A home run would have tied the game after the Mets were eight runs down, but Canha struck out to end the inning. There wasn’t much he could do -- Minter dotted a perfect 97 mph fastball on the low-outside corner to punch Canha out. Sometimes you win the matchup battle, but lose the game battle.

In tighter matchups between contenders -- and don't expect Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt to leave them in big holes very often -- that maneuverability can win you games.

But Taijuan Walker got knocked around too much on Friday, lasting just one-plus innings and allowing eight runs, including home runs to Eddie Rosario and Michael Harris II.

"I don't want it to happen in a big series like this," Walker said, "but it did."