Mets use big first frame to take finale from Rangers
NEW YORK -- The Rangers used a big first inning to pace their victory on Saturday night, and the Mets followed suit on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, plating five runs in the opening frame en route to an 8-4 rubber-match win against Texas.
The Mets pounced on Rangers starter Nick Tepesch early. Curtis Granderson opened the crooked first inning with a walk, and after two quick flyouts, the Mets' offense went to work.
Lucas Duda poked an RBI double to left and later scored on a Juan Lagares single. Anthony Recker then put an exclamation point on the inning, mashing a high fastball into the left-field corner seats to tack on three runs. Recker's third blast of the season marked the third straight game in which a Mets catcher has homered.
"[It] felt good. It always feels good to produce," said Recker, who hadn't started since June 28. "Any time I can come in and help the team win a game is obviously all I'm here for, I'm just glad I was able to. Five up in the first inning is pretty cool."
The Mets scored all five runs in that inning with two outs, sending nine men to the plate and seeing 37 pitches. The early padding was more than enough for starter Zack Wheeler, who wasn't dominant but still highly effective, spinning 6 1/3 innings for the second straight game.
"I'm feeling good right now, everything's feeling fluid," said Wheeler. "You want to have quick innings and limit the stuff the other team's doing because you have a big lead. That was nice to pitch with that lead throughout the game."
Wheeler, who entered 0-4 with a 5.40 ERA at home, shook off some of his Citi Field demons, allowing just one run on six hits and two walks on 111 pitches. After serving up a leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo, he settled in, retiring the next three hitters. He worked mostly from the stretch, allowing at least one baserunner in each inning but for a clean sixth, inducing Rangers hitters to roll over with weak grounders and fly balls.
Manager Terry Collins mentioned after the game that he thinks Wheeler is still in a developmental stage in his sophomore season, but he is pleased with his righty's performance against a tough offense.
"We've got a young pitcher on our hands who's going to be really, really good," said Collins. "When he makes pitches, I don't care who's up there, he gets outs, and today he did a nice job of hanging in there with some guys on base."
Wheeler's lone blemish came in the fourth, when he served up a two-out solo homer to catcher Robinson Chirinos. Collins pulled Wheeler in the seventh with one out and runners at the corners, and Dana Eveland and Vic Black preserved his line, recording the final two outs.
"I felt good when I was starting," said Wheeler, who was happy to build on his previous outing. "There's just two innings where I sort of lost a little something and had to find it again and I found it, so … It felt good to finally get that back and go out there and compete."
The Rangers' remaining damage was inflicted in the eighth, when Gonzalez Germen gave up three runs thanks to long balls from Alex Rios and Leonys Martin. But Texas' sparks were too late, and the early hole was too deep to climb. Jeurys Familia cleaned up the eighth and Jenrry Mejia closed out the ninth.
"You have to give Zack Wheeler credit," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "The guy has a live arm. He came out there throwing strikes and making us swing the bats. We finally put some runs on the board, but we couldn't make up for the runs we gave up in the first inning."
After the shaky first inning, Tepesch -- who recorded his first Major League hit in the fifth -- allowed just two runners over the next four frames before serving up a solo shot to right-center to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, his second of the season. It was the Mets' 19th home run since June 17, the most in the National League over that span.
The Mets got some insurance in the seventh off righty Jason Frasor when Daniel Murphy doubled home Granderson from first with a gapper to left-center, and Ruben Tejada added an RBI single in the eighth, the kind of hit his manager pointed to as being highly important.
"There were some very good at-bats in there," Collins said. "The kind of hits that Ruben got in the eighth inning, those win games, those little singles up the middle."
No doubt, those hits will become doubly important when the Mets welcome the first-place Braves for a four-game set on Monday after being swept by them last week. And as talk about the Trade Deadline starts to pick up steam, playing well against the Braves will have even more significance.
"We've got to make it count," said Collins. "We've got to play really well here for four days."