Over consecutive weekends and on both coasts, the two teams that most aggressively acted to upgrade their rosters last offseason played seven games in June with hints of October.
Unfortunately for the Mets — even while winning this “series” four games to three over the Padres — the last of these encounters had commonality with Nov. 1, 2015: A Mets manager ignored an ominous walk and stuck with a pitcher too long. Eric Hosmer was on third base. Jeurys Familia was on the mound. And from that point it all went horribly wrong for the Mets.
By the time the top of the seventh inning was complete Sunday, the Mets had coughed up a 2-1 lead and they trailed 7-2 (which was the final score in 12 innings of 2015 World Series Game 5).
The shorthanded — and short-armed and short-bat — Mets ultimately lost 7-3 and it was Luis Rojas in the role of Terry Collins, having to explain a strategy that did not work.
The loss Sunday actually was created by how they had to win on Friday and Saturday. The Mets used Aaron Loup, Seth Lugo and Edwin Diaz to secure tense games to open the weekend. That left all three, plus Miguel Castro (sore neck), off-limits. And the Mets were starting Joey Lucchesi, who had yet to complete five innings this year.
But Lucchesi did get through five Sunday. He allowed a game-opening homer to Tommy Pham. With timely double plays to close both the first and second innings, however, the lefty did not yield another run to his former team. Still, the Mets trailed 1-0 as the bottom of the order batted in the fifth. Mason Williams singled with one out and Jose Peraza hit Chris Paddack’s next pitch for a go-ahead homer.
Lucchesi was due up. It made sense to pinch-hit if the Mets trailed. But how about now with a short bullpen and short bench because Billy McKinney (knee) and Jonathan Villar (personal reasons) also were unavailable? Rojas, though, decided two runs would not be enough to win and wanted to try to keep attacking. Plus, the top of the Padres’ order — Pham, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado — was due up to begin the sixth. Rojas did not want to feed Lucchesi to that trio a third time.
Instead, Familia entered and worked out of a first-and-second, no-out jam in the sixth. But the Padres created the same situation in the seventh, beginning with a leadoff walk to Hosmer. It was second and third and two outs when Familia issued his second walk of the inning, to Jurickson Profar, to load the bases.
Jacob Barnes said he was under the belief he was warming up to face Pham. Rojas, though, said he did not view Familia as out of gas or wild; that he was throwing sliders to try to strike out Profar.
In Game 5 of the 2015 World Series against the Royals, Collins stuck with Matt Harvey after he walked Lorenzo Cain to open the ninth with Familia warmed up. Hosmer followed with a tying double.
On Sunday, though, Rojas wanted two innings from Familia for the first time this year. Familia had not thrown as many as the 41 pitches he finished with since July 4, 2014 — and the last four of Sunday’s pitches were all balls to Pham. The wild throws to score Hosmer this time came from Familia, not Lucas Duda.
Barnes entered, and four pitches later, Tatis hit his 19th homer of the season, a grand slam. Machado followed with a homer and the Padres had a six-run inning after totaling seven runs in the previous five games against the Mets.
That is the deep-breath perspective moment here. More than the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Dodgers or White Sox, the Mets and Padres fervently worked to upgrade their rosters while most of an industry slept in the offseason. Both have been hit by substantial injuries — the Mets (32-25) more so than the Padres (38-29) — and both have weathered it well, with the Mets taking these four of seven from San Diego.
Jeff McNeil began a rehab assignment Sunday, Michael Conforto ran more and is getting closer, and even Dellin Betances has come onto the radar again. The Padres were the team viewed as most going after the Dodgers in the NL West, and just the NL, period. But these past two weekends should fortify the Mets’ spirits that they can play with the big boys (the Mets play the Dodgers on consecutive weekends in August).
The Mets are two games up in the NL East, getting no help over the weekend from the Yankees against the Phillies. They also are in the midst of a hellacious 33 games in 31 days while still not being close enough to full strength. It accentuates winning when it is tantalizingly close and Sunday was winnable before Rojas (irony alert) treated Familia like Collins once did Harvey.
“It’s a tough game today,” Rojas conceded.
Yep, for the Mets, it was a Royal pain.