When a struggling team scores a thrilling victory — especially in a packed ballpark against a crosstown rival before a day off — the question just has to be asked: How big was this win?
It’s an irresistible question, even though — let’s be honest — it’s mostly meaningless. If the Mets had lost to the Yankees again on Wednesday night, they would not have given up on the season. Win or lose, they would show up for their next game and compete. That’s the job, after all.
Here’s why it mattered, though, why this win might turn out to be bigger than most: It could help the Mets relax and play sharp, crisp baseball again. That’s the opinion of Brandon Nimmo, anyway, after his double off the right field wall sealed a 4-3 victory in 10 rollicking innings at Citi Field.
The Mets had lost nine of their previous 10 games. Had they dropped this one, too, their foibles in the field and on the bases would have been more pronounced, and possibly led to more mistakes up ahead.
“When you’re winning, things get swept under the rug a little bit more; when you’re losing, they stand out,” Nimmo said. “So when you’re trying to turn that around, you’re thinking, ‘OK, maybe we’re just not doing enough here, maybe we’re not doing enough here, and you try and press a little bit more in those areas to see if that can get you the desired result of a win.”
Nimmo, who misplayed a fly ball in center field in Tuesday’s loss, squelched a seventh-inning rally on the bases Wednesday. Running from first on Starling Marte’s bases-loaded single to left, Nimmo assumed that the runner in front of him would also try to score. He was dashing toward third when he noticed the runner, the rookie Mark Vientos, had been held up. Catcher Jose Trevino nailed Nimmo as he scrambled back to second.
“They’re wired to go get something, go make something happen, go after it,” Manager Buck Showalter said. “We talk all the time: ‘If you feel something, go for it.’”
Nimmo went for it and lost the gamble, as second baseman Jeff McNeil had done in the top of the seventh, when he tried to turn a double play on a chopper by the speedy Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Even a perfect throw would have been hopeless, and this was not perfect: it skipped away for an error, scoring a run.
Soon Kiner-Falefa was scampering around the bases — stealing second, taking third on a wild throw from catcher Francisco Álvarez and then swiping home off the spooked left-hander Brooks Raley, who was working from the windup and fired his pitch to the backstop.
The whole seventh inning seemed to baffle the owner, Steven A. Cohen, whose record payroll of more than $340 million — plus millions more in luxury taxes — has produced a 32-36 record.
“That was a crazy game,” Cohen tweeted. “Too many mental mistakes but I will take it.”
Those mistakes, perhaps, obscured the sound approach the Mets — and the Yankees, for that matter — took to the game, a matchup of aces between the Mets’ Justin Verlander and the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole.
By the middle of the fifth, Cole and Verlander had combined for 27 outs while allowing just one baserunner. Yet even with both starters firing strikes — not a walk between them — they were gone after six innings, the hitters lashing foul after foul and running up their pitch counts.
Nimmo saw 24 pitches in his three at-bats against Cole, including 16 after the count reached two strikes. It was a master class in wearing down a power pitcher, and built off lessons Nimmo learned in the Mets’ farm system.
“There’s this old thing back when I was in the minor leagues: ‘see two more pitches, that helps your team once you get to two strikes,’” Nimmo said. “And that’s kind of the mentality you take to it: I’m trying to hone in and see if he can make a mistake early, because we need to jump on that, but I don’t want to expand too much, because we don’t want to make soft early outs. It’s a tough line to toe, but I was proud of my at-bats today.”
Nimmo’s final one came in the 10th against Nick Ramirez, a lefty who had come in specifically to face him. Nimmo (now batting .345 against left-handers) hammered a sinker off the wall to score Eduardo Escobar and give the Mets a win they badly needed — a win that seemed big because it was.
“It feels good to win, but it’s even better when it’s a walk-off win, and it happened to one of the best guys out there,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “That’s how the game works. He didn’t feel good about yesterday, and I’m sure he didn’t feel good about what happened early in the game today. And he had his chance and he didn’t let it go.”