Amid swirling winds and temperatures in the low 40s at Citi Field, Cubs middle infielders Starlin Castro and Javier Baez donned ski masks, but starter Jake Arrieta wore short sleeves. Neither way worked, as the Mets were too much for Chicago, which was frozen out in Game 2, 4–1, and now trails two games to none as the NLCS heads back to the Windy City.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
Rare early trouble for Arrieta
On the heels of their Game 1 win against Jon Lester, the Mets wasted no time against Arrieta, scoring three runs before the Cubs ace retired a single hitter. Curtis Granderson singled and scored on David Wright’s RBI double, and then Daniel Murphy—yes, him again—launched a two-run homer into the rightfield corner, his fifth of the postseason.
How rare was that big inning against Arrieta? The last time he allowed three runs in any inning was on July 25 against the Phillies, the day Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs; that was also the last time before Sunday night that Arrieta was hung with a loss. Those three runs equaled the total number Arrieta yielded over the course of his last seven starts of the regular season, a total of 55 innings—and one of those runs was unearned. He additionally only allowed two earned runs in his last nine starts.
What’s more, the three runs were half as many as Arrieta allowed in the first inning all season. His first-inning ERA of 1.64 in 33 innings was the majors’ third-lowest among qualified starters, behind only Gio Gonzalez (0.87) and Scott Kazmir (1.45). The last time Arrieta had allowed a run in the first inning was on May 29 against the Royals. The last time he allowed multiple runs in the first was the start before that, on May 23 against the Diamondbacks, when he yielded two. He hadn’t yielded three in a first inning since July 30, 2010, facing the Royals while he was still a member of the Orioles, seven weeks into his rookie season.
Arrieta wound up working just five innings for the night before being pulled for a pinch-hitter, down 4–0. It was his shortest start since June 16 against the Indians. Including his 5 2/3-inning, four-run start in Game 3 of the division series against the Cardinals, it was the first time he was touched up for at least four runs in back-to-back turns since the aforementioned May 23 and May 29 starts.
Murph again, and Grandy too
Murphy not only gave the Mets a 3–0 lead, he tied Mike Piazza for the franchise record for postseason homers with five. It was his fourth game in a row with a home run, a span during which he collected homers off each of the top three NL Cy Young contenders in Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw (twice)—not to mention Lester, hardly a slouch himself. That esteemed quartet combined for a 2.19 ERA and 0.56 home runs per nine innings. Via ESPN’s Karl Ravech, only two other players have ever homered off all four of those pitchers in their careers: Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez.
If Murphy, who’s now hitting .357/.379/.929 in the postseason, homers in Game 3 of this series, he’ll tie Carlos Beltran’s record of five straight postseason games with a homer. Currently, he’s tied for second with six other players: Lou Gehrig (1928), Reggie Jackson (1977), Jeffrey Leonard (1987), Juan Gonzalez (1996), Jim Thome (1998) and Evan Longoria (2008). He still has considerable work to do to match the most home runs by any player in a single postseason. Barry Bonds (2002), Beltran (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011) each hit eight, while Troy Glaus (2002), B.J. Upton (2008) and Jayson Werth (2009) each hit seven.
Meanwhile, Granderson continued the Mets’ onslaught and his own stellar postseason by expanding New York’s lead to 4–0 in the third inning. He drew a leadoff walk, stole second and then third base and scored on Yoenis Cespedes's infield single to Baez. Granderson is hitting .375/.448/.458 in the postseason, with two doubles and three steals; eight of his nine hits have come with two strikes. As if that weren’t enough, he robbed Chris Coghlan of an extra-base hit—and possibly a homer—with this catch in the top of the second inning:
While Arrieta struggled, Noah Syndergaard was outstanding over the course of his 5 2/3 innings, particularly considering that until Saturday afternoon, there was some doubt as to whether he would be ready to start Game 2 given his 17-pitch relief appearance (and prior to that, around 60 warm-up pitches) in Game 5 of the division series against the Dodgers. The 23-year-old righty reported no soreness, so Mets manager Terry Collins kept him on turn, pushing Steven Matz to Game 4 as originally planned.
Over the first five innings, Syndergaard allowed just two base runners via a first-inning single by Kris Bryant and a third-inning walk by Dexter Fowler. Those two conspired to score the Cubs’ first run in the sixth inning, sending Syndergaard to the showers. Fowler singled with one out, took second on a wild pitch and after a strikeout of Kyle Schwarber (Syndergaard's ninth of the night), scored on Bryant's double to leftfield. Lefty Jon Niese came on in relief and struck out Anthony Rizzo, preserving the Mets’ three-run lead. Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia each added a scoreless inning, with Familia notching his fourth save of the postseason.
For the night, Syndergaard threw 101 pitches, 64 for strikes, and generated 16 swings and misses. Via Brooks Baseball, five of those came via his four-seam fastball, which averaged 98.7 mph (matching his NLDS Game 2 velocity), five via his changeup (which averaged 90.0 mph) and three apiece via his sinker (98.8 mph) and curve. He touched triple digits four times, with a high of 100.4 mph in the first inning against Fowler. For the postseason, he has 20 strikeouts in 13 innings while allowing just three runs.