The Mets blew a six-run lead in the ninth in a walk-off loss to the Nationals, unofficially ending the season in disaster.
Close the curtains, turn off the lights, tell everyone to go home. The Mets’ season has come to an early and horrific close thanks to a staggering, unbelievable loss to the Nationals in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night—one in which they blew a six-run lead in the ninth in an 11–10 defeat that gets more and more ridiculous the longer you think about it.
At least, that’s how it has to feel for Mets fans, who took a shot to the gut so hard that their stomachs are floating somewhere around their eyes. With New York up 10–4 heading into the bottom of the ninth after pouring five runs on the Nationals in the top of the frame, three relievers—including Edwin Diaz, the hard-throwing closer for whom the Mets ponied up two of their top prospects this winter—combined to spray napalm all over the place. The killing blow was a three-run homer off the bat of Kurt Suzuki, as Washington’s catcher walked it off and pushed the Mets straight into hell.
The trouble started well before the ninth, though. Up 5–2 going into the bottom of the eighth, manager Mickey Callaway opted to stick with ace Jacob deGrom instead of turning to his bullpen. To a degree, that’s defensible: deGrom had thrown only 95 pitches through seven, and the Mets’ bullpen is a cosmic horror out of H.P. Lovecraft’s worst nightmares. Still, it took only five pitches to turn Callaway’s decision into a blunder: an Anthony Rendon single was quickly followed by a two-run homer from Juan Soto to cut New York’s advantage to one.
From there, Callaway went to his top reliever, Seth Lugo, who stopped the bleeding by retiring the next three hitters on just 10 pitches. And when the Mets scored five in the next frame, that eighth-inning blip looked like it wouldn’t matter. Oddly, though, despite Lugo’s light workload (both on the night and the fact that he hadn’t pitched since Saturday), Callaway replaced the righty with Paul Sewald, a low-leverage arm who’s posted good results but is far from reliable.
It didn’t work, as Sewald gave up four hits and two runs around an out to make it a 10–6 game. Out came Sewald, in came lefty specialist Luis Avilan to face Soto, who cracked a single to load the bases. That was the end of Avilan, who gave way to Diaz, and from there, things melted down faster than a Soviet reactor. Pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman ripped a two-run double to make it 10–8. Eight pitches later, Suzuki sent everyone home with his shot to left.
The demise of Diaz—an All-Star for Seattle last year, and blessed with a howitzer of a right arm that pumps 99-mph fastballs and sliders that tilt like drunks—suggests one of two things. The first is that the Dominican righty has been pitching hurt all season, because his overall numbers are hard to explain otherwise: a 5.65 ERA, 13 homers and 20 walks allowed in 51 innings, a .554 slugging percentage against that darting slider. The second is that the Mets are the baseball equivalent of putting a credit card next to a magnet. Some deep, dark force exists within the franchise to strip players of their talent, Mon-Stars style, and fling it into a fiery abyss. How else do you make sense of Diaz turning into a moldy pumpkin the second he put on blue-and-orange pinstripes?
Regardless of how Diaz broke (and leaving aside that the prospects New York gave up for him are flourishing in the Mariners’ system), the ultimate result of Tuesday’s catastrophe is that the season is, for all intents and purposes, over. It was a loss so devastating that it reduced Brandon Nimmo—a perpetual ray of sunshine peeking through the gloom that normally hangs over Queens—to a man who looked like he’d just watched his entire family tumble off a cliff.
(On the other side of the spectrum: Callaway, who apparently received a full-frontal lobotomy shortly after Suzuki’s homer.)
It’s easy to write off a team prematurely; I did it with the Mets back in late June, when they blew leads in five straight games to fall eight games under .500. They subsequently went 14–8 in July and, at one point, won 15 of 16 between that month and August to roar into the wild-card race. But since the last of those victories back on Aug. 10 against (coincidentally enough) the Nationals, New York has gone a more pedestrian 9–12, and what was a mere half-game deficit for the first wild card has turned into a five-game gap for the second spot with 24 games to go.
You don’t need me to tell you that the odds of making up that ground are low and dire. Before Tuesday night, FanGraphs had the Mets’ playoff chances at a mere 8.6%. You also don’t need me to tell you that that already small number took a substantial dive. Then again, the Mets are masters at turning the impossible into the routine. Case in point: With one out in the ninth, New York’s Win Expectancy against Washington was 99.7%. For 29 other teams, there’s nowhere to go from there but up to 100. For the Mets, though, there was only a sickening plunge to zero—one that will sting for the rest of September as the loss that effectively torched their year.