By the time Jeurys Familia struck out Bryce Harper to end the zaniest game of the 2021 Mets season, all that had come before — Jonathan Villar’s wild dash, José Alvarado’s meltdown, the Mets’ offensive catharsis — seemed a distant memory. The Mets had turned some troubling developments into a seemingly secure victory, then they watched that security melt away in a flash. In the visitors’ dugout at Citizens Bank Park, they held their collective breath.
Then something remarkable happened: The worst did not happen. What could go wrong … simply didn’t. The Mets caught a break when a replay review corrected the umpires’ initial ruling of a Rhys Hoskins game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth, determining that the ball ricocheted off the railing and back into play for a two-run double instead. Then Familia struck out Bryce Harper to strand that tying run at second, and the Mets went home winners in an 8-7 thriller over the Phillies.
“I don’t know if that’s a season-defining game tonight,” first baseman Pete Alonso said, “but it’s definitely a momentum-shifter.”
Villar’s mad dash
Over the years, the Mets and Phillies have become known for nights that stretch the bounds of normality. So it was on Sunday, when a seemingly mundane game went off-script in the eighth. Trailing by two runs, the Mets received a leadoff homer from Kevin Pillar, then an infield single by Villar.
That’s when things grew peculiar. When José Peraza followed with a line-drive single to first base, Hoskins knocked it down with his glove but demonstrated little urgency in pursuing it onto the outfield grass behind him. Upon finally retrieving the ball, Hoskins again seemed lackadaisical — he admitted afterward to making “a mental error that can’t happen at any point in the game” — in flipping it to second baseman Nick Maton.
Watching all this unfold, Villar went first-to-third with ease. For the briefest of moments, he paused as he rounded third base, before sprinting home with the game-tying run when Hoskins flipped to Maton.
“I call him the caballo loco,” Alonso said. “That means ‘crazy horse.’ He’s reckless in a good way.”
Back in the dugout, Mets manager Luis Rojas looked up with shock to see Villar race home. Brandon Nimmo greeted his teammate with a question: “Are you crazy?”
“I don’t care,” Villar replied. “I’m not scared to play baseball.”
Revenge is a dish best served with the bases loaded
Before the start of Sunday’s game, the Mets spent some time discussing the fines that Major League Baseball had handed down to Dominic Smith and Miguel Castro for their roles in the benches-clearing incident during Friday’s loss. Although Mets players said all the right things in response to MLB’s decision, they hinted that the situation was unfair. In their minds, Alvarado was far more to blame than Smith, Castro, or anyone else wearing blue and orange.
Then again, no disciplinary decision would ever satisfy the Mets as much as on-field revenge. Their chance came immediately after Villar’s dash in the eighth, when Alvarado entered and loaded the bases on a single and a walk. Next up was Michael Conforto, whom Alvarado had struck with a fastball back in April to incite Smith’s initial ire. This time, Conforto took first base the less painful way, walking on five pitches to force in the go-ahead run.
“The dugout got excited, as it gets when there’s a rally going,” Rojas said. “They were celebrating the rally going. I thought the guys did a good job against him.”
Alvarado exited after that, but he was charged with three runs when Alonso followed with a bases-clearing double off David Hale to give the Mets a four-run advantage.
It nearly wasn’t enough.
The home run that wasn’t
Even though the four-run margin was not a save situation, the Mets wanted to give the ninth inning to closer Edwin Díaz in an effort to leave no doubt. It didn’t work, as Díaz — so consistent over the season’s first month — walked the first batter he faced and allowed an RBI triple one out later.
Díaz struck out Odúbel Herrera for the second out before yet another walk. Díaz told pitching coach Jeremy Hefner that his back felt tight, but he hoped to pitch through it. That decision proved immediately regrettable when Hoskins sent a 100 mph fastball toward the left-field seats. As Citizens Bank Park launched into hysterics over what appeared to be a game-tying, three-run homer, MLB’s replay crew watched video of the ball bouncing off the top of the railing and back onto the field. Instead of a game-tying homer, it was a two-run double.
“We were hoping that ball stayed in the yard,” Pillar said.
Given new life, Rojas removed Díaz, who will undergo testing on Monday. The manager gave the ball instead to Familia, who ran the count to 2-2 before striking out Harper on a running sinker to end the game.
“We trust our bullpen,” Pillar said. “We had the right guys step up and make some good pitches, and we got out of there with a win.”
It seemed an appropriate ending for the shorthanded Mets, who were playing without injured players Nimmo and J.D. Davis, and without Díaz at full strength in the ninth. Despite their disappointing start to the season, which has included both injuries and slumps to prominent players, this bunch has found ways to stay afloat — most recently relying on a mysterious clubhouse figure named “Donnie” for advice as they took two of three in Philadelphia, moving back into a virtual tie for first place in the process.
Sound crazy? Perhaps crazy is appropriate for this club. Perhaps a wild night in Philadelphia, where these two teams so often make inexplicable situations routine, was exactly what the Mets needed.
“We’re a tough team,” Alonso said. “We’re a really tough team. Win or lose, we’re not going to make it easy. We’re relentless. And we finish games.”