The Mets’ beleaguered bullpen didn’t get a chance to blow the lead until the seventh inning Saturday night.
The opportunity only came that early because Noah Syndergaard strained his hamstring.
And yet the Mets relievers still nearly choked up a third straight game against the Cardinals, bailed out only by Jeff McNeil’s arm in what turned into a chaotic 8-7 win at Citi Field.
Edwin Diaz entered the ninth inning protecting a two-run lead and gave one of them back on a two-out, RBI single by Yadier Molina. Pitcher Jack Flaherty pinch-ran for him at first then took off for the races when Kolten Wong blooped a fly ball to right field. Michael Conforto was playing deep in doubles defense, so McNeil sprinted out trying to make the catch.
Conforto slid, McNeil leaped and neither caught the ball. But McNeil scooped it up off the grass, turned around a fired a strike to home plate, where Wilson Ramos secured it and tagged out Flaherty with a few steps to spare to end the game.
“That was just a whirlwind of emotions,” Pete Alonso said.
The Mets (34-36) had lost two games Friday — one a continuation of Thursday’s suspended game — when Diaz and Jeurys Familia blew leads. Diaz had faltered twice in less than 24 hours, once Thursday in the ninth inning and again Friday in the 10th.
Saturday came up just short of that heartbreak again, thanks to McNeil.
“Once the ball hit the ground, I knew they were going to send [Flaherty],” McNeil said. “We needed that. Our bullpen’s definitely struggled a little bit but our defense picked them up right there.”
“[My teammates] will hear about that [throw] for a while,” McNeil added with a grin.
As for Syndergaard, there was no immediate update on his condition, other than that he would be reevaluated Sunday. He was getting treatment postgame and declined to speak with reporters, through a team spokesman, after leaving the clubhouse as soon as the media entered.
Syndergaard had thrown 98 pitches through six innings and an 8-3 lead under his belt, but exited after throwing just four more pitches in the seventh.
“That deep in the game, if he feels anything, he’s coming out with a five-run lead,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
Robert Gsellman came on in relief and allowed three runs before getting out of the inning with the Mets still clinging to an 8-6 lead. Seth Lugo played with fire in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs, but struck out Matt Carpenter to escape unscathed.
“[Friday], that sucked,” Callaway said. “It was not fun for anybody. But they came to the field today to beat a very good team over there.”
The Mets had taken a 5-1 lead in the first inning, sparked by Alonso’s crushed three-run shot into the first row of the third deck in left field. Alonso’s 23rd homer of the season traveled an estimated 458 feet, the longest by a Met at Citi Field since the Statcast era began in 2015. Alonso said Jeff Wilpon recently joked with him about seeing Yoenis Cespedes and Albert Pujols hit balls up there and wondered when the rookie first baseman would.
“There it is, Jeff,” Alonso said.
J.D. Davis, who recorded a career-high four hits, cranked a solo home run in the second inning as the Mets continued adding to their lead throughout the night. They needed every last run.
“It’s hard right now,” Callaway said. “It’s not easy for us right now, but tonight is a step In the right direction, no matter how it happened.”
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