I Simply Can’t Get Enough of These Absurd Mets-Phillies Games

It was the first game of the season for the Mets, played in front of an eager, raucous Philly crowd — and for the first six innings, it was a game that belonged to Jacob deGrom. He held the Phillies scoreless, striking out seven, allowing only three hits. He even helped his own cause at the plate, driving in one of the Mets’ two runs — a classically deGrom lack of run support; no wonder he had to do it himself. Even with the number of baserunners the Mets had left stranded, two felt like it could be enough. Even after deGrom left the game, Miguel Castro pitched a clean seventh.

And then came the eighth. Trevor May was on the mound. He struck out Adam Haseley. Then, on his second pitch to Brad Miller, a single. Then Andrew McCutchen drew a walk. A mound visit — it was time for concern — and then, on a pitch well outside the zone, Rhys Hoskins, too, singled. The bases were loaded, and none other than Bryce Harper was coming up to the plate.

May was done. The bleeding needed to stop immediately. So in came Aaron Loup, the veteran lefty whose control has always seemed to be extremely on or extremely off. Harper fouled off Loup’s curveball. Loup’s next pitch hit him in the shoulder. The lead was halved — and, thanks to the three-batter minimum, there was no recourse for Luis Rojas. Loup had to stay in and face J.T. Realmuto. With one more pitch, the lead evaporated.

But it didn’t stop there. No, there had to be some chaos in the field before the Mets could get out of the inning. A groundball on the very next pitch to Alec Bohm — exactly what Loup had been brought in to induce — was thrown away by Luis Guillorme, bringing in two more runs and giving the Phillies the lead. A sacrifice fly from Didi Gregorius brought in another run. It was the last of the inning, but the damage was done: a two-run lead had become a three-run deficit, with only one inning left to make up the difference.

After two strikeouts to start the ninth, a second comeback seemed unlikely. Then Kevin Pillar singled. Francisco Lindor did the same. Michael Conforto drove in Pillar with single of his own. All of a sudden, the winning run for the Mets was at the plate in the form of Pete Alonso — a chance to reverse their fortune, to counter the Mets’ bullpen breakdown with an even more devastating one for the Phillies.

On the first pitch from José Alvarado, Alonso flew out. It was over — a game that seemed to have spanned a lifetime over three hours and fifteen minutes.

The Mets and the Phillies have faced each other nine times so far this season. Around a third of their games have been against each other, a proportion higher for the Mets. Not all the games between these two teams have been as ridiculous and chaotic as the first. But in each of the three series they’ve played, there has been one game that has transcended all rational expectations for a baseball game. And for me, at least, these games are a revelation. I wouldn’t call them well-played, of course. By their very nature, they tend to constitute profound team failures at executing the fundamental elements of baseball. The games spiral out of control quickly, but their devolution feels at the same time inexorable, as though the players are simply pawns of some invisible force of chaos. You want to turn it off, to avert your eyes from what you know will happen — but you can’t look away, all the same. Games like these, I have realized, are everything I want out of baseball as entertainment.

Part of what makes the train wrecks of April 5, April 13, and May 2 so fascinating is that they didn’t start out as train wrecks — at least, not on the pitching side. The starting rotations for both the Phillies and the Mets rank among baseball’s best, with the Phillies starters currently sitting at ninth on the pitching WAR leaderboard, and the Mets trailing only the Dodgers. The April 5 game detailed above was, until the later innings, a routine gem from deGrom and a very solid effort from his counterparts Matt Moore, Sam Coonrod, and Brandon Kintzler. On Sunday, starters David Peterson and Zach Eflin allowed only three of the game’s eventual 15 runs.

The general effectiveness of the starters in this season’s series not only lulls one into a false sense of complacency — it makes it all the more jarring, and all the more frustrating for fans of either team, when the wheels fall off in the late innings. Of the 64 runs the Mets and the Phillies have scored in the nine games against each other, 32 were scored in the final three innings of the game. The bullpen collapse is one of baseball’s most sickening experiences when watching as a fan. Fortunately for those whose allegiances lie with the Phillies and the Mets, these games have sometimes include collapses on both sides — cascading failure, the walls imploding all around. One has only to look at our win expectancy charts to feel the lurch of unstable ground under one’s feet.

The win expectancy charts themselves can’t contain the fullness of the shenanigans. Even a game with a relatively flat trajectory — Friday’s 2-1 Phillies win, for example — made space for chaos in the form of a benches-clearing brawl after the game’s final pitch, stemming from words exchanged between Alvarado and Dominic Smith. Errors come at the worst, highest-leverage times; the margins of victory are razor-thin. In the case of Sunday’s game, it was literally a matter of inches. After the Mets broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the sixth, the Phillies promptly answered back with a three-run homer from Gregorious, putting them ahead 4-2. But it was the eighth — the eight, again, in a wonderful bit of symmetry with these teams’ first annual meeting a month ago — when things got out of hand. A home run from Pillar; a series of hits; a run walked in, and an Alonso double. The Mets had not only flipped the lead again, but given themselves a four-run cushion.

The cushion already seemed a little threadbare when Edwin Díaz began the bottom of the ninth by walking Gregorius. Roman Quinn tripled Gregorius home. Odúbel Herrera struck out for the second out. But then — another walk. Now here was Hoskins, Sunday Night Baseball’s Mic’d Up player, the tying run with two out.

Hoskins did it. Swing and drive, as Buck Martinez would say — chaos. The stands shook. But wait — the ball bounced, there, just off the top of the fence. Was that actually a home run? The umpires conferred; the call on the field was overturned. It was not a tie game. It was a double, and the game was 8-7. And after all of that, Díaz struck out Harper swinging. Game over, in the most bizarre way possible. Six inches farther on that fly ball, and who knows what might have happened?

The Phillies and the Mets are both hovering, along with their entire division, around the .500 mark. Both could make the postseason, or neither of them could. These games, then, eked out by margins of an error here and an overturned home run call there, actually matter. That overturned home run call could very well have postseason implications. And as much as it is wonderful to watch players who seem in complete control of their chosen skills, the best athletes in the world playing the part, there is something profoundly enjoyable about watching a contest of skills begin to resemble something else entirely — something stranger, something just as human.

RJ is the dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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1 year ago

Losing a game 2-1 because two runs scored on a wild pitch might be the most Mets way to lose a game ever.

Doug Lampertmember
1 year ago
Reply to  Alby

My mother roots for the Mets on the basis that she lived in NYC in 1962, and the Mets bad defense provided excellent entertainment. I’ll have to mention to her that there’s an article appreciating the modern incarnation for the same “feature”.

1 year ago
Reply to  Alby

I’m curious how often the winning team has zero runs batted in for the game

1 year ago
Reply to  Alby

I forgot to mention the WP came on a strikeout of the opposing pitcher with two outs and the bases loaded. Peak Metsiness.