2015 Feel With deGrom, Cespedes, Bruce Beating Nationals
This might have been the Nationals home opener, but this game certainly had the feel of an Opening Day to the season. You had a great pitching matchup with Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. More than that, as a fan, there was a great sense of anticipation for the matchup. Not just because of the pitching matchup. Not just because of the eagerness to see how the Mets matchup against the Nationals.
No, the biggest headline of this day was Michael Conforto making his 2018 debut.
Given the poor run of luck with significant injuries and the ensuing recoveries, you would expect Mets fans to have trepidation. David Wright and Matt Harvey are Exhibit A and Exhibit B for that. And yet, for some reason, the Mets fans seemed to have nothing but excitement to see their future superstar return to the Mets ahead of schedule.
Mickey Callaway put him in the lineup as the leadoff hitter and as the center fielder.
It wasn’t the greatest of starts for Conforto, who said he wanted to start today because he wanted Strasburg. He struck out in his first at-bat against Strasburg on three pitches. In the bottom of the first, Adam Eaton hit the first pitch over his head for a lead off double. With Anthony Rendon following with a single on a ball Jay Bruce would bobble, it was quickly 1-o Nationals.
Things would get better for Conforto and deGrom.
Bruce would atone for his error by nearly hitting one out against Strasburg. Two quick outs later followed by a Kevin Plawecki walk, the Mets had runners at the corners with surprise starter Jose Reyes at the plate. The Mets didn’t need Reyes to deliver here because Strasburg would balk trying to pick off Plawecki leading to Bruce scoring.
Eaton and Rendon would strike back in the third to give the Nationals the lead again. Eaton walked, and he would score on a Rendon double. From that point forward, it was all Mets.
Yoenis Cespedes lead off the fourth with a game tying home run. As if it wasn’t exciting enough to see Cespedes tying up the game, the Mets would rally in the fifth.
Plawecki led things off with a leadoff single, and he moved to second on a Reyes ground out. After a deGrom strikeout, that meant it was up to Conforto to try to break the tie. Up until this point in the game, he struck out on three pitches, and he hit into a double play. Things did not look great in this at-bat as Strasburg quickly went up 1-2 on him. Then, Conforto showed us just how healthy he is:
This Conforto kids pretty good. pic.twitter.com/wqbhd5CJwK
— John Flanigan (@jflan816) April 5, 2018
His opposite field home run showed us not just the return of his all field power, but also his great approach at the plate. In our “Yes, Virginia” moment, we now knew Conforto was alright.
Now, with a 4-2 lead, this put the game in deGrom’s hands. With his entering the game with an all-time best 1.98 ERA in day games and his being 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA and 0.983 WHIP in Nationals Park, it looked like it would be smooth sailing for the Mets.
However, this is the Mets and nothing is ever easy. The Nationals quickly loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth. This wasn’t helped by deGrom uncharacteristically issuing back-to-back walks to Rendon and Bryce Harper. With deGrom being the ace that he is, he bore down.
It’s still early in the season, and there are 155 games left to be played, but this may prove to be a seminal moment of the 2018 season because after that we didn’t see the Nationals who tortured the Mets in 2014 and 2016. No, this started to feel like the 2015 season with the Nationals falling apart when pushed by the Mets.
The ungluing happened in the seventh inning.
Turner was ejected for arguing with the home plate umpire, and Brandon Kintzler just didn’t have it.
After the Reyes pop out, Brandon Nimmo pinch hit for deGrom, and he nearly hit one out. Conforto walked. After a borderline strike was called to strike out Asdrubal Cabrera, Cespedes and Bruce would get the benefit of the doubt on close pitches. Both batters would have 3-2 counts. Cespedes walked, and Bruce hit a grand slam giving the Mets an 8-2 lead.
— MLB (@MLB) April 5, 2018
Jerry Blevins and Robert Gsellman would combine to pitch a perfect seventh. Hansel Robles navigated through a one out Rendon double while striking out the side. One his strikeout victims was Harper who is now 1-4 with three strikeouts off Robles. Seth Lugo would bring it home to preserve the 8-2 win.
Overall, the Mets got a big home run from Cespedes. They had an injured player come back and provide a huge home run. One of the Mets aces outpitched one of the Nationals aces. The Nationals had a key player suffer an injury and another one lose their cool. The Nationals bullpen melted down while the Mets bullpen was much better than expected.
If I didn’t know any better, I would swear this was August 2015.
Game Notes: deGrom became the first Met this season to have a quality start. His final line was 6.0 inning, four hits, two runs, one earned, three walks, and five strikeouts. After the sixth inning, Eaton left the game with an injury. He was off to a hot start after tearing his ACL.