RECAP: Mets Make Statement, Take 2-1 Lead Over Dodgers

Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets hadn’t even started before the atmosphere became confrontational. In the pregame player and coaching staff announcements, Chase Utley was not only booed, but received vociferously in classic New York fashion.

Then, before Matt Harvey was able to throw the first pitch of the game, it appeared that the umpires were issuing a warning. Thankfully, it had something more to do with a fan issuing a very loud death threat to Utley (probably). What was actually delaying the game was unclear until Jon Heyman clarified things for us all.

To say this game began contentiously would be putting it mildly, but things settled down shortly. Fittingly, Wilmer Flores, Terry Collins‘s replacement for the injured Ruben Tejada, was involved in the first play resulting in an out. Flores scooped up Howie Kendrick‘s grounder and fired it to Lucas Duda for the out. Both teams would go three-up and three-down in the first.

The top of the second inning saw trouble for The Dark Knight and the Metropolitans for the first time. Justin Turner, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford all singled to load the bases with nobody out. All three Dodgers would score when Yasmani Grandal singled to right field, which was abetted by Curtis Granderson‘s throwing error. LA had stormed out to a 3-0 lead. Harvey responded well with a fly out of Enrique Hernandez and a strikeout of Brett Anderson. The Dodgers’ lineup turned over, with leadoff man Kendrick coming to the plate for his second at bat already. He hit a laser straight at David Wright, who stabbed it out of the air to end the inning.

Striking back immediately in the bottom of the second, the Mets obviously got the memo this was going to be a slug fest. After answering with four straight hits of their own, two of the infield variety, the score stood at 3-1. That first run for the Mets may have been due largely to Cespedes’s speed. They loaded the bases again. Juan Lagares grounded into a force play and Harvey struck out. With two outs and Granderson coming to the plate, it didn’t look too promising that New York would get more than the one run. Granderson, for his career, has an OPS 165 points lower against lefties (.696) than righties (.861). Granderson ambushed the first pitch from Brett Anderson, doubling to center and clearing the bases, absolving himself immediately in the eyes of the Mets’ faithful.

The score favored the Mets 4-3. What had begun to look like a game of mirrored half innings was no longer.

While the Dodgers struggled to land any blows of significance in the top of the third, the Mets kept pounding away. Travis d’Arnaud yanked at two-run homer over the left field fence. Cespedes, who had already been on base for the second time, was the runner d’Arnaud drove in. Even though Anderson did get Flores to line out to Adrian Gonzalez at first, his night was clearly done.

Once Alex Wood officially replaced Anderson – surrendering a leadoff double to Lagares to start the fourth – he would possess one of his worst starts of the season. He pitched three innings, giving up six runs on seven hits. With Anderson cooked, the broadcast booth turned their attention to the tired out pitch/innings-limit drama of Harvey and his puppet master agent, Scott Boras. Sideline reporter Sam Ryan asked Terry Collins about the pitch limit for the night. “A hundred and fifteen tops,” Collins replied, ever-so-slightly curt.

A hundred and fifteen tops

Handed a 10-3 lead to start the fifth inning, Harvey sat at 78 pitches. Wait, a 10-3 lead?!? Yeah, after Daniel Murphy singled home Lagares – the leadoff double Wood allowed coming around to score – Cespedes launched an absolute bomb reminiscent of his Home Run Derby fireworks in 2013. Through four innings the Mets’ lineup was cruising, going 10-22 with two homers and two doubles. Before Cespedes’s bomb, however, Mets’ fans seemed bored and decided to again take up the “Utley Sucks!” chant.

Harvey would leave having thrown 97 pitches, 60 for strikes, and his night would not be certainly over until Michael Cuddyer pinch hit for him in the bottom of the fifth. Viewers around the nation – and world – could breathe a sigh of relief, as they would no longer be forced to listen to the innings-limit drivel.

Bartolo Colon, who last pitched during the “slide” play, came in to pitch the sixth inning for the Mets. The 42-year-old would quickly collect three strikeouts. In order, he would retire Grandal, Hernandez, and the pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig, who was in for the pitcher Wood. The feat made Colon the third oldest pitcher to strikeout the side in the postseason behind John Smoltz (in 2009) and Dolf Luque (in 1933). He looked to be in cruise control in the seventh, getting Jimmy Rollins to ground into a double play to erase a Kendrick single. Then he gave Dodgers’ fans a faint glimmer of hope, serving one up to Adrian Gonzalez for a 381-foot home run to left center. That would be the lone run of the seventh for the Dodgers and the score was 10-4.

Pedro Baez would come in to pitch the bottom of the seventh. Baez seemed intent on following suit of most of the previous Dodgers’ arms. He immediately surrendered a single to d’Arnaud – his third hit of the game – and then walked Flores and Lagares to load the bases with no outs. To that point in the game, the Mets were 5-12 with runners in scoring position, so this was a frightful proposition for Don Mattingly and his squad. Mattingly gave Baez the hook, bringing in J.P. Howell to face pinch-hitter Michael Conforto. Conforto would immediately score d’Arnaud on a sacrifice fly. Despite an 11-4 score, at least Mattingly finally brought in Corey Seager. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, none of these moves made anything better. Granderson came to the plate and promptly laced another double, this time to left, driving in two more runs.

With the score now at a devastating 13-4, the Win Expectancy over at FanGraphs actually turned to 100% for the Mets. I wasn’t aware of certitudes in baseball. I mean, the Astros found that out earlier today. And just like that, as if words were magic, Erik Goeddel gave up three straight no-out hits in the top of the ninth. Hernandez and Seager both singled, Seager’s knock advancing Hernandez all the way to third. With that third hit, Howie Kendrick clearly didn’t care where they were on the bases, as he drove a three-run homer to left center field. The umpiring crew reviewed it, because of possible fan interference. But it was clearly a homer, despite the goofy kid in the orange jacket with a loose mitt.

Now with the score was 13-7 and Rollins also collecting a single following the homer, Collins yanked Goeddel in favor of Jeurys Familia. The first batter Familia faced was Gonzalez. He promptly struck Adrian out on three pitches. Familia got Justin Ruggiano to pop out in foul territory on the third-base side and most of the fingernail chewing in Queens subsided. Andre Ethier was then retired on a comebacker to Familia and the Mets took a 2-1 lead in this NLDS.

For the game, Cespedes became the first Met in postseason history to collect three hits, three runs, and three RBIs in a single game. Shortly after he accomplished that, d’Arnaud became the second. Lagares was the third Met in the game to score three runs, while Flores crossed home two times.

Now, the big question is, can the Mets get past Clayton Kershaw for a second time in the series?

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