PHILADELPHIA — The Saturday doubleheader was supposed to be the weird part of the Mets’ weekend trip to Philly.
Their day game was a roaring success, ending in an 8-2 win, but the nightcap was a 4-1 loss. More important than all that, though, is the fact that the bullpen isn’t completely drained for Sunday’s game and the following two against the Yankees. All in all, not that weird.
After Chris Bassitt helped them bank a win on Friday, the Mets knew that Saturday would be two games with irregular starting pitchers. The first, Trevor Williams, staked his claim as player of the weekend. Williams gave the Mets four shutout innings in his spot start, and with the offense doing their thing, the Mets earned an easy win to begin the suffocatingly hot day at Citizens Bank Park. Williams also ran his scoreless inning streak to 24.
“It’s hard to win two games of a doubleheader when you don’t win the first,” Williams said, trying to manifest something that didn’t end up coming to fruition.
“Every good club has to have someone like that,” Buck Showalter said of Williams. “Not once does he ever put himself in front of what the team’s needs are.”
The Phillies, for whatever reason, just cannot figure out the Mets. If they played even decent baseball against the National League East leaders, Philadelphia would be in the thick of the division race. Instead, the opening game loss dropped the Phils to 4-13 against the Mets, gluing their eyes to a Wild Card spot rather than an NL East banner. The second game was a nice reprieve for them, but with Sunday being the last meeting of the season between these teams, Philadelphia has squandered any chance of its first division title since 2011.
Losing the first game, the one where they had the clear advantage in the starting pitching matchup, tells you where the Phillies are right now. Even with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler spinning the first two games of the series, they were utterly outplayed.
Wheeler was hatcheting through the Mets lineup for the first four innings on Saturday afternoon, sitting his former teammates down at a cheetah’s pace. But when he reached the bottom of the order for the second time, the roof collapsed. Jeff McNeil led off the fifth inning with a hit, Tyler Naquin followed him with a walk, and after Brett Baty moved them up with a productive groundout, No. 9 hitter Michael Perez put his stamp on this mesmerizing season.
Showalter is fond of saying that there’s a reason why a team felt comfortable starting Perez in the World Series. But it’s not true. While he did play in the 2020 World Series for the Rays, Perez never actually started. He didn’t even get an at-bat, just a few innings of defense.
Nevermind his skipper’s foggy memory. On Saturday, Perez woke up the Mets’ offense with his two-RBI single in the fifth inning, allowing McNeil and Naquin to soar across the plate. In addition to catching Williams for the first time and guiding him through the Phillies lineup, the timely hit embodied the Mets’ ethos of everyone doing what they’re asked of, no matter how unfamiliar their role might be.
“It was a good first day with me and [catcher Michael] Perez,” said Williams. “We were on the same page pretty much the entire time. For him to come in and do that, not catching guys that he’s familiar with, is huge.”
“It felt really good,” Perez said of getting his first RBI with the Mets. “I didn’t want to do too much, just put the ball in play. I’m happy with it.”
Game 2 wasn’t as breezy. Phillies’ lefty Bailey Falter and his mudflap hair rolled into town and had arguably his best day ever on a pitcher’s mound. Falter has more starts at Triple-A this season than he does in the majors and had not pitched at any level since a six-inning Triple-A outing on Aug. 10. Tossing a season-high 84 pitches, Falter recorded nine strikeouts in seven innings against the Mets, a team that was playing its tenth game in nine days.
David Peterson wasn’t totally ineffective in the late show, but his 4.2 innings with eight hits, two walks and three runs won’t make many highlight reels. If the Mets were potentially viewing this doubleheader as a starting pitcher audition — someone will have to take Carlos Carrasco’s next few turns until his oblique is right — Williams has to have the upper hand.
In a stunning role reversal, the Phillies bullpen held firm in the nightcap while the Mets’ relievers allowed their deficit to swell. Rob Thomson’s bullpen management during the day (as well as his team getting handily beaten) allowed him to deploy Jose Alvarado, and David Robertson, a fairly ideal scenario for a team so starved of late-inning options, even if using Robertson for two innings was an odd choice. The Mets only put one man in scoring position after the fifth inning, blowing their chance of a doubleheader sweep.