Friday, July 1, 2016

Mets take thriller of series opener from Cubs

Entering perhaps their most important homestand of the season, the Mets were struggling, reeling from a three-game sweep in Washington. The Cubs, still baseball's best team in terms of record, had rebounded from a weeklong funk to win three straight. To remain competitive, the Mets would need to reverse both trends.
They began that process with a sorely needed 4-3 win over the Cubs, parlaying a Javier Baez error into a go-ahead three-run rally in the seventh inning of the clubs' first meeting since last year's National League Championship Series. Yoenis Cespedes also hit the longest home run by a Mets player this season, and Steven Matz mustered 5 1/3 innings of three-run ball pitching through a bone spur in his elbow to snap the Cubs' three-game winning streak.
"It sure came at the right time," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "To come back against that team, first game of this 11-game homestand, I think it's huge for us. It lifted the spirits of every guy in there."
For those in attendance, the late action forced a dramatic turn of events in a game that, for most of the night, belonged to the Cubs. Before departing with one out in the seventh, Chicago starter John Lackey gave up nothing more than Cespedes' homer, nursing the lead that Kris Bryant had provided with a two-run homer off Matz in the first.
The Cubs threatened to take back the lead in the ninth, putting their first two batters in scoring position with no outs before Jeurys Familia locked down his 27th save in 27 chances.
"It's like a 98-mile-an-hour lefty cutter -- good luck," Bryant said of Familia's pitches. "I just think our last three at-bats, they were a little too anxious. He's supposed to do that. That's why he's the closer on their team, that's why he'll have a long career. Sometimes you have to tip your cap."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Taking advantage: A Mets team in need of a break received one in the seventh. After Travis d'Arnaud singled with one out, Cubs manager Joe Maddon elected to remove Lackey from the game, turning to new reliever Joel Peralta. The right-hander walked pinch-hitterAlejandro De Aza, then served up an RBI single to Brandon Nimmo. That brought up Neil Walker, whose bouncer to the right side forced Baez to charge. The second baseman fired toward third base on the run for a potential tag play but his throw sailed to the fence, allowing two runs to score.
"[Lackey] really got us to a good position there," Maddon said. "In my mind's eye, when you get people on the team, they're there for a certain reason. That was a good spot for Joel. I told him exactly that before the game -- De Aza is going to pinch-hit, and Nimmo will hit next." More >
Blastoff: Bryant may not want to turn the calendar page. He launched the sixth pitch from Matz into the left-field bleachers, driving in Ben Zobrist, who had singled to lead off the game. It was Bryant's 22nd homer of the season and 11th in June. He now leads the Cubs with 60 RBIs and moved into a tie for first in homers in the National League with the Reds'Adam Duvall. The top vote-getter among NL third basemen after the penultimate ballot update for the upcoming All-Star Game, Bryant leads the NL in runs scored, with 62. More >
"He punished that ball," Maddon said.
Yo goes deep: The longest home run by any Mets player this season came in the sixth inning, a screamer off Cespedes' bat at 110 mph, according to Statcast™. It parked in the upper deck in left field, a projected 441 feet from home. Cespedes, who entered the night in a tight race for All-Star votes with Chicago's Dexter Fowler and Washington's Bryce Harper, gave the Mets their first run off Lackey with that blast.
"I think it woke us up, I really do," Collins said. "He hasn't hit one in a while, and that was a big one." More >
Elbow alert: Pitching with an extra day of rest following an elbow examination earlier this week that revealed a bone spur, Matz sat in the upper 90s with his fastball all evening. It was far from his best performance, with seven hits and three walks, but he allowed just one run -- Baez's homer -- after Bryant took him deep in the first. If nothing else, it was an important outing for a pitcher who will need to perform through discomfort all season. More >
QUOTABLE
"I was absolutely ecstatic. It is hard to put into words, because this is something that I've dreamed about ever since I was a kid." -- Nimmo, on his hit and first Major League RBI
"Before the game I was trying to think back to the [NLCS], and thinking about what the batting cage looked like and what the field looked like, and none of those memories stuck out to me. We don't really remember much that happened here last year. We know the feeling of getting eliminated and getting swept. I think we're on to bigger and better things. Different year, different players, different attitude here." -- Bryant
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cespedes' homer was the first in Citi Field history (excluding the 2013 Home Run Derby) to reach the third deck in left field, according to the Mets.
WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Jason Hammel will try to change his luck against the Mets on Friday. He's 0-3 with a 4.91 ERA in five career starts against them, and has not pitched in New York since April 11, 2011. He's coming off a loss vs. the Marlins in his most recent outing, in which he gave up two runs over six innings.
Mets: Jacob deGrom, who has not pitched with a lead in any of his last four outings despite a 2.77 ERA over that stretch, will look to snap a personal 10-game winless streak when he opposes Hammel in Friday's game. Over those 10 starts, deGrom is 0-4 with a 3.13 ERA, 63 strikeouts and 15 walks.

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