By the time the Mets finished off their four-hour, five-minute win over the Nationals in Game 1 of a doubleheader Saturday, they were on proverbial fumes.
Early in that game, the Mets lost Brandon Nimmo to a hamstring strain that could cost him the rest of the regular season. Middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Javier Báez had played enough that Mets officials decided they couldn’t be counted on to start Game 2. Multiple relievers were unavailable. So the Mets proceeded with a mix of players unrepresentative of their usual bunch, despite understanding the heightened importance of every game.
The result was a 4-3 loss to the Nationals that counteracted New York’s positive vibes from earlier in the afternoon. On a rollercoaster of a day that saw the Mets blow a nine-run lead in Game 1 only to win, 11-9 on Lindor’s ninth-inning homer, the net result was neutral — and neutral won’t do for a team trying to make the most of its 14 consecutive games against the fourth-place Nats and fifth-place Marlins.
“These are some of the things we’re working with right now,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’re trying not to push the guys too much.”
Starting pitcher Tylor Megill allowed a leadoff homer to Lane Thomas in the first inning and a two-run shot to Alcides Escobar in the fifth, among four total runs. It was enough to beat back the Mets despite a late home run from Kevin Pillar, who figures to start most days in Nimmo’s absence.
Simply put, the lineup lacked punch without Nimmo, who went on the injured list before the game, as well as Lindor and Báez, who both made outs as pinch-hitters in the seventh. The Mets’ initial plan was to use Lindor and Báez in both halves of the doubleheader. But when Game 1 dragged on for nine innings and four-plus hours, Rojas — in conjunction with the team’s performance staff — decided to sit them, fearing the exact type of thing that happened to Nimmo.
Fresh in Rojas’ mind was the fact that Lindor recently missed five and a half weeks due to an oblique strain, while Báez also spent time on the IL with back spasms.
“It’s hard. You want those guys every game,” Rojas said. “[We’re] trying to keep the guys fresh moving forward. We know the amount of games that are left in the season, but at the same time, we were watching the games. That first game, they ran a lot. They covered a lot of ground. And we take that into consideration. We talk to the players and they give us the feedback of how they feel, as well. It’s not just one person making a decision out of gut feel. It’s out of facts and what’s going on and how the person feels. Everyone is involved in the conversation.”
Winning shorthanded is something the Mets grew accustomed to doing earlier this season, when they held onto first place for more than 12 consecutive weeks despite missing nearly every member of their starting lineup for significant chunks of that time. Now, it’s something to which they’ll need to grow accustomed again. Already, the Mets have been without ace pitcher Jacob deGrom since July. Add Nimmo to the list, with plenty of uncertainty surrounding his return.
That doesn’t make it an impossible task for a team that, in recent days, more than halved its NL East deficit in the span of a week. But it does make it more challenging for a club that saw its winning streak snapped at six — particularly if it isn’t committed to using its best players every day.
“Obviously extremely proud of the guys for fighting and for that seven-game win streak,” Nimmo said. “Even in this game, the fight that they showed at the end to come back — we had the tying run on second base with Pete [Alonso] up. You don’t want yourself in any other position.”
Added Rojas: “I pray the guys get rest, and they’re ready to go tomorrow.”