ANAHEIM — Almost two weeks ago, the Mets began their odyssey through the Golden State to play three of the five major-league teams based out of California. Then, the Mets had a 10.5-game lead over everyone else in the division. Then, they had just won a season-high six straight games. The atmosphere on that cross country flight was one of confidence and spunk.
But when the Dodgers welcomed the Mets to Hollywood by snapping their win streak, and doubling down in game two of a four-game set, the Amazin’s quickly found themselves in an 0-2 hole with eight games to go. It was a critical moment for a team that was being tested. The Mets could’ve sank further into the hole and listened to the fan base’s hysteria. Instead, they did just the opposite.
The Mets won the rubber match, 4-1, against the Angels on Sunday at Angels Stadium to complete their 10-game road trip against the Dodgers, Padres and Halos going 5-5.
Edwin Diaz was summoned out of the bullpen in the eighth inning for a five-out save. The Mets closer answered the call by striking out Mike Trout, walking Anthony Rendon, then whiffing Jared Walsh on a 102 mph fastball, his fastest pitch of the season and tied for the third-fastest pitch of his career.
“He’s got big power,” Diaz said of Walsh. “I was watching him the other day, hitting batting practice. So I wanted to make sure I made my pitches. I threw a fastball up, it was a strike, and he was surprised. So me and [Tomas] Nido came with the fastball again, and I just let it go.”
Pete Alonso gave Diaz some extra breathing room for the bottom of the ninth when the first baseman slugged his 18th home run of the season in the top of the frame. Diaz returned to the mound to strike out the side and deliver the Mets’ fifth win of the trip.
Diaz cited the command of his fastball and slider as the key improvements that have led to his 2022 success. He’s comfortable throwing his fastball up to hitters, and it showed in his matchups against Trout and Walsh. His 48 strikeouts on the year lead all MLB relievers and his season ERA is 2.13 following Sunday’s 28-pitch effort.
“He had his big boy stuff today,” Alonso said of Diaz. “His fastball was electric. He was dotting up corners. It sucks for the other hitters. He’s a real tough at-bat, especially when he’s got his A-plus stuff.”
Sure, playing .500 baseball is not as satisfying as say, going 8-2. But these Mets are led by a practical manager with reasonable expectations. Buck Showalter and the Mets knew it was going to be a challenging couple of weeks playing two of the best teams in the NL West followed by an interleague matchup against a club they haven’t faced in five years. The Amazin’s confronted that test by analyzing what could have gone better all while reminding themselves of their 2022 identity.
“I think we played extremely well,” said Alonso, who missed one game due to a hit by pitch on his hand, but still crushed five home runs and collected nine RBI on the road trip. “We’re resilient. We focus on every day and we’ve been locked in. I’m super proud of us. We’ve been gone from home for two weeks and we’ve been doing a good job taking care of business.”
On Sunday, Taijuan Walker demonstrated what it’s like to be carried by the starting pitcher when he turned in his best outing of the season to date.
Walker struck out 10 batters across six innings and lowered his ERA to 3.08 in his fourth win of the season. Most impressively, the right-hander bounced back after a shaky first inning that saw him allow the most hits (four) that he has in an opening frame this year. Though Walker put the Mets in an early 1-0 hole just two batters into his outing, he returned to his splitter to get him out of his funk. Walker got nine whiffs on his splitter, which was as effective as we’ve seen that pitch from the righty this season.
The Mets are heading back to New York with a 5.5 game lead in the NL East. The Braves won their 11 consecutive game on Sunday, while the Phillies snapped their nine-game winning streak.
“We just found ways to win,” Walker said. “It’s a tough road trip. Three of the best teams in baseball and we held our own. Coming across the country like that, it says a lot about us, the way we handled ourselves.”
J.D. Davis, who continues to pummel left-handers, provided the power with his first home run since April 24. The Mets designated hitter has taken advantage of his extra playing time since Dominic Smith was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse late last month. Davis is hitting .357 over his last 16 games.
Starling Marte returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing four days due to left quad tightness. Marte said his immediate impact—the right fielder went 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI double—proves that he’s completely recovered from the injury and he can be counted on moving forward.
“It’s tremendous,” Marte said, through interpreter Alan Suriel, of the Mets’ road trip. “It goes to show that this is a good team, to be able to take five out 10 games on a road trip like this, it shows we’re ready for the battles and we’re ready to play any team.”