Sunday went from horrible to great in the span of nine innings for the New York Mets. , Taijuan Walker and the Mets found themselves down 6-0 to the Pirates in the first inning Sunday. Pittsburgh is the lowest-scoring team in baseball, yet they scored 15 runs in three innings spanning Saturday and Sunday.
Walker, fresh off his All-Star Game appearance, faced nine batters Sunday and retired just one, getting leadoff batter Adam Frazier to ground out. After that, the Pirates went double, single, walk, double, walk, walk, infield single*, walk to push across six runs. The infield single comes with an asterisk because folks, you have to see it to believe it.
Here's the video:
Walker thought the ball was rolling foul and flipped it away, but home plate umpire Jeremy Riggs deemed the ball fair, and the play continued. The Kevin Newman infield single and Walker's error -- and Walker pausing to argue rather than immediately retrieving the ball -- allowed the bases to clear and Newman to advance to second.
"Obviously I thought it was foul. It was so close. It is what it is. It's over with and we won the game," Walker said (video link), adding he thought he flipped the ball into the dugout. "... Crazy play. Obviously I was frustrated about it. I was frustrated with myself. I wasn't getting the job done. Just one of those plays that happens."
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Here's the best available replay. The ball was rolling along the foul line -- barely, but on the line it was -- so Riggs was correct. It was a fair ball.
Mets manager Luis Rojas was livid and argued the call aggressively. He was eventually ejected. Walker also argued fervently, but was not ejected. Five of the six runs were earned and Walker went from a 2.50 ERA to a 2.99 ERA in the span of 35 pitches. He issued four walks Sunday after walking seven batters in his previous six starts combined.
"We deserve a chance where the umpires can meet and talk about it," Rojas told reporters, including Tim Britton of Newsday, after the game. "That's what I tried to get and I was denied, and that got me fired up."
If it makes the Mets and Walker (and their fans) feel better, Walker's play is no worse than the second-dumbest play at PNC Park this season. Will Craig's brain fart remains the undisputed No. 1. You can at least understand why Walker played that ball the way he did. Craig? I got nothing.
Anyway, give the Mets credit. They didn't go away quietly. They chipped away in the middle innings Sunday and received a huge lift when Travis Blankenhorn clubbed a three-run pinch-hit home run in the fourth inning. That got the Mets to within 6-4. Then, in the ninth, Michael Conforto blasted a go-ahead two-run homer. Trevor May, not Edwin Díaz, closed out the win (NYM 7, PIT 6).
"He was fired up for sure, and I think that got the whole team fired up to see him have our backs out there," Walker said (video link). "He's usually cool-mannered and everyone thought it was foul. It was a big money early in the game -- the first inning -- I think he just got everyone fired up in the dugout and we really wanted to win that game."
The Mets blew a six-run lead Saturday and the Pirates returned the favor Sunday. This is the third time a team has allowed at least six runs in the first inning and won this season, with the Mets joining the Brewers on June 30 and the Angels on July 1. MLB.com's Sarah Langs notes there have not been three such games in a single season since 2006.
With Sunday's win, the Mets avoided a three-game sweep to the Pirates after splitting four games with Pittsburgh in Citi Field last weekend. Going 2-5 against the Pirates would've been disastrous given the competitive NL East race. Going 3-4 against Pittsburgh isn't great, but it is better than the alternative. Sunday's win was a good character win for the Mets.
"We're going to show up and play to win, regardless of the guys that we don't have," Conforto told reporters, including Mike Puma of the New York Post, following Sunday's game. "... We'll keep the ship steady until those guys are back."