A grim battle between the Mets and Marlins that neither is equipped for
Monday night's 15-inning battle between the Miami Marlins, who have the worst record in the National League, and the New York Mets, losers of five straight, was uncomfortable to watch.
The Marlins eventually won, 4-3.
Here you had what ought to have been a taut, exciting affair, but the alarming thinness of both rosters meant, really, that neither team was up for it.
It started back in the sixth inning. Matt Harvey, the Mets' ace, entered the inning having thrown 99 pitches. Harvey did not locate his fastball with his usual precision, but thanks to a slider that more than made up for it, he had his team ahead, 2-1. Typically, a young pitcher who'd struggled through five innings with a pitch count that high would be lifted, since higher-stress pitching is particularly prone to causing injuries.
Still, after a six-pitch at-bat to Placido Polanco, Mets manager Terry Collins kept Harvey in the game. Then came an eight-pitch walk to Greg Dobbs, Harvey's sweat soaking his uniform despite playing in air-conditioned Miami. Still, Harvey remained in the game. Only after another eight pitches, leading to a single by Justin Ruggiano, did Collins go out and get Harvey.
Harvey threw 121 pitches, a day after Niese threw 117 against the Phillies. This augurs poorly for the Mets; Collins has one set of priorities, with no contract for next year and a bullpen that is again among the worst in the majors. But the Mets have two reliable starting pitchers, both of whom they are hoping to rely on for years to come.
Really, though, this was just the beginning. The Mets led, 2-1, heading into the later innings. But Collins actually kept Lucas Duda in the game, rather than replace him for defense, worried his bullpen would blow the lead and he'd need the offense. Again, this is poor strategy stemming from enormous roster limitations. Those limits were further revealed by the late-game center fielder, Collin Cowgill, who is no defensive stalwart, either. Accordingly, a Cowgill misplay in the ninth allowed the Marlins to tie the game, and on the two flawed teams went to extra innings. The team's one strong defensive outfielder, Juan Lagares, remained on the bench.
In the tenth, Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins' lone remaining viable power threat, strained his hamstring after topping a ball in front of home plate. He'd be removed from the game, and placed on the disabled list after it was over. So the chances of the Marlins ending the game with one swing pretty much left at that point, too.
The Mets had entered the night resting David Wright, who had a stiff neck, and vowing to stay away from Scott Rice, a reliever overworked of late because, again, so few options in that bullpen had gotten outs. Taking precautions with your best position player, or a dangerously fatigued reliever, is just common sense.
But by the 13th, Wright volunteered to pinch-hit, and did. Rice volunteered to pitch, and threw a scoreless 13th. Winning the game took precedent for Collins, once again.
The punchless Met offense didn't take advantage of baserunners in the 12th or 13th; so who would pitch the 14th? The choices were Shaun Marcum, the starter who hadn't pitched in relief in six years, had missed most of April with multiple injuries, and is the best hope the Mets have of filling one of their starting rotation gaps. The other option was backup catcher Anthony Recker. It is precisely the moment to use care with your oft-injured starter, and burn a position player. It is, after all, one game in April.
Collins went with Marcum.
When the Mets scored, finally, in the top of the 15th on an infield single by Ruben Tejada, the team's first hit with runners in scoring position after an 0-for-16 start, it looked like Marcum would pick up his first win as a Met.
But a tired Marcum gave up a game-tying single to Rob Brantly, and a game-winning sac fly to Nick Green. It should be pointed out that 34-year-old Nick Green is only a major leaguer thanks to the needs of the Marlins. Other than in Miami, he hasn't played in the major leagues since 2010.
And so, the two National League East bottom-feeders will face off again Tuesday, with Jeremy Hefner, a swing man at best on a real team, facing Kevin Slowey, a starting pitcher who couldn't stick with such poor staffs as Minnesota, Cleveland or Colorado.
They'll play again Wednesday afternoon, and then this pair of downtrodden rosters will go off in search of wins against teams that are better equipped to play baseball for a full nine innings.