NEW YORK — From his vantage point beyond the first-base bag, Pete Alonso did not need to see Brewers third-base coach Jason Lane whirl his arm to know that Hunter Renfroe would be heading home. Alonso did not need to hear the Citi Field crowd raise its collective volume in anticipation of a play at the plate. The Mets’ pre-series scouting reports had pegged the Brewers as one of MLB’s most aggressive baserunning teams. Alonso knew that. He had also glimpsed enough of Renfroe’s speed and trajectory to understand he would not be stopping.
So when Nick Plummer finally retrieved the ball down the right-field line and fired to Alonso, the Mets’ first baseman was ready to proceed through the fundamental cadence of catch, cock and throw. His relay arrived in time for catcher Tomás Nido to apply the tag on Renfroe, cutting down the potential tying run in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 5-4 victory.
“They’ve got to go,” Alonso said of the Brewers. “With our closer on the mound and a ball hit down the line that took a little bit of time to get to, for them, they’ve got to go.”
The closer, Edwin Díaz, certainly factored into Lane’s decision. No one in baseball strikes out batters at a higher rate than Díaz, whom the Mets summoned to protect a one-run lead in the ninth. Teams that beat Díaz generally do so in one of two ways: either by squaring up a pitch for a homer, or by stringing together bits of soft contact.
The Brewers opted for the latter strategy, opening the ninth with a softly-hit Renfroe single. Two batters later, pinch-hitter Tyrone Taylor blooped another ball into shallow right field, where both Plummer and Alonso sprinted toward it. Plummer arrived first, fielding the ball around the same time that Lane decided to direct Renfroe home.
When the dust settled, the Brewers found themselves with a man on first with two outs against one of the game’s premier closers, rather than two men in scoring position with one out.
“I absolutely think it was the right call,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who also cited Plummer’s arm strength as a reason for the send. [Díaz] is not easy to get hits against. He strikes out almost 50% of the hitters.”
Officially, the total was 48% following Thursday’s game, in which Díaz picked up his 13th save in 16 chances. Following the play at the plate, manager Buck Showalter came to the mound to ask Díaz if he wanted to face former National League MVP Christian Yelich with two outs, or intentionally walk him to get to Willy Adames. Díaz chose Yelich, striking him out on three pitches to end things.
“I don’t like to walk guys,” Díaz said. “I trusted my stuff.”
Among Mets players, Díaz was one of the only ones surprised that the Brewers sent Renfroe. He considered it a lucky break, though in reality, it was continued evidence that this Mets team excels at taking advantage of other club’s mistakes. Give the Mets an inch, and they’ll take a victory, as they demonstrated in coming from behind to win for the 16th time this season.
Even as individual problems continue to pile up against the Mets — on Thursday, they lost starting pitcher Tylor Megill to a shoulder injury and third baseman Eduardo Escobar to an undisclosed issue — the team finds ways to win. That the Mets have ceded six games in the standings over the past two weeks has far less to do with them than with the Braves, who have remained unsustainably hot throughout a 14-game winning streak.
On Thursday, New York’s comeback included a two-run Mark Canha homer, a Plummer go-ahead fielder’s choice, and a 9-3-2 relay to squelch whatever momentum the Brewers had left.
“Luckily, everybody was in line,” Plummer said. “I got a long hop to Pete, and Pete made a good throw. Kind of an unconventional relay, but it worked.”