The New York Mets entered Monday night’s game against the Nationals with the National League’s best record, its sturdiest bullpen, and a way-too-early-to-matter 36 percent chance of winning their division. They carried a 6-1 lead into the eighth, then sent their fans home feeling awful thanks to the most Mets-ass inning imaginable. In a season in which just about everything has gone right, it served as a very special sneak preview of how spectacularly even a good thing can implode into its Mets-y opposite.
When he trotted out for the eighth inning, Jacob deGrom became the first Mets starter to throw a pitch that late in a game this season. That lack of length hadn’t mattered much, as the team’s bullpen had been virtually spotless over the season’s first two weeks. DeGrom allowed two singles and struck out Michael A. Taylor, and Mickey Callaway made his move. The Mets co-ace left after 103 pitches and with what looked like ample cushion for a win. The bullpen needed only to get five outs before giving up five runs, and even for a unit that’s almost certainly over-worked that didn’t seem too much to ask.
It absolutely was. Seth Lugo spun four straight pitches outside the strike zone and gave way Jerry Blevins for what was supposed to be a superior match up with Bryce Harper. It wasn’t, as Harper knocked in two runs. Then it got bad.
That is, it went full-on catatonic Mets-ing, as A.J. Ramos struck out Ryan Zimmerman, loaded the bases, and then brought the Nats within two by walking former Mets demi-prospect Matt Reynolds to force in the third run of the inning. Jeurys Familia, who is a high-wire act coming into a fresh inning and a juggling unicyclist with runners on base, kept the line moving. He allowed a seeing-eye two-RBI single to Wilmer Difo that tied the game, plunked Moises Sierra to load the bases, and then walked Taylor—you remember him from earlier in the inning, three pitchers ago—to give the Nats the lead. Trea Turner lined out to left, ending a hilarious disaster of an inning. The towering homer that Hansel Robles served up to Howie Kendrick in the ninth was, by that point, relatively meaningless.
There are takeaways, and there aren’t: the first dozen or so games notwithstanding, the Mets probably do not have the league’s best bullpen, which is something everyone knew going into the season. Said bullpen is also not so awful that it will require four pitchers to rescue an inning again this year. Hansel Robles will definitely never stop pointing at fly balls as they crest over the left centerfield wall. This bleak fraction of a game tells us little, just as the happier fraction of a season already in the books doesn’t mean the Mets will fulfill their current 87-win projection. All of that said: it seemed really bad.
Almost everything’s gone just right for the Mets so far, save for sliding down the depth chart at catcher. They’ve dodged Scherzer twice already, got Michael Conforto back early, and seem to have found a viable bullpen weapon in semi-busted starter Robert Gsellman, and have won nine more games than they’ve lost. Even the most strident Mets optimists—they’re out there, presumably—could expect for some natural regression. That’s all easier to imagine than to watch, though, and Monday was a reminder of just how quickly it can all go wrong, and what it looks like when it does.