NEW YORK — Sometimes, there’s no mystery about how a day is going to go. You walk a six-mile round trip and realize around mile two that you haven’t eaten or drank all day, and the sun beats down on you until you’re sweating through your mask, and you finally get home and collapse just in time to hear that Jacob deGrom has been scratched from his start and Walker Lockett will start in his place. If that’s the start of your day, don’t buy a lottery ticket until tomorrow.
It was supposed to be a perfect evening of baseball, my grand welcome back to watching the Mets in New York. I’d gotten home from a summer job in Maine the night before, deGrom was on the mound, and I’d acquired several pounds of Shake Shack to celebrate the occasion. deGrom being scratched, of course, ruined the night before it began, but I convinced myself that it didn’t. “deGrom isn’t pitching, but besides that, everything is fine.” Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Sure enough, the first two Phillies reached base against Walker Lockett, and visions of a 14-1 blowout loss danced in my head. Walker Lockett — the latest spare part in Brodie Van Wagenen’s best rotation in baseball™ — entered the 2020 season having pitched 37.2 career big-league innings, and allowed 37 earned runs. That’s an 8.84 E.R.A., for those of you keeping score at home. Lockett came to the Mets, along with Sam Haggerty, in a January 2019 trade with the Indians. Kevin Plawecki went to Cleveland. Plawecki, who appears on the mound occasionally, has a 6.35 career E.R.A., which means that Lockett, the only pitcher in the trade that brought him to New York, might still not have been the best pitcher involved.
But is Lockett such a strange sight these days? Rick Porcello has a 5.68 E.R.A. Michael Wacha’s is 6.43. Steven Matz is at 8.20, and Robert Gsellman has an even 9.00. After allowing five runs in six innings, Lockett’s E.R.A. stands at 7.50, which means he ranks third among the Mets’ current healthy starters.
For at least a moment, though, it seemed that the Mets would keep pace. They hit the ball hard in the first, although bad luck and good fielding limited them to a single run, and Luis Guillorme hit an RBI single in the second that landed between bewildered Phillies outfielders. The Phillies tied the game in the bottom of the second, then Dominic Smith homered again, his fifth of the season to lead the Mets…up next, Robinson Cano homered too.
That 4-2 lead held up until the fifth, when Lockett, facing the Phillies batting order for the third time, threw a 91-mile-per-hour changeup right around J.T. Realmuto’s belt level. Realmuto, who right now is about as hot as Christie Brinkley on asphalt in July, mashed the ball into the left-field stands. On replay, there was some violence, some anger, evident in his swing. “You want me to face Walker Lockett? Again?” he was asking. “Okay…see how you like it.” Realmuto is batting .288/.351/.750, for an OPS of 1.101. He’s also a free agent after the season, which means that starting in 2021, he’s a great candidate to come to the Mets and bat .237/.289/.363 with seventeen home runs over the first three years of a five-year contract, then retire after suffering chronic damage from a rare tropical disease.
The Phillies led 5-4 after Realmuto’s home run. Guillorme had two more hits: he was three for three with a walk, and was the Mets’ lone bright spot in the game. Guillorme is batting .474, and this isn’t to say “I told you so,” but I definitely told you so. Finally, the ninth came, and with it some energy. Brandon Nimmo singled leading off, raising his OBP to .444. Michael Conforto, up next, walked. Pete Alonso and Dom Smith struck out, but Cano, finally, didn’t disappoint: he drove a single to right, and Nimmo scored the tying run. Then Wilson Ramos grounded into a force out to end the inning. Ramos also grounded into one of his patented ten-minute double plays to end the Mets’ seventh-inning threat. He’s batting .197.
Ramos could have come out for defense in the bottom of the ninth — Tomas Nido is vastly better in almost every way — but he stayed in, because why not? Seth Lugo allowed two hits in a row, then struck out Rhys Hoskins. Then Bryce Harper singled to right. Conforto’s throw home was perfect. Roman Quinn was out by 15 feet. Except Ramos held his tag a foot off the ground, as if ushering Quinn in for an undisturbed landing. Ramos missed the tag, Quinn slid in safely, and the Phillies won. That’s just the kind of day it was.