Clayton Kershaw’s exit was just what the doctor ordered for the New York Mets, who scored four runs between the sixth and seventh innings to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field.
If this is indeed an NLCS preview, it was quite an appetizing one. The Mets (84-48) took two of three from the 90-win Dodgers and the season series 4-3 — all while ensuring their lead atop the NL East stays no smaller than three games heading into an easier portion of their schedule.
“It’s big because we won two games and they have the best record in the league,” shortstop Francisco Lindor, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored, said. “It’s a big series. We just happened to end up taking it… It means we played good baseball against them. That’s all it is. Hopefully we can make it to the postseason and we face them again, hopefully we can do the same thing.”
The Dodgers’ ace and future Hall of Famer limited the Mets to just one run on one hit across five innings in his first start since Aug. 4 due to back issues. But a strict innings limit to ease him back into the big leagues opened the door for the Mets to overturn a 2-1 deficit and come away with the win.
New York managed to stay so close thanks to the gutsy effort of starter Chris Bassitt, who allowed just two runs on six hits in six innings of work — maneuvering through traffic jams galore to continue bolstering his case as the Mets’ No. 3 starter come a potential playoff series.
“A starting pitcher pitching that way against that club is impressive,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said.
They tied the game within the first two batters off reliever Chris Martin in the sixth. Starling Marte hustled out an infield single to set the table for Francisco Lindor, who split the gap in right-center field with a double in New York’s No. 6.
“He’s one of those special well-rounded players who can beat you in so many ways,” Showalter said. “Marte beating out the ground ball led to runs… Those are things I take out of today’s game that can get lost… We took advantage of some of the mistakes that were made.”
Lindor would steal third and come home on a deep sacrifice fly by Darin Ruf, which was much needed for the designated hitter’s resume in New York since being traded from San Francisco as boo bird began to gain a voice at Citi Field in his previous two at-bats.
“He had an excellent at-bat,” Lindor said. “Epecially righty on righty. He’s normally accustomed to go left on right and he did a good job. I actually thought that was a home run. I blew it out against the wind, it wasn’t helping today.”
It was also a masterclass from manager Buck Showalter, who stayed with Ruf despite having the left-handed Daniel Vogelbach on the bench to pinch-hit. If the lefty was up, Dodgers catcher Will Smith would have had an easier throw to get Lindor at third
The Mets tacked on two runs of insurance in the seventh off Caleb Ferguson with a two-out rally started by a James McCann double. Wednesday night’s hero, Brandon Nimmo, appeared to hit an innocuous blooper into shallow right field — but second baseman Gavin Lux and right fielder Mookie Betts got their wires crossed. The ball found grass and McCann crossed the plate while Nimmo moved up to second.
“Nimmo — tell me how many players would be on second on that pop-up?” Showalter asked in commending his center fielder. “That pop up goes down as a line drive.”
Marte followed it up with a soft single to left, swinging on 3-0, to score Nimmo from second and put the Mets up by three.
Turning to closer Edwin Diaz in the eighth, the Mets ran into a spot of trouble when the All-Star walked Freddie Freeman and hit Smith to put the two lead-off men aboard. Anxieties grew even stronger when both Max Muncy and Justin Turner sent long flies to center — but Nimmo made both catches at the warning track as Citi Field lived up to its reputation as a pitcher-friendly park.
While Freeman tagged home to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to two on Turner’s fly, Diaz rebounded to strike out Lux with a career-high 103-mph fastball to escape the jam.
“I think the hitters before were looking for my slider,” Diaz said. “I was a little angry because I wasn’t commanding my slider the way I wanted to… I had to locate my fastball better and I did.”
The Mets had an opportunity to make his return a miserable one in their very first turn at bat, though, with two walks and a single loading the bases with just one out. After the struggling Ruf popped to third, Mark Canha drew a walk to drive in the opening run of the game. It was the seventh time in Kershaw’s career — and the first since 2015 — that he walked in a run with the bases loaded.
Jeff McNeil followed Ruf’s lead and popped out to third, though, to limit the damage for the start southpaw.
Bassitt proceeded to load the bases in the top of the second with one out but didn’t fare as well as Kershaw. Chris Taylor popped a single down the right-field line scoring two ― though Trayce Thompson was thrown out at home trying to score from first by a hefty margin after an overly-aggressive send.
He proceeded to get out of that third inning that featured a nearly 10-minute delay prompted by Dave Roberts questioning the lighting at Citi Field, which was used a springboard to allow just two hits and two walks over his next four innings. But Kershaw was even better, retiring 13 straight from the final out of the first through the fifth to end his day on a strong note.
“He was good,” Lindor said of Kershaw. “He executed… Once he found his rhythm, he executed and located.”