Kodai Senga’s 1-hit gem lifts Mets to 2-0 series-opening win over Phillies

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Kodai Senga Mets Phillies
New York Mets’ Kodai Senga pitches during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

QUEENS — Kodai Senga was right for wanting to face the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup more than any other team in Major League Baseball.

After proclaiming that he was most looking forward to pitching against the defending National League champions, the Japanese right-hander spun his finest start in his debut season yet, tossing seven shutout innings while allowing just one hit with nine strikeouts and zero walks to help lift the Mets to a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Citi Field.

In total, he retired 21 of the 22 batters he faced — the lone blemish coming in the form of a third-inning single by Kody Clemens.

“I was very excited and amped up to face them,” Senga said. “But not only against the Phillies but against the rest of the league. I want to keep it up and maintain good performances.”

Francisco Lindor’s fourth-inning solo home run proved to be the game-winner, but Eduardo Escobar provided a tad more insurance with a seventh-inning RBI single to cap off the Mets’ (28-27) limited offensive output.

“Every home run means a lot but whenever it’s to take the league and it turns out to be the winning run, it feels good,” Lindor said. “Senga has been outstanding all year long… It was fun watching him execute, keep hitters guessing, and trying to figure out whether he was going to throw inside or he was going to throw away or if he was going to bounce the [ghost forkball].”

Francisco Lindor Mets Phillies
New York Mets’ Francisco Lindor runs the bases after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

That was more than enough for Senga, who has proven to be nearly unhittable at Citi Field this season as he lowered his home ERA to 1.20 this season.

He was helped out by Brandon Nimmo in the fourth inning when the center fielder robbed Nick Castellanos of a home run by leaping above the orange line atop the left-center-field wall and bringing it back for the second out of the frame.

“I knew there was going to be a possibility [of making the catch] so when I got to the track, I was able to start timing it up,” Nimmo said of his web gem. “That’s when I was just saying ‘OK, if I can time this right then I’ll get it.’

“But everything has to work out perfectly and that timing has to be just right and that timing had to be just right. Luckily, I was able to time that up.”

Brandon Nimmo phillies
Fans react after New York Mets’ Brandon Nimmo (9) caught a ball hit by Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos for the out during the fourth of a baseball game Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

There would be no such robbery in the bottom of the very same inning, though, as Lindor led the Mets off with his 10th home run of the season to give Senga a narrow 1-0 lead. 

It was a sign of life for the star shortstop, who had been 4-for-his-previous-27 before that home run, which gave him three consecutive 10-plus-home-run campaigns with the Mets, moving him to within one of Jose Reyes for the most in franchise history.

Senga maximized New York’s slim advantage, regardless, rebounding from the Castellanos scare with a dominant finish, setting the Phillies down in order in the fifth and sixth innings while striking out six of the eight batters he faced. 

Four of those came on the ghost fork while he sprinkled a cutter to get Brandon Marsh swinging in the fifth and a 98-mph fastball to strike out Castellanos — the only punchout he got with the four-seamer all night. To cap off his brilliant outing, he got slugger Kyle Schwarber whiffing on one more ghost fork to end his night on an even 100 pitches. 

The Mets doubled their lead in the bottom of the seventh when Escobar snuck a two-out single up the middle off reliever Connor Brogdon to score Starling Marte, who poked a one-out single to left against Phillies starter Ranger Suarez. He was moved to second on a Jeff McNeil sacrifice bunt before a Tommy Pham walk ended the left-hander’s day.

“I’m super happy for him,” Lindor said of Escobar, who went 2-for-4 and is now batting .382 in May after a difficult start to the season. “He works extremely hard day in and day out and does what he has to do to put himself in a great position. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

The second run was charged to Suarez, who did his best to keep up with Senga by allowing those two runs in 6.2 innings pitched despite allowing 12 earned runs across his first 11 innings of work this season.

Adam Ottavino walked the first man he faced, JT Realmuto, to lead off the eighth inning upon Senga’s exit. But McNeil made a lunging tag on the Phillies catcher’s stolen-base attempt to stabilize the Mets reliever, who retired the next two he faced to get out of the frame unscathed.

The strong throw from Alvarez came up the line a bit, forcing McNeil to elevate over a head-first-sliding Realmuto and apply the tag on his backside. 

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