QUEENS — The Mets are finally learning that it’s beneficial to play the kids.
Twenty-three-year-old Mark Vientos, making his 2023 debut, and 21-year-old Francisco Alvarez sprung an anemic offense to life with late-inning, game-tying home runs before Pete Alonso wiped away two Tampa Bay Rays runs in the 10th inning, launching a no-doubter of a three-run home run to lift the Mets to an 8-7 victory.
“Today was just awesome,” Alonso said. “To have Alvey and Mark come through in really huge situations. I’m really fortunate because without them coming through in those big spots, I’m not given that opportunity. Our young guys are pros.”
The Mets (21-23) erased three multi-run deficits to break a two-game slide in which they had been 6-16 in their previous 22 games.
“I know how painful it’s been for them,” manager Buck Showalter said. “To have a moment like that, they deserve it… It’s painful to watch people you care about go through some of the things they’ve gone through… Tonight, they refused to roll over.”
Down 5-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth following a walk to Daniel Vogelbach and a Starling Marte hit-by-pitch, Alvarez obliterated a Jason Adam 1-0 sweeper 426 feet toward the second deck of the left-field seats to force extra innings.
Just two innings earlier, while down 2-0, Vientos lofted his first home run of the season just over the center-field fence just hours after getting promoted from Triple-A to dead-center to tie things up for an offense that had salvaged just four hits across the first six innings of play.
“It feels good to get that first one out of the way,” Vientos said. “Now just go out there and play and have fun. I’d be lying to you if I [knew it was gone off the bat]. I was telling it, ‘hey, come on, go, go’. Maybe it listened to me, who knows?”
The good feelings surrounding the debutant’s blast were short-lived, however, as reliever Adam Ottavino walked Randy Arozarena to lead off the eighth before Brandon Lowe deposited a go-ahead homer over the right-field fence.
Not to be lost in the late-game dramatics is Kodai Senga’s gem as he struck out 12 Rays to set a franchise record for most strikeouts in a single game by a Japanese-born pitcher. He went six innings and allowed just one run on three hits to keep the Mets in it despite initially trotting out a lineup that was the equivalent of manager Buck Showalter throwing a plate of spaghetti being thrown against a wall to see what stuck.
“I knew they were a really good team going into it given their record,” Senga said of the now 32-12 Rays. “I know we’ve been on a bit of a cold streak recently and I didn’t pitch great last time so I did whatever I needed to do to prepare for this. I think it worked out well.”
Despite batting .313 against lefties since April 22, Brett Baty was given the night off against Rays southpaw Josh Fleming. It allowed Vientos, who batted eighth, to make his debut at his natural third base while Eduardo Escobar — who hit a pinch-hit two-run home run in the ninth inning on Tuesday night — filled in at second base and batted second. Tommy Pham got a third-straight game at DH while batting fifth.
After striking out eight in his first 3.1 innings of work, Senga surrendered back-to-back doubles to Lowe and Isaac Paredes to put Tampa in the lead and make it 12 straight games that the Mets failed to score first.
Senga proceeded to strike out Taylor Walls and Luke Raley — breaking out the sweeper to pick up just his second punchout of the season with that pitch — in succession to limit the damage to just one in the frame and bring his night’s total to a career-high 10.
He followed that up with a seven-pitch fifth inning, bringing his total to 79 and ultimately allowing him to stay in the game for a laborious, yet scoreless final frame in the sixth.
A pair of walks sandwiched another strikeout of Arozarena before Senga got Paredes, who had reached base in his first six at-bats of the series, to pop out to Alonso in foul territory. He proceeded to get Walls looking on a 93-mph cutter to end his night on a strong note despite being on the hook for the loss.
“It all goes back to the outing Kodai had. Don’t forget that,” Showalter said. “That was his best command and hopefully a sign of him settling in a little bit. That was fun tow catch.”
Jose Siri put the Rays up 2-0 in the seventh when he took reliever Jeff Brigham out over the right-field fence for his second round-tripper of the series. But Vientos willed the Mets back when he followed up a Mark Canha hit-by-pitch with his lifeline of a home run that was quickly undone by Ottavino.
The Rays made it 5-2 in the ninth off Stephen Nogosek when Arozarena singled home Josh Lowe, who led things off with a double.
- The Rays went 7-for-7 on stolen-base attempts on Wednesday night, including three swiped bags in the eighth inning off Ottavino. Base stealers are 10-for-10 against Ottavino this season and 32-for-36 against Alvarez behind the plate.
- Both Pham and Escobar were pinch-hit for in the sixth inning by Vogelbach and Jeff McNeil.