Mets vs. Phillies: How Pete Alonso's game-tying single could be catalyst to regaining confidence

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John Harper
·5 min read
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Pete Alonso Dominic Smith Mets celebrating with Alonso front, Smith from back in Philadelphia
Pete Alonso Dominic Smith Mets celebrating with Alonso front, Smith from back in Philadelphia

After a promising spring training and a home run in the second game of the season, Pete Alonso suddenly seemed to be trapped in quicksand again, flailing at pitches much the way he did last year when frustration mounted to the point where he was snapping bats over his thighs or slamming helmets in the dugout.

By the eighth inning of Tuesday’s day game against the Phillies, Alonso was in an 0-for-12 funk with five strikeouts in his last seven at-bats, which wouldn’t have been noteworthy in April except for that fact that the rest of the Mets’ lineup was a bigger mess.

In fact, the RISP blues, which became something of a soundtrack to the 2020 season, were already an issue: By the time Tuesday’s seven-inning game went to extras, the 2021 Mets were 6-for-47 with runners in scoring position -- a .128 batting average.

Almost nobody was hitting, certainly not in the clutch, and while the Nationals’ COVID-19 outbreak plus two days of rain had to be factored into to the cold start, the Mets desperately needed someone to come up big for them as they fell behind 3-2 in the eighth.

Preferably Alonso.

Francisco Lindor may be the new superstar in town, $341 million contract and all, but it still feels as if the Mets’ hopes depend greatly on Alonso finding the form that made for such a spectacular rookie year, leading the majors with 53 home runs in 2019.

So here he was leading off the bottom of the eighth with Lindor already on second, thanks to MLB’s extra-inning rule, facing Phillies’ closer Hector Neris.

Alonso was all too aware of the scouting report: Don’t chase Neris’ signature splitter that looks like a strike -- at 83-84 mph -- until it falls off the table and winds up at your shoe tops.

Easier said than done, of course, and an overanxious Alonso chased the first two he saw, sandwiched around an up-and-in fastball, to fall behind 1-2 in the count and look like a strikeout waiting to happen.

Neris no doubt sensed it, and threw a nasty splitter down-and-in that Alonso managed to fight off, fouling it into the ground.

Then Neris tried to get cute by throwing a 92-mph fastball, hoping to either surprise Alonso or set up the next splitter. Maybe he wanted it up and out of the strike zone, but the pitch was still just high enough, at the top of the zone, to get a strikeout had Alonso overswung as he did so often last season.

Instead he took what amounted to a two-strike approach, cut down on his swing and lined a single to left-center, scoring Lindor with the tying run. Four hitters later, Jonathan Villar lined a one-out single to left with the bases loaded to give the Mets a 4-3 win that proved to be a springboard to a doubleheader sweep of the Phillies.

And that’s how quickly the narrative can change, especially this early in the season.

Marcus Stroman was dominant in the nightcap for a second straight start, the offense delivered a couple of big hits with runners in scoring position against Philly ace Aaron Nola in the 4-0 win, and suddenly there was every reason to believe these Mets can live up to the high expectations that surround them, especially with Brandon Nimmo perhaps blossoming into a star, hitting .435 with an outrageous .581 on-base percentage.

Nevertheless, without Alonso’s clutch single against Neris in game one, who knows if they stave off defeat and begin to turn the tide. Maybe it was just one at-bat or maybe it will prove to be significant for both him and his ballclub.

“Last year he probably strikes out on that fastball from Neris,” an evaluator in the Mets’ organization told me Tuesday night. “His swing got a little too big as he got frustrated and he had a hard time catching up to high fastballs or laying off them, especially in the situation he was in against Neris, where he had to be protecting against the splitter with two strikes.

“It was impressive. Pete was short and quick to the ball, which was more like what he did as a rookie. When he does that, when he’s relaxed and trusting his hands to get to the ball, he’s a good hitter -- not just a slugger. It was a good sign.”

Alonso seemed to carry the vibe into game two that translated into three impressive at-bats against Nola: He saw six pitches in the first inning, flying to center on a curve ball. He battled for eight pitches in the fourth inning, finally hitting a hard line-drive right at third baseman Alec Bohm. And then he jumped on a first-pitch curveball in the fifth, hitting a laser off the wall in left-center for a double.

By night’s end Alonso’s season numbers were still very ordinary, as he was hitting .231 with a .756 OPS and one home run. But suddenly he looked like a confident hitter again, perhaps ready to get hot and carry the offense until others, particularly Lindor and Michael Conforto, can join the party.

And at least for the moment, he and Nimmo have helped put an end to the Mets’ early-season offensive blues, RISP or otherwise.