Starling Marte, Mets say sun a factor in crucial fourth-inning misplay in London Series loss to Phillies

LONDON, UK - The conditions and environment may have played a role in the Mets7-2 loss to the Phillies in London on Saturday afternoon, but the Mets weren’t making excuses and won’t let it affect how they approach tomorrow’s rematch.

Sean Manaea failed to make it out of the fourth inning, as the Phillies batted around and scored six times to take a 6-1 lead that the Mets never truly threatened. Central to that rally was a two-out single by Edmundo Sosa that looked for all the world like a pop-out off the bat, but it dropped just in front of Starling Marte to plate the go-ahead run and keep the inning rolling.

The London Stadium field, converted from its usual configuration as a soccer field for the English Premier League’s West Ham United, played noticeably fast with an outfield described as “super-bouncy” by Manaea and “springy” by center fielder Harrison Bader. However, that wasn’t the reason for Marte’s seeming reluctance to make a play on the ball.

Instead, manager Carlos Mendoza confirmed that Marte had told him he had been struggling to see the ball off the bat, something Bader had also told the first-year skipper was an issue.

"They were having a hard time seeing the ball off the bat, especially in that particular time with the sun coming down and the roof there," Mendoza said. "It's hard to pick it up, that's the explanation that I got from Marte and Bader...for the first couple of innings especially the third, fourth inning they couldn't see the ball off the bat."

Marte confirmed this in the locker room after the game, saying that the sun was right behind home plate, making it particularly difficult to find the ball on hits to center and right field. He said he didn’t see Sosa’s pop-up until it was too late to make a play on the ball.

“It was difficult to see, I kind of had to wait for the ball to get out of the shadow where it was,” Marte explained through an interpreter. “When I saw the reaction of the hitter, he was also kind of lost, and I knew that a ball had been hit but I just couldn’t pick it up right then and there, but when I saw his reaction and I saw him move I was able to pick it up shortly after.”

Bader added that the extra bounce in the field definitely affected how he approached the ball and that it was something they had identified right away during on-field workouts over the past few days.

The field layout was actually reconfigured, and home plate moved after the Red Sox and Yankees combined for 50 runs in two games in the first London Series in 2019. However, if the position of the sun is going to create issues, they may need to consider changing it again.

Tomorrow’s game starts three hours earlier, but that could mean the sun creates challenges in the later innings this time, especially if it’s a long game.

Both Bader and Marte refused to use any of this as an excuse, though, noting that the Phillies also had to deal with the same circumstances. In fact, Bader was quick to praise how well the stadium had managed to set the field up and said that he felt like he was able to run faster than usual on the surface.

“Both teams are dealing with the same thing so you just have to adjust on the go,” Bader said. “It’s definitely a little different than I’m used to but overall I think it was a great playing surface and I think they did a great job of creating a baseball field inside of a soccer stadium. It was an awesome experience to be able to do and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

As for the extra challenge of preparing for the bounce of the ball, he categorized that as just something you have to deal with and adjust to.

Mendoza defended Marte’s defensive record after the game, noting that he has made some crucial plays with his arm for them this year even if he is grading out poorly as an outfielder based on some of the advanced metrics.

The bouncy outfield turf may also have cost the Mets offensively, as Pete Alonso’s line drive to left in the bottom of the fifth bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double when it could easily have plated a run if it bounced off the wall with Francisco Lindor running from first base.

Fast infields are also an issue on this surface, which was something Adam Ottavino, who pitched in his third London series game without allowing a run, had mentioned on Friday. This didn’t have a major impact, as neither team was charged with an error, although Lindor was unable to come up with the ball cleanly on a hard-hit grounder up the middle and Phillies outfielder Whit Merrifield misplayed a ball in the outfield.

One thing that wasn’t considered a distraction was the boisterous atmosphere, with almost 54,000 fans in attendance. Manaea and Bader both pointed out how enjoyable that made their experience.

As for tomorrow, it’s not surprising that Bader doesn’t think today’s experience will affect their mindset and approach in that game after he spoke with SNY on Friday about how important consistency of approach and doing everything the right way are.

The Mets will try to even the series when they face the Phillies again in the finale of the London Series on Sunday.