WASHINGTON — Even after they fell into a sizable hole early Wednesday night, the Mets could draw on their comeback experience as a reason this game wasn’t over.
A team that scrapped on the road to beat the Cardinals and Phillies with dramatic ninth-inning rallies would find that magic again, right? Not so fast.
The bullpen stuffed the Nationals after Tylor Megill imploded, but offensive firepower never arrived in an 8-3 loss that still left the Mets in position to win the series on Thursday, albeit without the possibility of a sweep.
“We had some shots,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think if we could have put up a couple of [runs] … sometimes that well, it’s hard to go to every time, it’s a difficult thing to do.”
The Mets (21-11) haven’t swept a series this season, and the reeling Nationals seemed like a potential victim. But don’t underestimate a Washington lineup that has a proven core with Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz.
In his worst career major league start, Megill lasted just 1 ¹/₃ innings and allowed eight earned runs on eight hits and one walk. It was certainly a different scene from April 7, when Megill fired five shutout innings against the Nationals as Jacob deGrom’s replacement in the season opener.
Megill got ambushed immediately, surrendering a two-run homer to Soto in the first after the Mets had scored three times in the top of the inning. Bell was then hit by a pitch and Megill surrendered consecutive hits to Yadiel Hernandez and Keibert Ruiz, the latter of which tied it 3-3. Maikel Franco’s sacrifice fly and an RBI single from Dee Strange-Gordon extended that lead to 5-3 before the ninth batter, Victor Robles, was retired to end the inning on Megill’s 38th pitch.
“I fell behind a lot of hitters early and I just left a lot of stuff over the middle of the plate,” Megill said. “Obviously in hitters’ counts, they did what they did with it.”
It doesn’t get much better for Megill in the second inning. Cruz inflicted the damage with one mighty swing for a three-run homer, burying the Mets in an 8-3 hole. After the next batter, Hernandez, walked, Megill was removed.
“An outing like this, as bad as it went, you just can’t really dwell over it,” Megill said. “It was a bad outing, but I am capable of way more and I’m not going to let this one define me and just get ready for the next one.”
The Mets got a boost from Trevor Williams, who pitched 3 ²/₃ scoreless innings to help preserve the bullpen. Stephen Nogosek followed with three shutout innings in his season debut for the Mets. The right-hander, who hadn’t pitched since April 30 for Triple-A Syracuse, was recalled by the Mets on Sunday.
“I think we proved that if the game is still going we have a chance,” Nogosek said. “I knew if I went out there and put up zeroes and kept us in the ballgame there was a chance we could win that game.”
And there was a short burst of optimism in the ninth, after Eduardo Escobar and Jeff McNeil singled in succession to begin the inning. But Paolo Espino retired the next three batters in order to finish it.
Pete Alonso’s two-run homer in the first inning off Aaron Sanchez gave the Mets a brief cushion. Brandon Nimmo doubled leading off the game and scored when Franco threw away Starling Marte’s bunt. Alonso followed with a blast into the left-field seats for his team-leading eighth homer. The Mets didn’t score again.
“We really put Sanchez at ease after [Washington] put some runs up there, and we started attacking out of the strike zone on him,” Showalter said. “I think that helped him settle in a little bit.”