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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mets run out of magic as season ends against Padres

Asked to keep the Mets’ season alive, Chris Bassitt lasted only four innings on Sunday. He allowed three earned runs and took the loss.

By James Wagner

The New York Mets’ magical 2022 season ended with a whimper Sunday evening in Queens. Facing a decisive Game 3 in the wild-card round against the San Diego Padres, the Mets failed to deliver on the promise of their 101-win regular season, sputtering at the plate and on the mound, and drawing the ire of their opponent along the way.

Chris Bassitt, the Mets’ starting pitcher, couldn’t overcome the Padres’ lineup in the 6-0 loss. His teammates couldn’t muster a hit until the fifth inning, and it was the Mets’ only one. With his offense held in check the entire night by Padres’ All-Star starter Joe Musgrove, Mets manager Buck Showalter asked the umpires to check Musgrove, whose ears were shiny, for a foreign substance in the sixth inning.

The umpires examined Musgrove’s hat and glove, and rubbed his ears. They found nothing awry and let Musgrove, who looked annoyed, continue pitching. Fans, however, chanted “cheater! cheater!” as Musgrove pitched.

After he struck out Mets catcher Tomás Nido for the second out of the inning, Musgrove gestured toward the opposing dugout. When Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo flew out for the final out, Musgrove walked toward his dugout cupping his left ear. As fans booed, Manny Machado, the Padres’ star third baseman, waved his arms toward the crowd as if to signal for more.

“I’ve seen him do it before, checking the pitcher,” Musgrove said of Showalter during an on-field interview after the game. “I get it, dude, they’re on their last legs, they’re desperate, they’re doing anything they can to get me out of the game at that point. It is what it is.”

Musgrove acknowledged that the inspection ended up providing him with some extra motivation. “Opportunity to stick it to him a little bit, to stick it to the crowd,” he said. “I took it and then I had to get back to work.”

In his postgame news conference, Showalter said he respects Musgrove and that there were “some pretty obvious reasons” for checking, though he did not elaborate on them.

“I’m charged with doing what’s best for the New York Mets,” he said. “If it makes me look however it makes me look or whatever, I’m going to do it every time and live with the consequences.”

Whether the substance check was simply gamesmanship or not, it didn’t matter. Musgrove, who allowed one hit and only one walk over seven scoreless innings, and the Padres were unfazed. They completed the victory and advanced to the next round to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in baseball and winners of a team-record 111 regular-season games.

Making their first trip to the postseason since 2016, the Mets were the favorites heading into the series. They won 12 more games than the Padres during the regular season and had a run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) of plus-166 compared with the Padres’ plus-45.

But the Mets, with the highest payroll in Major League Baseball at $288 million, were outpitched by Yu Darvish in Game 1 on Friday and Musgrove in Game 3. Max Scherzer, the Mets’ ace, turned in the worst postseason start of his career in Game 1 while Bassitt, who had a 3.42 ERA during the regular season, gave up three runs over four innings.

“They just flat out beat us,” first baseman Pete Alonso said.

Instead of flying to Los Angeles, the Mets will go their separate ways before a long offseason of much potential change. Several key players are eligible for free agency or could be based on options in their contracts: relievers Seth Lugo, Trevor May and Adam Ottavino; star closer Edwin Díaz; Nimmo; and four-fifths of the starting rotation — Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Bassitt and ace Jacob deGrom, who has said he will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract extension.

Had the Mets simply won one more game during the regular season, they would have been in a better position entering the postseason. But they collapsed down the stretch.

The Mets led NL East for the entire season except six days, most of them at the end. After a slow start, defending World Series champion Atlanta swept the Mets during the final weekend of the regular season, took possession of the division lead and won the season series to gain the tiebreaker. So even though both teams finished with 101 wins, Atlanta earned a first-round bye to the best-of-five division series and the Mets had to play in the wild-card round. And three days into the postseason, the Mets were done.

From the start of Sunday’s game, the Mets were in trouble. Bassitt, a right-hander, was the perfect matchup for the Padres, who struggled to consistently produce offense during the season, especially against hard-throwing pitchers. Against pitches of at least 94 mph, the Padres posted a .346 slugging percentage, the third worst in baseball this season. They did much better against lower speeds.

Over his 181 2/3 innings during the regular season, Bassitt averaged 93 mph on his fastball and relied on a repertoire of six different pitches to neutralize batters. On Sunday, he averaged between 92 and 93 mph, and the Padres took advantage.

Josh Bell, the Padres’ first baseman, singled to lead off the second inning. Shortstop Ha-Seong Kim and center fielder Trent Grisham each walked with two outs to load the bases. After fouling off three pitches, catcher Austin Nola cracked a two-run ground ball single to left field for a 2-0 Padres lead.

Slowly, the Padres kept chipping away at Bassitt, repeatedly calling for timeout perhaps to mess with his timing. After Kim drew a two-out walk in the fourth inning, he stole second base to get into scoring position for Grisham. Booed as he stepped to the plate, Grisham smoked a Bassitt cutter for a single that gave the Padres a 3-0 lead and quieted Citi Field.

During the regular season, Grisham hit just .184. In the series against the Mets, he homered in Games 1 and 2, drove in a run in each game and played strong defense.

With four innings complete, Bassitt was removed from the game and replaced by left-hander David Peterson. The Padres did more of the same to him: a single by left fielder Jurickson Profar, a sacrifice bunt by right fielder Juan Soto and a run-scoring single by Machado for a 4-0 lead. Soto’s two-run single in the eighth off Díaz put the game further out of reach.

At the plate, the Mets did next to nothing. Their first and only hit of the night was by Alonso to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. When Starling Marte grounded out to Machado against Josh Hader for the final out of the game, the Mets watched in silence as the Padres celebrated on the field. A season that once seemed different was over early.

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