Taijaun Walker refused to be outdueled by Justin Verlander in the Mets’ 2-0 loss to the Astros on Wednesday at Citi Field.
Of late, the right-hander’s starts have only been getting better and better, reminiscent of his first-half performance in 2021 that earned him his first career All-Star nod. Walker threw 7.1 shutout innings in his best start of the season so far, against an Astros lineup that has given the Mets a lot of trouble. Walker at one point retired nine in a row, matching Verlander’s outing inning by inning in the scoreless game.
“I felt like I had everything working today,” said Walker, who was helped by Luis Guillorme’s wizardry at third base. Guillorme fielded 12 of the game’s 27 outs, including 10 of the first 19, on Wednesday.
As excellent of a performance it was, Buck Showalter cut it short in the eighth. Showing a sense of urgency, the Mets skipper pulled Walker after he got one out in the eighth, giving the ball earlier than usual to closer Edwin Diaz so he could face the top of Houston’s order.
Diaz hit his first batter, Jose Altuve, with a 98 mph fastball. Then he gave up a single to Jeremy Pena. Allowing even a small amount of momentum to a fiery Astros offense is never a good scenario. But Diaz bounced back immediately. The closer struck out slugger Yordan Alvarez swinging, then fanned Alex Bregman looking to preserve the scoreless game.
Instead of bringing Diaz back out for the ninth on 14 pitches, Showalter went to reliever Drew Smith. It didn’t end well. Smith coughed up a two-run home run to Astros catcher Jason Castro, who entered the day hitting just .095 and cranked his first home run of the year on Wednesday to break the ice. Showalter said he did not consider using Diaz again in the ninth and was confident Smith was the best relief option in that situation, particularly against the bottom of Houston’s lineup.
“I love the challenge,” Smith said. “I love going into games like that. That’s what you want as a reliever. You want to be in those high-leverage spots. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my job this time. But I’m looking forward to more opportunities in those situations and hopefully bounce back.”
The Mets (47-29) were swept by the Astros in their home-and-home series this year that featured two games at Minute Maid Park and two at Citi Field. The Amazin’s also suffered their first three-game losing streak of the season. That it took until the end of June for the Mets to lose three games in a row is a testament to being a first-place club still holding the best record in the National League. But the race is certainly getting tighter. The Braves (43-32) entered Wednesday four games behind the Mets in the NL East.
After owning his flat slider to Castro that changed the game, Smith had a positive outlook on the Mets being swept by the Astros. He cited the 2015 Mets going 0-7 against the Cubs in the regular season, only to sweep Chicago in the NLCS. With two major pieces of the team coming back in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, the Mets should be stronger on paper if they were to face the Astros in the postseason.
“Anything can happen later on in the year,” Smith said. “Hopefully we see them again.”
Walker’s excellent 2.72 ERA is the best in the Mets starting rotation, among pitchers who are not currently on the injured list, anyway. He high-fived every infielder on the mound before walking into the dugout to a huge standing ovation by the 29,230 in attendance. Walker looked around and took in the crowd noise as he capped a dazzling performance in his 13th start of the year.
The decorated veteran starter in the other dugout flashed a 2.03 ERA when his eight-inning shutout outing was over. Verlander, in his season back from Tommy John surgery, owns the fourth-lowest ERA in the major leagues. Only three Mets hitters reached base against Verlander — a double by Brandon Nimmo, a single by Ender Inciarte and a walk by Pete Alonso.
“As a fan of baseball, you do appreciate what he’s doing at a high level late in his career,” Showalter said of the 39-year-old Verlander. “Who knows, he’ll probably pitch another 4-5 years. He was a challenge, we knew that coming in. Our guy matched him, for the most part. We were in that ballgame because of Taijuan Walker.”
The Mets offense, a unit that is experiencing a lull of late, was held to two hits all afternoon by two Houston arms. One of those hits was a dribber that trailed about two feet away from home plate. Mets bats are 2-for-25 with runners in scoring position in their last three games, dating back to Sunday against the Marlins in Miami. The Mets are 2-5 across their last seven games.
“We had a tough stretch against the Astros, but it’s still early,” Guillorme said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, because it’s been working for us.”
Source: Berkshire mont