PHILADELPHIA — Jonathan Villar caught the Phillies sleeping, took a quiet trip around the bases and sparked a six-run Mets rally that represented their best offensive production of the year. The Mets needed every single one of those six runs to come out on top after a dramatic bottom of the ninth inning.
Edwin Diaz entered the ninth with a four-run lead, three outs away from a win. A walk, a triple and a walk changed the outlook and put Rhys Hoskins, the tying run, at the plate. Hoskins crushed what was first called a three-run home run, then after a review, overturned for a two-run double, to right field and brought the Phillies within one run.
Diaz departed alongside Mets head trainer Brian Chicklo with back tightness having given up three runs after pitching on back-to-back days. Mets manager Luis Rojas said he went to Diaz because he thought the closer would shut the door. That responsibility landed on Jeurys Familia in a much higher leverage situation. Familia prevailed and struck out Bryce Harper for the final out to cap the chaotic three-hour and 54-minute game.
The Mets beat the Phillies, 8-7, on Sunday night and claimed two-out-of-three to win the series at Citizens Bank Park. They amassed 17 hits and improved to an 11-11 record, tied with the Nationals for first place in the National League East.
“I don’t know if that’s a season-defining game tonight, but it’s definitely a momentum shifter,” said Pete Alonso, who came up clutch in the eighth-inning rally.
Villar, with the Mets trailing the Phillies by one run, ripped a single to center with no outs in the eighth inning to bring Jose Peraza to the plate for his first at-bat of the season. Villar was itching to steal second base as he drew a handful of pick-off attempts that slowed down the game. Finally, Peraza sent a single down the first-base line that Rhys Hoskins coddled far too long. Hoskins even casually flipped the ball to second baseman Nick Maton.
Meanwhile, Villar with a watchful eye noticed nobody was paying any attention to him. So he ran from first to third on Peraza’s single, paused at the hot corner and made sure Phillies fielders were still ignoring him, and sprinted home to tie the game at 4-4. Villar said he knew he had a chance to steal home when Hoskins threw the ball to another infielder. Alonso aptly nicknamed Villar ‘El Caballo Loco,’ or The Crazy Horse, for being “reckless, but in a good way,” said the Mets first baseman.
“They were surprised,” Villar said of the Mets’ dugout reaction. “They’ve never seen something like that. One of the guys, he told me, ‘Are you crazy?’ I said, ‘I don’t care.’ I’m not scared to play baseball. That’s my game, to run the bases.”
The Mets batted around the order — collecting a single and two walks off unpopular Phillies reliever Jose Alvarado no less — and Alonso later broke the game open with a three-run double to punish the Phillies with a four-run lead.
Kevin Pillar crushed a leadoff line-drive homer to start the six-run rally and bring Villar to the plate. Other eighth-inning highlights included Jeff McNeil’s single, Francisco Lindor’s walk to keep the ball rolling, and Michael Conforto’s go-ahead bases-loaded walk. Manager Luis Rojas tipped his cap to bench players Villar and Pillar, in particular, for stepping up to combine for a 5-for-10 day at the plate with regular starters Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis sidelined with injuries.
“Having such a gritty and tough approach, we did such a good job as a team that inning,” Alonso said. “It was really special. I’m really appreciative of my teammates to set the table for me and give me an opportunity to help this team win.”
Before their explosive eighth, the Mets were six outs away from doom after Miguel Castro gave up the lead. Castro entered the game a bit earlier than he’s used to in the sixth inning and, typically a steady go-to in the Mets bullpen, he suffered his first blunder in nearly three weeks. The right-hander looked off after he bobbled a throw to first and allowed Bryce Harper to reach base on the error. Moments later, he surrendered a three-run home run to Didi Gregorius that killed the Mets’ one-run lead and put the Phillies on top, 4-2.
Castro, up to that point, had recorded 4.1 scoreless innings for the Mets across his last five relief appearances.
David Peterson, on just the third pitch of his outing, left a sinker in the middle for Andrew McCutchen to park beyond the seats in center field and onto the concourse for a 445-foot home run. Though it initially seemed like it would be a long night for prson and the Mets, his struggles only lasted for the next two batters. He issued a walk to Rhys Hoskins then gave up a single to Bryce Harper as Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner came out to chat with the starter.
Whatever Hefner said to Peterson worked, because the lefty bounced back and retired his next seven consecutive batters. He finished his outing with eight punchouts over five innings. Peterson received help from an outstanding double play to escape that shaky first inning when Jeff McNeil made a heads-up diving stop and a quick flip to Francisco Lindor to get it started. The shortstop finished it off with speedy footwork and a bullet to first to end the inning.
“It was going back and forth the whole time,” said Peterson. “To see the guys fight until the end, finish the game off, battle through and get that series win was huge. Every guy in that locker room is proud with the way it went tonight in the end.”