The Mets knew they’d have little margin for error Sunday against one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the National League this season, only to see an error lead to the decisive margin.
Taijuan Walker and Miami workhorse Sandy Alcantara carried dueling shutouts through the seventh inning, but the Marlins eventually pulled out a 2-0 victory in 10 innings for a split of a four-game series at Citi Field.
One day after the Mets had taken advantage of Miami’s sloppy defense to post a 10-inning victory on Keith Hernandez Day, a throwing error past third base by catcher Tomas Nido on a stolen-base attempt allowed automatic runner Billy Hamilton to score the go-ahead run. Tommy Hunter allowed a second run to score in the 10th on Luke Williams’ RBI single.
Francisco Lindor struck out against Tanner Scott with runners on the corners to end the game for the Mets (53-33) ahead of their pivotal three-game divisional showdown in Atlanta beginning Monday.
The loss squandered another gem by Walker, who completed seven scoreless innings and allowed just three hits with seven strikeouts and one walk over 99 pitches, lowering his ERA to 2.63 over 15 starts.
Even if the 29-year-old righty is not initially named to the NL All-Star squad when reserves are announced later Sunday, manager Buck Showalter believes Walker — who is slated to make one more start, Friday in Chicago, before the break — should be considered to be added to replace anyone unable to pitch in the Midsummer Classic on July 19 in Los Angeles.
Walker was named to the NL squad last summer as an injury replacement for Mets teammate Jacob deGrom. He started the 2021 season with a 7-3 record and a 2.66 ERA before enduring a terrible second half, closing the year 0-8 with a 6.79 ERA over 13 starts after the break.
Walker has said that he mostly got by earlier this season with two pitches, a fastball and a splitter, before rediscovering his slider in recent starts.
“It’s a testament to how much he competed without it. I think what some people miss about Taijuan is he’s a competitive man,” Showalter said before the game. “He’s the first guy over the rail. He likes to compete and he likes to do good things for his team.
“It’s been good for me getting to know him. You kind of have certain impressions from afar, and then you get in a locker room and around him every day, very consistent competitively. It’s a relentless season and you have to be relentless with it. And he has been.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly certainly could say the same for Alcantara, easily the MLB leader this season in innings pitched with 130 ¹/₃. Alcantara clearly is headed to LA after lowering his ERA to 1.73, allowing six hits over seven shutout frames — his 12th consecutive outing with at least that many innings pitched.
“I don’t want to say I have a man-crush or anything … but you go out there and you find yourself watching him,” Showalter said. “He’s beating you, but you do from a standpoint of appreciating it and how hard it is to do and the innings he pitches. It’s like everybody knows what he’s gonna do and he does it anyway.
“You’ve got to get a real quality start from your starter and the opportunities you usually get from him you better cash in.”
Walker was reached for three hits — all by Jon Berti — in matching zeroes with Alcantara through seven, ending that frame with a full-count strikeout of Brian Anderson with two runners aboard.
The Mets received consecutive two-out singles from Eduardo Escobar and Luis Guillorme (3-for-4) against Alcantara in the bottom half, before Nido grounded out to end the inning.