ST. LOUIS — For weeks, the Mets held on. As the hit batters piled up, the Mets complained in public forums and fretted behind closed doors. Sometimes they spoke harshly, offering both warnings and solutions, but they never went beyond those limits.
It was only when the Cardinals took offense at a pitch on Wednesday that the Mets’ frustrations finally became tangible on the field. After Yoan Lopez threw a high, tight first-pitch fastball to Nolan Arenado in the eighth inning of a 10-5 loss at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals slugger began yelling and gesturing until a incident that cleared the pews.
The melee took place half an inning after JD Davis left due to injury (becoming the 19th Mets player to be hit by a pitch in 20 games), and a day after Pete Alonso took a pitch out of the helmet for the second time this season. As players from both sides crowded the field, Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera grabbed Alonso from behind and Cardinals first base coach Stubby Clapp tackled him to the ground.
“I thought it was cheap, going from behind,” said a defiant Alonso in the clubhouse after the game. “If you want to stop me, if you want to contain me, come at me like a man. … I’m a big, strong guy. They don’t know my temperament. They don’t know what I can do. If I wanted to put someone in the hospital, I could easily do that, but I was just trying to protect my guys.”
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said he had no problem with the response from Arenado, Clapp or others. His only problem was with Lopez’s pitch: a 94 mph fastball that knocked Arenado off the plate.
“When you get to the top like that and put somebody’s career and life in jeopardy, yeah, I’m opposed to that,” Marmol said. “I don’t think anybody in the big leagues likes to be thrown up. Nolan has every right to react like he did and go after him, and we will protect him.”
Arenado added: “I don’t know how close [the pitch] it was, but it felt close.”
Lopez, for his part, insisted the setback was unintentional, and crew chief Mark Wegner agreed, allowing the Mets reliever to remain in the game. The only ejections were for Arenado for charging the mound and for Clapp “for his overly aggressive actions in the melee,” as Wegner told a poolside reporter.
For the Cardinals, the incident was the climax of a three-game series that featured eight batters combined. For the Mets, it’s been a problem all season. His 19 HBPs are by far the most in the Majors. (No other club has been hit more than 11 times.) On Opening Day, Alonso received a pitch in the C flap of his helmet. The following night, Francisco Lindor was hit in a similar location, leading to the first Mets bench-cleaning incident in Washington.
After Tuesday’s game in St. Louis, when Alonso took another hit to the head, Mets players including Chris Bassitt and James McCann lamented the lack of control MLB pitchers seem to have over the ball. baseball, understanding that such issues have uniquely affected the Mets Entering Wednesday, the leaguewide HBP rate was 1.14 percent, down from 1.38 percent last year. The average team had been hit seven times, while one club (the Pirates) hadn’t been hit at all.
Mets players believe the scouting report on them calls for teams to throw inside more regularly, resulting in all the errant throws. Entering Wednesday’s game, New York’s right-handed hitters (such as Alonso and Davis) had seen a higher percentage of inside pitches than any other club in the league, according to Statcast data, while their lefties had seen inside pitches at the sixth highest rate. The Mets don’t believe malicious intent was behind most of them. But they also don’t care about intent if their players keep picking baseballs off their helmets, backs, feet, legs and shoulders.
“We’ve hit guys in the head,” said Davis, who hopes to avoid the disabled list but was in a walking boot after the game. “It’s pretty scary stuff.”
All of this has become a sideshow to one of the best starts to a season in Mets history. Before Wednesday’s game, manager Buck Showalter and general manager Billy Eppler spoke with members of the MLB front office to discuss the situation in light of Bassitt and McCann’s comments. After the series finale, Alonso and others crowded around Jeff McNeil’s phone to watch a replay of the melee at Busch Stadium. Alonso then gestured to a group of reporters, urging them to write about Clapp’s actions in the fight.
If emotions were still fresh at the time, Showalter said he hoped they would die down by the time the Mets open a seven-game homestand Friday at Citi Field. The club’s best course of action going forward, Alonso added, is to “win the games.”
“We want to win as many games as we can,” Alonso said. “I don’t think there’s really any lingering problem. They felt the need to defend themselves and we feel the same.”