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Mets fall to Giants after late homerun in thrilling NL Wildcard

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Mets at Orioles 8/19/15 The New York Mets looked to make good on a rather dismal season when they took on the San Francisco Giants in the National League Wild Card game. Despite a tremendous defensive display, the game went down to the wire and ended with heartbreak for The Amazins, who saw their post-season cut short to the delight of their West Coast counterparts.

A battle of the bullpens, the 2016 NL Wild Card featured two of the game’s premier pitchers taking the mounds. Mets’ ace Noah Syndergaard surrendered just one hit through seven innings, yet a high pitch count convinced manager Terry Collins to insert Addison Reed in the eighth.

A combination of Madison Bumgarner’s relatively low pitch count, postseason pedigree and the Giants’ lackluster relief pitching granted him more leeway to pitch deep into the game. He even got in on the defensive action, snagging a line drive off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera before throwing a furious fist pump to end the eighth.

The Mets dialed up Jeurys Familia in relief, who quickly found himself in trouble late in the game. Although he was able to fight out of a slump earlier, Familia opened up the ninth inning by surrendering two hits. With a 96 mph fastball screaming toward him on a 1-1 pitch count, Giants’ infielder Conor Gillaspie did not flinch. The 28-year-old blasted the elevated fastball deep toward the right foul pole, as Mets’ fans looked on in agony.

Citi Field went numb as fans quickly realized that three runs on the board were two more than Bumgarner needed. Whatever hope that fans had for a come-from-behind win quickly subsided as Bumgarner made quick work of the Mets’ would-be saviors. The Mets, for the second time in as many years, witnessed another team celebrate playoff success on their home turf.

Gillaspie is the definition of a journeyman player, suiting up for three different teams in six years including two stints with his current team. He has hit 31 home runs and 150 RBIs in his career, which is not a particularly strong overall performance.

The majority of Gillaspie’s playing time came in pinch-hit spots, but with Eduardo Nunez out with a strained hamstring, he found his way into the batting lineup for the NL Wild Card game, a decision that paid off well for the Giants.

The New York Mets entered 2016 with elevated expectations after falling three games short of a World Series title last fall. After they signed Neil Walker and Cabrera, retained Yoenis Cespedes and projected a midseason return of Zack Wheeler, a playoff berth seemed all but guaranteed.

Two weeks into the season, the injury bug spread around the locker room, claiming Travis d’Arnaud as its first victim. David Wright, Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda played a combined 163 games and just as Walker and Wilmer Flores began to heat up at the dish, they too were out for the final stretch of the season.

The pitching staff was not immune either: Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all missed extended periods of time with shoulder and elbow issues. The Mets patched up their rotation with rookie right-handers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman who performed better than anyone could have hoped. Fellow rookie T.J. Rivera was equally impressive at the plate with a .333 batting average and a .812 on-base and slugging percentage in 105 at bats.

The glaring cause for the Mets 2016 woes, however, lay in the team’s inability to hit with runners on base. The Mets hit .228 with runners in scoring position, good for last in the majors. The team ranked 12th in runners left in scoring position with 3.30 per game, combined with a seventh-worst on-base percentage, which indicates they rarely had anyone primed to score.

The Mets’ allergy to stringing together base hits often assigned the bullpen the tough task of holding razor-thin leads.

Surprisingly, Reed’s precision and Familia’s explosive sinker formed a devastating tandem in the eighth and ninth innings. Familia set a Mets single-season record with 51 saves and escaped high leverage situations with opponents on base more often than any closer in baseball. He attempted to extend his Houdini act in the Wild Card game, but it came to a thunderous end.

To the envious delight of Mets fans, the San Francisco Giants went on to lose in the divisional series in an embarrassing 1-3 rout by the surging Chicago Cubs. The Giants’ exceptional pitching proved no match for the electric batting lineup of the Cubs who put together 17 points throughout the four-game series.

The Cubs are currently in a neck-and-neck series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the winner primed to visit the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

Entering the offseason, the Mets will shift their attention toward retaining their prized acquistion Cespedes. The Cuban native previously signed a three-year deal, but has a player option which he may elect to exercise. Queen’s favorite Jose Reyes will be returning to the team after the Mets announced they will recognized their league-minimum option over the veteran shortstop.

While the season ended in dissappointment, the lights-out play of Syndergaard and the revamped bullpen give the Mets hope looking into the feature. The team is just a few pieces away from returning to their winning ways of two seasons ago.

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