August 10, 2022

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'It's pretty scary': Mets concerned by MLB-high HBPs

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ST. LOUIS — For weeks, the Mets resisted. As the hit batsmen piled up, the Mets complained in public forums and fretted behind closed doors. They talked sternly at times, offering both warnings and solutions, but they never stepped beyond those bounds.

Only when the Cardinals took exception to an up-and-in pitch on Wednesday did the Mets’ frustrations finally bubble over into something tangible on the field. After Yoan López threw a high-and-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 gesticulating until a benches-clearing incident ensued.

The melee took place half an inning after J.D. Davis departed due to injury (becoming the 19th Mets player to be hit by a pitch in 20 games), and one day after Pete Alonso took a pitch off his helmet for the second time this season. As players from both sides piled onto the field, Cardinals reliever Génesis Cabrera grabbed Alonso from behind, and Cardinals first-base coach Stubby Clapp threw him to the ground.

“I thought that was cheap, going from behind,” a defiant Alonso said in the postgame clubhouse. “If you want to hold me back, if you want to restrain me, go at me like a man. … I’m a big, strong guy. They don’t know my temper. They don’t know what I can do. If I wanted to put somebody in the hospital, I easily could, but I was just out there trying to protect my guys.”

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said he had no problem with how Arenado, Clapp or others responded. His only issue was with López’s pitch: a 94 mph fastball that brushed Arenado off the plate.

“When you come up top like that and jeopardize someone’s career and life, yeah, I take exception to that,” Marmol said. “I don’t think anyone in the big leagues appreciates getting thrown up top. Nolan has every right to react the way he did and come after him, and we’ll protect that.”

Added Arenado: “I don’t know how close [the pitch] was, but it felt close.”

López, for his part, insisted that the brushback was not intentional, and crew chief Mark Wegner agreed, allowing the Mets reliever to stay in the game. The only ejections went to Arenado for charging the mound, and to Clapp “for his over-aggressive actions in the melee,” as Wegner told a pool reporter.

For the Cardinals, the incident was the climax of a three-game series that included eight combined hit batsmen. For the Mets, it has been a season-long issue. Their 19 HBPs are by far the most in the Majors. (No other club has been hit more than 11 times.) On Opening Day, Alonso took a pitch to the C-flap of his helmet. The following night, Francisco Lindor was struck in a similar place, prompting the Mets’ first benches-clearing incident in Washington.

Following Tuesday’s game in St. Louis, when Alonso was hit in the head again, Mets players, including Chris Bassitt and James McCann, bemoaned the lack of grip that MLB pitchers appear to have on the baseball, understanding that any such issues have uniquely affected the Mets. Entering Wednesday, the league-wide 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) had not been hit at all.

Mets players believe the scouting report on them calls for teams to throw more regularly inside, resulting in all the errant pitches. Entering Wednesday’s play, New York’s right-handed hitters (like Alonso and Davis) had seen a higher percentage of inside pitches than any 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 has been behind the majority of them. But they also don’t care about intent if their players continue to take baseballs off their helmets, backs, feet, legs and shoulders.

“We’ve gotten guys hit in the head,” said Davis, who hopes to avoid the IL but was in a walking boot after the game. “It’s pretty scary stuff.”

All of it has become a sideshow to one of the finest starts to a season in Mets history. Before Wednesday’s game, manager Buck Showalter and GM Billy Eppler spoke with members of MLB’s front office to discuss the situation in light of Bassitt’s and McCann’s comments. Following the series finale, Alonso and others crowded around Jeff McNeil’s phone to watch a replay of the Busch Stadium melee. Alonso then gestured toward a group of reporters, urging them to write about Clapp’s actions in the fight.

If the emotions were still fresh in that moment, Showalter said he hoped those will subside 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 every single game we can,” Alonso said. “I don’t think that there’s really any lingering issues. They felt the need to stand up for themselves, and we feel the same.”

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