WASHINGTON — A good number of the Mets’ main position players are older than 30 and while they bring assets to the lineup — smarts, experience, power — speed is not something they generally possess. So in spring training, the Mets’ new manager, Mickey Callaway, and his coaching staff emphasized the importance of smart, aggressive base running, the kind that can make slow-footed players seem a little faster.
And in the Mets’ 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Saturday afternoon that approach was on full display in the seventh inning, when alert decisions on the basepaths by Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Conforto produced the runs that put the Mets ahead.
The heady base running complemented the team’s stellar pitching, with starter Steven Matz allowing only an unearned run over five innings while striking out eight batters, and closer Jeurys Familia doing yeoman’s work with a five-out save. And so after a disheartening 2017 season filled with injuries and defeats, the Mets have now begun the 2018 campaign with a 6-1 record, including two straight victories over the rival Nationals, the prohibitive favorites to win the National League East.
The Mets were trailing, 2-1, in the top of the seventh when shortstop Amed Rosario, who is only 22 and does have speed, singled and scored on a double by Cabrera. When Yoenis Cespedes then hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield — a play that normally keeps runners frozen at second base — Cabrera nevertheless advanced to third.
Conforto then came up as pinch-hitter, and Nationals reliever Brandon Kintzler intentionally walked him, with third baseman Todd Frazier up next. The Mets’ first base coach, Ruben Amaro Jr., and Conforto then decided that Conforto should try to get a head start from first during Frazier’s at-bat to avoid the possibility of an inning-ending double play.
Sure enough, Frazier proceeded to hit a ground ball up the middle. Nationals second baseman Howie Kendrick bobbled the ball momentarily but still might have gotten the double play if Conforto had not been running. Instead, all Kendrick could do was throw out Frazier at first while Conforto took second and Cabrera scored to give the Mets a lead they would not relinquish.