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ST. LOUIS — New hitting coaches, same underachieving hitters.
In their first game since firing Chili Davis and Tom Slater earlier this week, stale bats remained in vogue for the Mets. That meant only two hits over seven innings and barely a pulse in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Busch Stadium.
Hugh Quattlebaum’s tenure as hitting coach, with Kevin Howard as the assistant, began with Francisco Lindor going hitless in three at-bats, extending his futility to 0-for-24. But Lindor wasn’t alone in appearing overmatched.
The sluggish bats wasted a solid performance from Marcus Stroman, who allowed four runs (only two were earned) over five innings in his return from a shortened outing in Philadelphia last Friday, when his right hamstring tightened.
Manager Luis Rojas unveiled an unorthodox lineup against left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim that included Lindor batting leadoff and Kevin Pillar at cleanup. James McCann was sixth in the order.
“We were off balance,” Rojas said. “We looked at the video of the starter we faced today and there was a lot of secondary stuff thrown. Even the data, the percentages, the guys were off balance taking it, not on it and also getting beat by the fastball. We weren’t squaring anything. Guys didn’t have a good plan at the plate for this one.”
The Mets loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth, but from that produced only one run to pull within 2-1. James McCann hit a grounder to third base that Nolan Arenado booted for an apparent error, allowing Michael Conforto to score. But the Cardinals won a replay challenge, as they had contested Arenado’s foot was on the bag as he picked up the ball. Pillar was out at third, the beginning of a downturn in the inning for the Mets — the next two batters, Jonathan Villar and Albert Almora Jr. struck out.
Conforto had walked to begin the rally and Pillar singled. Jeff McNeil then walked to load the bases. The flurry came after Kim had retired eight straight batters since the first inning. In that frame, Pete Alonso singled and Conforto walked before Pillar and McNeil were retired in succession.
Stroman surrendered seven hits with six strikeouts and one walk. The Cardinals scored the two unearned runs in the fifth, following a two-out throwing error by Lindor that allowed Arenado to reach. Paul DeJong hit a towering homer to left, just beyond Almora Jr.’s outstretched glove, that buried the Mets in a 4-1 hole.
“It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day that’s on me,” Stroman said. “I have got to make a better pitch in that scenario.”
The Cardinals were in position to extend their 2-1 lead in the fourth, after Alonso had lost Tyler O’Neill low pop-up in the sun for an error and Harrison Bader hit a slow roller through the first-base hole. But Stroman struck out the next three batters, Andrew Knizner, Matt Carpenter and Tommy Edman, to keep the Mets within a run.
Stroman surrendered a two-out homer to Paul Goldschmidt in the first. The blast, which rocketed off the facing of the second deck, was the second homer allowed by Stroman this season. Arenado followed with a single before Stroman retired DeJong for the final out.
In the third, the Cardinals inflicted further two-out damage against Stroman, with three straight hits that delivered a run. Dylan Carlson stroked a line-drive single before Goldschmidt hit a bloop to right that landed. Arenado’s ensuing RBI single placed the Mets in a 2-0 hole.
“I felt like I had it in spurts,” Stroman said. “But over the course of five [innings] I didn’t feel like I had it fully together.”
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