Home cooking: Mets win Citi opener vs Marlins on bizarre HBP

NEW YORK — With fans at Citi Field for the first time in 557 days, Michael Conforto and the New York Mets got some serious home cooking.

Even the umpire knew it.

Jeff McNeil launched a tying homer in the ninth inning on his 29th birthday and the Mets were handed the winning run on a disputed hit by pitch for a bizarre 3-2 victory over Miami in their home opener Thursday.

With the bases loaded and one out, a scuffling Conforto appeared to stick out his right elbow pad just enough to get it grazed by a 1-2 breaking ball from Marlins closer Anthony Bass that looked to be in the strike zone.

Plate umpire and crew chief Ron Kulpa at first signaled strike, then quickly ruled Conforto was hit by the pitch. Conforto headed to first base as Luis Guillorme scored and the Mets celebrated a fortuitous comeback win.

“That one there, makes a clear move to get hit, try to get hit. But for me I guess the tough part is, you can’t really tell on the replay if it hits him or not,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “And I guess the toughest part is, it’s just a strike. Kind of that simple. You would think all the replay we do, that you could say that ball’s a strike. I wonder what happens when they put the automated strike zone in?”

Mattingly and his players argued with Kulpa before the umps went to a video that lasted 58 seconds. The call was upheld.

“It’s one of those plays where it looked like the guy was hit,” Kulpa told a pool reporter. “The guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out.”

According to baseball rules, if a batter is plunked by a pitch in the strike zone, it’s a strike and not a hit by pitch.

According to replay regulations, whether the pitch was in the strike zone or the batter made any attempt to evade it is not subject to video review. Those are umpire judgment calls, and only whether the ball touched the batter is reviewable.

“He didn’t get hit by a pitch — he got hit by a strike. That’s the thing, he went to call it, and then he says it hit him,” Mattingly lamented. “So if it’s a strike, how can it be a hit by pitch?”

The official explanation from the replay supervisor in Manhattan was: “After viewing all relevant angles, the Replay Official definitively determined that the ball struck the batter. The call is confirmed, it is a hit by pitch.”

“It sounds like we have to move on,” Mattingly said.

Edwin Díaz (1-0) worked a hitless inning in his first outing of the season.

Bass (0-2) has blown both his save chances with the Marlins (1-6) and lost both games. McNeil homered leading off the ninth, sending a 3-1 pitch into the second deck in right field. He tossed his bat aside and turned to the Mets’ bench before rounding the bases.

Moments later in the dugout, Pete Alonso revved up the sold-out crowd of 8,492, with capacity limited to 20% at Citi Field due to COVID-19 regulations, as the Mets rallied. Guillorme reached on a pinch-hit infield single with one out and advanced to third when Brandon Nimmo (three hits) laced his second double of the day.

Francisco Lindor, who went 1 for 3 in his home debut with the Mets, was intentionally walked to load the bases. A pumped-up Lindor gestured to spur on Conforto, who stranded nine runners while going 0 for 5 during Wednesday’s loss at Philadelphia and drew boos from the home fans when he grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh.

Next time up, Conforto found a questionable way to drive in the decisive run.

“I’m still kind of a little befuddled on what happened,” Marlins catcher Chad Wallach said. “I’ve never seen that before.”

New York had managed only four hits against four pitchers going into the ninth.

Corey Dickerson hit a tying double and Jesús Aguilar had a go-ahead single in the sixth against starter Taijuan Walker, who held Miami hitless until the fifth inning of an impressive Mets debut.

With the bases loaded in the fifth, Starling Marte kept the Marlins close with a leaping catch at the center-field fence of Dominic Smith’s sacrifice fly.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Marlins: C Jorge Alfaro sat out with tightness in his left hamstring.

Mets: RHP Dellin Betances went on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder impingement. RHP Trevor Hildenberger was selected to the major league roster and added to the bullpen. … Jonathan Villar started at 3B for J.D. Davis, who missed his second consecutive game with a bruised left hand.

UP NEXT

Marlins: LHP Trevor Rogers (0-1, 4.50 ERA), drafted 13th overall in 2017, takes the ball Saturday for his ninth career start. The 23-year-old Rogers made his big league debut at Citi Field last August and earned his only win there six days later. He allowed two runs over nine innings against the Mets last season, striking out 11.

Mets: With the day off Friday, the Mets are skipping a fifth starter and going back to ace Jacob deGrom on regular rest when the three-game series resumes Saturday.

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