NEW YORK — The miracle of modern technology allows the general specifications of every home run to be known in an instant: pitch speed, exit velocity, launch angle — the esoteric formulas that spit out expected distance and how each batted ball would play in every park.
It’s all available within seconds. But there is still something very satisfying about relying on the unscientific, on the anecdotal evidence from the senses, and if you listened to the Mets’ Pete Alonso put a barrel on a 91 mph fastball from Mariners reliever Paul Sewald on Friday night at Citi Field, you probably had one thought: home run.
Alonso had that thought. It was a foggy night at Citi Field. Light rain. The air was heavy. It was not exactly an ideal night to hit home runs, but when Alonso made contact in the eighth, with the Mets trailing the Seattle Mariners by one run, he believed the game was tied.
“The sound,” Alonso said. “Absolutely, I thought it had what it took to go over the wall. But it just didn’t, unfortunately.”
Alonso mostly tiptoed around the elephant in the ballpark. Offense is down throughout baseball. Fly balls are no longer soaring like Titleists at the range. The baseball may be different, but it’s the same for both teams.
“It is what it is,” Alonso said.
And so the Mets lost 2-1 to the Mariners, and they did so because the offense could not put up more than one run against Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, and reliever Drew Smith stumbled in relief of Max Scherzer, issuing two walks and permitting a run in the eighth. If the Mets’ hitters were frustrated by the ball — and its theoretical lack of juice — they seemed to understand the hypocrisy in venting those thoughts. So consider the following observation from the Mets’ Buck Showalter as more a description of a continuing phenomenon than an explanation from a manager after a loss.
“It’s pretty obvious there’s something a little different going on,” Showalter said.
The Mets, 22-12, must win Saturday and Sunday to avoid losing their first series of the season. Chris Bassitt will start Saturday night. Carlos Carrasco is lined up to throw Sunday. If they do indeed lose this series, they may look back at a missed opportunity Friday. And it wasn’t only the ball.
Scherzer allowed just one run in seven innings, showcasing his dominant stuff and fiery resilience. In the top of the seventh, with the scored tied 1-1, the Mariners loaded the bases with one out when Mike Ford took a 3-2 changeup that appeared to cross the plate right at the bottom of the zone. Scherzer let out a primal scream when he didn’t get the call. Then he went to work, coaxing a ground-ball double play from Steven Souza Jr. that was punctuated by another scream.
“As a human, you’re gonna have an emotional release,” Scherzer said. “Obviously, you want that pitch. But you have to be able to process that, turn the page, move on and throw the next pitch.”
Scherzer finished with six strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 2.66. Yet the Mets’ offense could not break through after Brandon Nimmo singled and scored on a sacrifice fly from Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the first. Smith allowed his first run of the season in the eighth, ending his career-best run of 13 1/3 scoreless innings. That set the stage for Alonso versus Sewald in the eighth.
The ball jumped off Alonso’s bat at 103 mph. It had plenty of loft. It sounded good. It died at the warning track.
“Whether it’s the ball or bad conditions,” he said, “it is what it is.”
Alonso has hit 114 home runs in his first four major-league seasons. He has made the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby his personal playground. If anyone knows the feeling of a home run, it is him. He thought it was gone. Showalter had a feeling, too. When asked if he thought Alonso’s shot would go, he began with one word: normally.
“I’m not gonna start getting into all the things that are going on all over baseball,” he said. “The rumors are what they are.”
A few minutes later, near the end of his postgame news conference, Showalter was asked if any players had complained about the grip on the baseball. None had, he said, and if there is another issue with slick baseballs, Showalter suggested it is something that could be fixed with warmer weather and a little sweat. He noted again that the balls are the same for both clubs. But that, he said, might not stop the questions about the other thing.
“The other conversation,” Showalter said, “I don’t think is going away.”
(Photo of Pete Alonso: Elsa / Getty Images)