Kirk Nieuwenhuis joins the list of unlikely heroes against Jonathan Papelbon
After rallying to come back from a 7-1 deficit with two outs in the 7th inning against the Nationals on Tuesday night, emotions were high, momentum had swung and both the crowd and the broadcast teams in D.C. were in a state of shock.
But there was still work to be done.
Despite the Mets ferocious comeback against the Nationals leaky bullpen and especially Drew Storen, who just couldn’t get out of his way, this game was even at 7-7, even if it didn’t feel like it.
An inning removed from a six-run outburst, Matt Williams and the Nationals brought in closer Jonathan Papelbon into a tie game in the 8th inning–a sign of how important this game was to Washington.
It was after two quick outs in the 8th, though, when Papelbon was on the wrong end of a familiar feeling against these Mets, as pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis blasted a 1-0 fastball from the Nationals closer well over the high fence in right-center field for what wound up being the game-winning home run for New York.
After starting out the season 3-for-38 at the plate with the Mets, getting traded to the Angels, being re-claimed by the Mets, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit three home runs in a home game, going on the disabled list and being called back up by the team this month, it’s been an incredibly wild year for Nieuwenhuis.
When asked by SNY field reporter Steve Gelbs about his thoughts on his season, Nieuwenhuis had one word to describe it: “Weird.”
Tuesday night was not the first time the Mets have gotten to Papelbon, however. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time they beat him with help from an unlikely source.
Over six years ago in Boston, the Mets traveled to Boston for a three-game series with the Red Sox. Trailing by a score of 2-1 with two outs in the 9th inning, journeyman catcher Omir Santos came up to the plate first-pitch swinging against Papelbon–who hadn’t blown a single save yet that season–and drilled a 97 MPH fastball just over the Green Monster in left field.
The hit was originally ruled a double, but in the infancy of instant replay the play went to a video review and it was ruled a home run, resulting in one of the most unlikely Mets victories in recent memory.
Three seasons later, the Mets faced off against Papelbo yet again–this time in a Phillies uniform. In a tie game with runners at 2nd and 3rd with two outs in the 9th inning, rookie Jordany Valdespin, who had yet to record his first career hit, stepped in against Papelbon, who hadn’t allowed a single hit with a runner in scoring position in the 2012 season.
On an 0-1 pitch, this one a splitter, Valdespin became “the man,” crushing the pitch into the right field stands for an eventual game-winning, three-home run run. The Mets had gotten Papelbon yet again.
Overall, Jonathan Papelbon has had plenty of success as he has eight career saves against the Mets with a 2.89 ERA. What Mets fans will remember, though, is how this team, for whatever reason, has had uncanny success against the six-time All-Star in big spots.
As the trend has it, the Mets have now hit a game-winning home run against Papelbon off the bat of an unlikely player with two outs every three seasons, all with Papelbon on a different team, to boot. At this rate, I look forward to T.J. Rivera’s game-winning long-ball off Angels closer Jonathan Papelbon in 2018.
In all seriousness, though, for whatever reason, when the spotlight has been it’s brightest, the Mets have been able to ride an exhilarating wave of success against Papelbon that’s unparalleled to anything I’ve seen in my baseball-watching life. On Tuesday night, Kirk Nieuwenhuis became the latest in a growing list of surprise heroes with a home run that carried far more importance to any that came before him, and one that may deliver his team one step closer to the promised land.