NEW YORK -- The National League Wild Card race is a tangled knot five teams deep, each of them enduring their share of issues. It's all the Mets can do these days, for example, to put a healthy team on the field. And no one embodies all that more than Yoenis Cespedes.
Battling through what has become a chronic leg injury, Cespedes hit a walk-off homer in the 10th inning Monday at Citi Field, leading the Mets to a 2-1 win over the Marlins that also evened the two teams in the Wild Card standings. Both clubs still trail the Giants, Cardinals and Pirates, each sitting 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.
"We're going into September," Mets shortstop Jose Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us. It's always fun to take the first game of a series. Now we're in a better position."
Neither Miami's Jose Fernandez nor New York's Rafael Montero was efficient at the start, combining to walk 10 batters in 11 innings. Montero in particular worked around trouble throughout the early evening, issuing six free passes in his spot start. But neither starter cracked for a run, turning the game into a matchup of bullpens.
"It's a game you think you've got a good chance of winning, when you have Jose out there, you always think you've got a good shot at winning," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "He gives us a good outing. I thought our bullpen did a nice job. We just couldn't scratch [out many runs]."
The Mets and Marlins traded runs in the eighth inning, with Xavier Scruggs doubling home Ichiro Suzuki and Reyes scoring on a wild pitch. With two hits in the game, Suzuki moved past Boggs for sole possession of 27th place on Major League Baseball's all-time list, with 3,011.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Cespedes goes deep: The game seemed destined for an 11th inning when Cespedes strolled to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, quickly taking a ball and a strike. Though he said he was not necessarily trying to hit a home run in that spot, Cespedes nonetheless put a charge into a 93-mph Nick Wittgren fastball, launching it over the left-field fence as a Citi Field crowd of 32,188 erupted. Cespedes' teammates poured out onto the field as he rounded the bases.
"I don't have any words to describe the moment," Cespedes said.
"I had one bad pitch, and they say one bad pitch can change anything," Wittgren said. "It happened." More >
Jose's six shutout: It wasn't vintage Fernandez, racking up huge strikeout numbers with his wipeout slider. Instead, Fernandez had to work and grind his way through six shutout innings on 113 pitches. The bottom line for the All-Star was he didn't allow a run and finished with six strikeouts while walking four, one intentionally. Fernandez got out of a sixth-inning jam where he gave up a leadoff single to Alejandro De Aza, who took second on a wild pitch. The Marlins' ace retired Cespedes on a popup to catcher and struck out Kelly Johnson. After intentionally walking Curtis Granderson, Fernandez induced a fly ball to right from Wilmer Flores. The 113 pitches were the second most Fernandez has thrown in a game this year, topped only by 115 on May 15 at Washington.
"I feel very strong," Fernandez said. "I thought I was throwing the ball very well. A couple of walks at the end. You've got to be really careful in a game so close like that. Making a bad pitch, it can change the game. You obviously know what they're trying to do."
Walking away from trouble: No Mets pitcher had walked six batters in a scoreless effort since Jeurys Familia, then a starter, back in 2012. But Montero managed it thanks in part to some well-timed ground balls. After walking Christian Yelich to put two men on base in the fifth inning, Montero induced a Marcell Ozuna grounder down the third-base line, where Johnson was shaded. It turned into an easy inning-ending double play to complete Montero's night.
"I walked six batters," Montero said. "But, thank God, I was able to get out of the jams."
Ichiro passes Boggs, scores run: Ichiro had been just 1-for-17 in his previous seven games, and the 42-year-old struck out in his first at-bat. But Ichiro finished the night with two hits and moved past Boggs (3,010) into sole possession of 27th place on MLB's all-time hits list. Ichiro pulled even with Boggs in the fourth inning with a single to left off Montero for Miami's first hit of the game. And with two outs in the eighth inning, Ichiro lined a double to right-center off Addison Reed for career hit No. 3,011 before opening the scoring on Scruggs' RBI double.
"Those were two big hits right there at a good time in the game, and we're in a good spot with our guys," Mattingly said." More >
"We've got to keep moving. I thought our guys had good energy today. They were in the game. There wasn't dragging of the heads. In this type of situation we're in, this cloud looks pretty dark. It changes in a day, or two days. You put some runs up and next thing you know, you've got momentum going in that direction, and then you're hot." -- Mattingly, on the Marlins' lack of scoring and three-game slide
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Playing with a short bench to begin with, the Mets had their numbers further depleted when they learned that both Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera were potentially unavailable due to injury. So when their first pinch-hit situation surfaced in the fifth inning, the Mets turned to starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who grounded out. It was actually the fifth pinch-hit appearance of deGrom's career; he is now 0-for-4 with a walk. Cabrera wound up logging a pinch-hit appearance in the seventh.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Marlins spent a challenge early, arguing that James Loney had hit into a double play in the second inning. But a 58-second review was all the umpires needed to confirm the initial call of a fielder's choice. Moments later, Travis d'Arnaud hit into an inning-ending double play, anyway.
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins:Tom Koehler, a graduate of Stony Brook, gets the starting nod for the Marlins on Tuesday for the 7:10 p.m. ET start. The right-hander is 9-9 with a 3.85 ERA, and is 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts vs. the Mets this year.
Mets: With their rotation on the mend, the Mets will give a third start to right-hander Seth Lugo. Though Lugo left his last outing after five shutout innings due to cramping in his leg, he has shown no ill effects from the injury between starts. He'll pitch opposite Koehler.