The Chicago Cubs swept all seven games against the New York Mets during the 2015 season but were swept by the Mets, four wins to none, in the National League Championship series. A season later, on June 30, 2016, the Cubs and Mets began their first series of the season, a four-game set at Citi Field. Chicago, at 51-27, had the National League’s best record. But that did not stop the Mets, who won the first three games of the series, outscoring the Cubs 18-8.
A crowd of 36,317 showed up on the sunny afternoon of July 3 for the final game of the series, looking to see their team complete a sweep. Noah Syndergaard started for the Mets. The last time Syndergaard had faced the Cubs, he pitched 5⅔ innings and struck out nine in the Mets’ 4-1 win in Game Two of the 2015 National League Championship series. Syndergaard came into the game with an 8-3 record for the season.
Chicago took the lead in the first when Jason Heyward doubled and came home on Anthony Rizzo’s single to right field. But that lead didn’t last. Curtis Granderson, who had just returned from an injury, hit a solo home run over the center-field wall in the bottom of the inning.
The Mets broke the tie in the second against Cubs starter Jon Lester. The 32-year-old southpaw had earned the National League pitcher of the month award for June after posting a 4-1 record and a 1.41 ERA. His hot streak, however, began to unravel when Wilmer Flores, playing third base in place of David Wright, who was sidelined with spinal stenosis, led off the inning with a solo blast over the center-field fence to put the Mets ahead, 2-1.
Lester struck out James Loney. But Matt Reynolds doubled and Rene Rivera hit a home run over the left-field wall. It was his third round-tripper of the season. Lester walked Syndergaard, and Juan Lagares doubled. Singles by Granderson and Yoenis Céspedes brought two more runners home. The Mets led, 6-1.
New York’s attack continued. Granderson and Céspedes moved up when Lester threw a wild pitch. Neil Walker and Flores singled to plate two more runs. The Mets scored seven runs and Lester was through after 1⅓ innings, the shortest outing of his career. Spencer Patton got the final two outs of the inning
“I wasn’t throwing the ball down the middle by any means. They’re just swinging the bats really well right now. I feel like they didn’t miss a mistake the whole series,” Lester said afterward.1
Syndergaard shut down the Cubs in order over the next three innings. As he kept the Cubs bats silent, the Mets added two more runs. Flores singled in the fourth for his third hit of the game and moved to third on Loney’s single. Rivera brought Flores home with a single to right. When Flores came to bat with two outs in the fifth, he hit his second home run of the game, a two-run blast, to extend the Mets’ lead 11-1.
With his team comfortably ahead, Mets manager Terry Collins pulled Syndergaard after seven innings. The right-hander had been diagnosed with bone spurs in his pitching elbow and Collins didn’t want to take chances. “I just felt very calm out there, wasn’t trying to do too much. I just tried to go out there and pound the strike zone. But it was really fun to watch our offense come alive this afternoon. It makes my job easier out there,” Syndergaard commented.2
Cubs manager Joe Maddon made numerous moves in the sixth. He replaced several starters to give them some rest. Right-hander Joel Peralta took over from Patton. Peralta got through the sixth without giving up a run despite Syndergaard’s double with one out.
Peralta was less effective when he returned to the mound in the seventh. After pinch-hitter Brandon Nimmo was hit by a pitch, Collins, who also started to take out some of his regulars, pinch-hit Kelly Johnson for Walker. Johnson took Peralta’s second pitch deep for a two-run homer to bring the Mets’ run total to 13.
Flores followed with his fourth hit, a single on a line drive in the hole on the left side of the infield, then was forced out on Loney’s groundout to second. After Peralta struck out Reynolds, Maddon sent backup catcher Miguel Montero to the mound with two out in the seventh to rest his bullpen. It was the first time Montero had been called on to pitch.
Montero hit the first batter he faced but got out of the inning when Alejandro De Aza grounded out. The second batter Montero faced in the eighth was Mets starter Jacob deGrom, batting for pitcher Antonio Bastardo. “Jake said he wanted to hit. I let him go up there and hit,” said Collins.3 DeGrom, who started his career as a shortstop in college, flied out to left field. Then Nimmo flied out. But three consecutive singles followed, including Flores’ sixth hit, bringing the Mets’ lead to 14-1 as Montero’s “pitches all showed up on the scoreboard as changeups.”4 After his sixth hit, Flores stood on first base and “flashed a small grin. Mets fans showered him with chants of ‘Wil-mer Flo-res!’”5
After the game Montero was asked about his first pitching experience and responded, “Something for the bucket list.”6
The Cubs scored two runs in the ninth. Wilson Contreras led off with a home run against Logan Verrett. Javier Baez doubled and Matt Szczur reached on error. Addison Russell singled with two outs to load the bases. Baez came home on a wild pitch before Verrett got Heyward to ground to short for the final out.
Flores, who had gone 0-for-14 over the previous four games, ended his slump in grand fashion, finishing with four singles and two home runs. It was only the second time a Met had six hits in a game. Edgardo Alfonzo hit three home runs, a double, and two singles in a 17-1 blowout of the Astros on August 30, 1999.
“I never thought I was going to get six hits ever,” Flores said after the game. “But it happened. It’s definitely a good feeling to be part of history.”7
Despite hitting .293 with 4 home runs and 16 RBIs since taking over for Wright, Flores knew that his days in the starting lineup might be ending since the Mets had signed Jose Reyes and were planning to play him at third.
Collins, when asked about Flores’ role on the team after Reyes’ arrival said, “I have seen in the past from him that he’s the kind of guy that says: ‘You know what? Going to have to get this job.’”8
The Mets outscored the Cubs 32-11 in the series, and swept the Cubs for this first time since 1985 at Shea Stadium. (That series was not quite as lopsided as this one; the Mets outscored the Cubs 13-4.)
Rivera said, “Everybody cheered for each other. That’s how it should be. It’s a kids’ game. You’ve got to have fun out there. We’ve been doing that the last couple games.”9
On the Cubs’ side, Montero summed up the series, saying, “It’s just bad. They [outplayed] us, simple as that. We didn’t play well enough. We didn’t hit well enough. We didn’t pitch well enough. We were sloppy. We expect a lot more from us, and this is something that we’ve got to forget about.”10
Lester felt that the losses would not affect the Cubs, saying, “We’re [still] confident. We’re fine. It’s not a matter of anyone panicking by any means. I’m sure everyone in this clubhouse will be honest: We weren’t going to be on that pace that we were on for the entire season.”11 12
The win came after Collins told the team to “play with more resolve” after being swept by the Washington Nationals before the series with the Cubs. Walker said his manager’s remarks made the team “challenge one another to stay in the game. Support one another, push one another, play hard and see what happens at the end of the day.” Syndergaard echoed that when he said the Mets had a “lot more confidence [after] going out there and sweeping the best team in the league right now.”13
The Mets beat the Miami Marlins a day later to extend their winning streak to five games. They finished the regular season at 87-75, good for second place in the NL East, and then lost the NL wild-card game to the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs were first in the NL Central and won their first World Series since 1908 in seven games over the Cleveland Indians.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting logs, and other pertinent material.
1 “Lester, Cubs routed 14-3 As Mets romp To 4-game Sweep Again,” APNews.com, July 3, 2016. https://apnews.com/article/8003f892725e4f2c93a884fea19bdadc.
2 Peter Botte, “Dominant Noah Syndergaard Is Anchor Man in Mets’ Rout of Cubs, New York Daily News, July 3, 2016. https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/dominant-noah-syndergaard-anchor-man-mets-rout-cubs-article-1.2698009.
3 Mark Hermann, “Cubs Catcher Montero Pitches to Mets Pitcher deGrom in Blowout, Newsday.com, July 3, 2016. https://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/mets/cubs-catcher-montero-pitches-to-mets-pitcher-degrom-in-blowout-1.12001253.
5 James Wagner, “Wilmer Flores’s Hammer Wraps Up a Demolition of the Cubs’ Rotation,” New York Times, July 4, 2016: D3.
6 Mark Gonzalez, “Rout an Ugly End to an Ugly Series,” Chicago Tribune, July 4, 2016: 6.
8 Wagner. Flores made only 10 more starts at third base after Reyes arrived. But he played in a total of 103 games during the season. He primarily played first and second base after Reyes’ arrival on the team. Flores finished the season with a .269 batting average, 16 home runs, and 49 RBIs.
11 Mike Fitzpatrick (Associated Press), “Rough Weekend for Cubs,” Bloomington (Illinois) Pantagraph, July 4, 2016: B3.
12 Chicago had built a 12½-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals on June 19. But the Cubs lost nine of their next 13 games to see that lead drop to eight games.