The weather was nearly perfect and so was Nathan Eovaldi.
The right-hander retired his first 18 batters, C.J. Cron hit an early three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays routed the New York Mets 9-0 on Sunday.
“The fastball location was really there, and the cutter,” Eovaldi said. “Those two pitches I really felt like I located probably the best I could have.”
Eovaldi took a perfect game into the seventh before Brandon Nimmo lined a leadoff single to right field. Nimmo was quickly erased on a double play, and Eovaldi faced the minimum while needing only 79 pitches to get through seven innings.
“I was trying to back-door that cutter and I missed down and in, and that’s right in his swing path,” he said.
Eovaldi, who returned this season from his second Tommy John surgery, struck out nine and helped himself with an RBI single. Andrew Kittredge pitched the final two innings for the Rays, giving up a single in the ninth before finishing the two-hitter.
Joey Wendle and Jake Bauers also homered for Tampa Bay, which has won 11 of 15.
It was the second time this season Eovaldi (3-3) made it through six innings without allowing a hit. He threw six hitless innings in May against Oakland for a 6-0 Rays win in his first major league start since 2016.
“Cutter was really good today. Amazing,” catcher Jesus Sucre said. “His fastball was so sharp today. They didn’t have a chance.”
Three times this year Eovaldi has gone six or more innings and given up no more than one hit, tied with Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams for most in the majors.
“Credit to him for pitching well, but you never want to get no-hit. You never want to be a part of that,” Nimmo said.
Cron’s home run gave the Rays a 3-0 lead in the first. He connected on a fastball down the middle from Chris Flexen (0-2) and drove it into the second deck in left field. The homer was Cron’s 17th of the season, setting a career high.
“As long as it gets over, I’m happy,” Cron said.
Flexen, making his first big league start since last September, struggled with command early. He lasted only three innings on a day when the Mets needed length from their starter ahead of a doubleheader Monday. He gave up five earned runs in three innings, walking three and hitting a batter with a pitch.
“Not throwing enough strikes, not throwing enough quality strikes when I need them,” Flexen said.
Eovaldi knocked in a run in the fifth when he beat out an infield single to make it 6-0.
A day after putting the leadoff hitter on in seven of nine innings, the listless Mets were shut out for the second consecutive game. They’ve been blanked eight times this season — seven at home — and have gone 14 straight series without winning one.
New York is 3-17 in its last 20 home games and has dropped 30 of 40 overall.
It was the second time this season Tampa Bay has thrown consecutive shutouts. All eight of the team’s shutouts have come since May 28, and the Rays have a 1.82 ERA in their last 15 games.
Flexen was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas. To open a roster spot, the Mets optioned RHP Drew Smith to their top farm team.
Rays: RHP Chaz Roe was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left meniscus tear. He will have a procedure Friday and is expected to miss at least four to six weeks. RHP Jaime Schultz was recalled from Triple-A. … Gold Glove CF Kevin Kiermaier did not start due to back tightness. … SS Willy Adames sat out for the second consecutive day due to illness. … 2B Daniel Robertson was hit by a pitch on the inside of his right elbow in the first but stayed in the game. … OF Mallex Smith left with leg cramps after running the bases in the fifth.
Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard threw 71 pitches for Class A Brooklyn against Staten Island, his first rehab start since being placed on the disabled list May 26 with a strained ligament in his right index finger. Syndergaard allowed one run and two hits in five innings, with seven strikeouts and a walk. … LHP Jason Vargas will make a rehab start for Brooklyn on Monday. He has been sidelined since June 22 with a strained right calf. … SS Amed Rosario was given a planned day off. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Rosario will play both games Monday against Philadelphia.
Rays: RHP Chris Archer (3-4, 4.24 ERA) pitches the series opener Monday night at home against Detroit. It will be Archer’s first start since June 2 when he was placed on the DL for the first time in his career with a left abdominal strain. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said Archer will be limited to “loosely” 70 pitches.
Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler (2-6, 4.36 ERA) starts the opener against the Phillies, and RHP Corey Oswalt (0-1, 7.94) goes in the nightcap as the teams make up an April 2 postponement.
Eovaldi Flirts with Perfection as Rays Rout Mets 9-0