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Anxiety Meets Expectations

Gary Cohen called Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss “stunning” the moment after it happened. Gary Cohen makes mostly accurate statements. This wasn’t among them.

The Mets had led the Marlins, 1-0, since the fifth inning. Brandon Nimmo [1] had put us on the board with a home run. Whatever distance it traveled, Jacob deGrom [2] propelled it exponentially further. With deGrom in the game, a 1-0 lead feels more than adequate. It feels impenetrable. Give Jake a run, Jake will do the rest. Jake carries a league-leading 1.54 ERA.

It’s low enough to be the Mets’ team batting average.

In that era of yore to which we continually and fondly refer no matter how inoperative it is within the current parameters of baseball, deGrom would have taken that 1-0 lead into the eighth and ninth and, quite possibly, been the pitcher of record on behalf of the 132nd 1-0 win in Mets history. We don’t live in that era any longer. Jake was removed after seven deGrominant innings. He had thrown more than 100 pitches. There’s nothing unusual about that anymore. You’re not suddenly going to hyperextend deGrom beyond any starting pitcher’s normal limit, not even a starting pitcher who resides high above the norm.

But when you take out your best pitcher, the chances that somebody else will give up a run would seem to rise dramatically. Afterwards, when deGrom’s phenomenal seven innings were no more than a vaguely pleasant footnote [3] to the horrifying ninth, Mickey Callaway said, “You can’t expect to win games 1-0 all the time.” I doubt anybody expects that, just as I doubt many of us moderately deep down expected the Mets to win Wednesday night after deGrom exited. We should have been able to even if you wouldn’t think we should have to. Winning 1-0 has happened 131 times, though not since 2016. We were due for a 1-0 lead to hold clear to the final out.

Conversely, perhaps Jeurys Familia [4] was due for a ninth like he and we experienced, one in which he doesn’t strike out the side (as he did last Friday night in attaining his twelfth save), one in which a close final play goes the Mets way (which happened Monday night, his thirteenth save). Figuratively burying your accomplished closer on the heels of his not accomplishing what you wished is an understandable and incredibly familiar impulse, but Familia isn’t normally incapable of getting three outs without allowing a run or more. His career has been built on preserving slim leads. That is the definition of his career.

But jeez, Jeurys, how about getting three outs without giving up a run last night? Blow another lead another time. We won’t be happy about it when you do, but this was the one to hold onto. Hold onto it for deGrom, who deserved the dopey W starting pitchers still compete for. Hold onto it for your team, which was enjoying a pretty fine homestand until very recently. The Mets are off to Milwaukee for four versus the first-place Brewers, then Atlanta for four more versus the first-place Braves. Losing a three-game set to the last place Marlins in Flushing is not advisable in the big picture.

You can’t expect to win games 1-0 all the time. You can’t expect Familia to save games all the time. Our anxieties expected the outcome we got. Familia’s sinker didn’t sink. Four Marlins got hits in the ninth. Two Mets, Gonzalez and Conforto, made clutch defensive plays around them, but you can only choke off so much rallying before you’ve been rallied into falling behind.

DeGrom wasn’t going to stay in. Lugo could have. He pitched a scoreless eighth. Theoretically, any number of relievers could have pitched the ninth if Seth the former starter was mysteriously deemed one inning and out. But, y’know, Familia is the closer. Like pitcher wins and losses, we still have saves and pitchers who are assigned most of the obvious opportunities. Even allegedly innovative pitching-savvy managers are susceptible to the gravitational pull of traditional roles. Besides, if you’re not going to use your generally successful closer — third-most saves in the National League this season — to protect a slight ninth-inning advantage, when are you going to use him?

Oh, by the by, the Mets scored only that one run, one of four they registered in this distressingly punchless three-game series. Let’s not let everybody else who isn’t deGrom and Nimmo off the hook for the defeat we and the official scorer have no compunction about hanging squarely on Familia. Dan Straily pitched pretty well, as did the three Marlin relievers who followed him. Were they deGrominantly impenetrable? For all intents and purposes, they were practically unhittable. The Mets collected six hits, with only Nimmo’s worth a damn. The other five were singles that led nowhere except to an outcome that, in retrospect, wasn’t remotely stunning.

Disappointing, devastating, disgusting…all of that. But not particularly surprising [5]. You’d like to expect something different.