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Sometimes You Don’t Know What to Think

How would you describe Friday night’s Mets game? Thrilling? Reaffirming? Anxious? Horrifying?

Maybe all of the above?

I spent most of the evening not knowing what to think, with good and bad arriving one after the other.

For openers, I wondered when I started trusting Steven Matz [1]. Matz hasn’t had a bad outing in more than a month, and has only had a handful of bum starts all year. Credit an improved changeup, some hard-won maturity that’s helped him stay focused, and finally (and most importantly) being healthy enough to work on things beyond just getting on the mound. Somewhere along the line, I’ve stopped watching Matz through the gaps in my fingers, reflexively fearing that any moment a body part will start barking or some misfortune will cause him to unravel.

Which isn’t to say Matz has learned to pitch efficiently. (A failing which, to be fair, is hardly his alone.) On Friday he departed with 109 pitches under his belt but only five and two-thirds innings complete in a tie game. The Mets not only had to get a run off the Phillies but also had to play their stomach-turning nightly game of figuring out how to get a large number of outs from somebody.

On Friday night, the potentially tragic number of outs needed was 10. Luis Avilan [2] wasn’t the answer, walking the only batter he faced. Enter Brad Brach [3], the lifelong Mets fan … and Cubs castoff. Brach isn’t a reliever I particularly trust, but he also isn’t Tyler Bashlor [4] or Daniel Zamora [5] or Paul Sewald [6] or, God forbid, Jeurys Familia [7] or Edwin Diaz [8]. Beggars and choosers and all that. Brach was superb, escaping the sixth and coming back for the seventh, where he allowed a double to Corey Dickerson [9] (subbing for Bryce Harper [10], who took a Matz fastball off the hand and very nearly off the face) but then fanned Rhys Hoskins [11] and Scott Kingery [12] on a mixture of cutters and fastballs.

After Justin Wilson [13] took care of the eighth, the Mets collected the run they needed and one more besides off Hector Neris [14], thanks to RBI singles from Pete Alonso [15] and Wilson Ramos [16]. (His hitting streak is now one.) But with Seth Lugo [17] unavailable after back-to-back appearances in D.C. [18], their only reliable reliever had finished his work for the night. So closing duties would fall to … who, exactly?

One of the Toxic Twins, but which one?

The answer was Diaz, for which I can’t particularly blame Mickey Callaway [19], because who else was it going to be? And Diaz actually retired Logan Morrison [20] to start the ninth, which made his appearance better than last time. But Jean Segura [21] singled and up stepped J.T. Realmuto [22].

“Here comes the dinger,” I told Emily. “Be ready, fans in the left-field seats.”

Scout’s honor, I said that — but odds are you did too.

In Tuesday’s horror show [23], Diaz abandoned a slider that had looked sharp to throw Kurt Suzuki [24] three straight fastballs at much the same speed in much the same spot, which was an excellent strategy if the goal was to help Suzuki dial in on a 100 MPH fastball. (This was not the goal.) Against the Phillies, Diaz’s slider was consistently up in the strike zone. He threw a good one to Morrison, but left two in the middle of the plate against Segura and two more there against Realmuto. That fourth slider became a souvenir.

What can you even say at this point? Diaz has otherworldly stuff, but he’s been astonishingly, bafflingly terrible. Emulating Jacob deGrom [25]‘s slider grip helped for a little bit, until it didn’t. His location’s been horrible. His pitch selection’s been questionable. Everything’s been a disaster. Given Diaz’s arsenal, track record and arrival in a big-ticket trade, the Mets will do everything they can to fix him, and if you look at the back of his baseball card you’ll probably concede that’s a worthy undertaking. But not even the sunniest optimist could think that Diaz will be fixed this year. Whatever ails him needs attention in March in Port St. Lucie, not in September in a pennant race. Here’s hoping Callaway gives him and Familia the Mike Maddux [26] treatment the rest of the way — incredible though it is to say, I’d feel more comfortable taking my chances with one of the frequent fliers from the Syracuse shuttle.

But say this for the Mets: They sure don’t quit. (You could also say the Phillies’ bullpen is really bad, but I like my version better.) The ninth started quietly, with Amed Rosario [27] and Brandon Nimmo [28] making outs, and I was wondering who was going to pitch the 10th and exactly how awful it would be. But then Juan Lagares [29] and J.D. Davis [30] singled, causing the Phillies to change pitchers and bringing Jeff McNeil [31] up with a chance to win the game and ensure no horrible Mets reliever had to do anything besides holler and throw Gatorade on people.

“Don’t help him” has been one of my 2019 go-to’s on the couch, an exhortation offered to distant Mets who can’t hear me and wouldn’t listen to me if they could. I’ve yelled it at Rosario, McNeil, Davis, Michael Conforto [32] and Alonso, all of whom sometimes get excited and expand the strike zone unhealthily.

Now I yelled it at McNeil, who helped himself by getting hit by a pitch. Up came Alonso with the bases loaded and Nick Vincent [33] on the mound.

Now, Alonso’s been the best thing to happen to the Mets this year, but he’s also a rookie who loves “dieseling baseballs,” in his words. It would be so, so wonderful if he dieseled a baseball into the seats for a walk-off grand slam — but that approach would also play into Vincent’s hands. It would help him.

Don’t help him, Pete!

Alonso didn’t diesel anything, and given the stakes and how big his swing can get, that outcome was actually more impressive than connecting for a grand slam. With the count 2-2, Alonso laid off a fastball just below the zone. Vincent came back with a cutter around the numbers, which Alonso coolly took. Ball four, and a minute later a shirtless Alonso was talking to Steve Gelbs about teamwork.

It was, quietly, one of Alonso’s more impressive at-bats of the season, and a Mets win [34]. And that’s the important thing, even if my reaction was to sink back into the couch. I was happy, sure, but mostly I was relieved … and still not sure what to think of it all.