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Nothing vs. Something

Terry Collins could have removed Rafael Montero [1] at several junctures of his outing against the Washington Nationals Monday night, which speaks to what seems to be Terry’s managing philosophy: a preference to do nothing versus an inclination to do something. Montero wasn’t in the game very long by conventional measures (though it felt like hours). When you’re around for only one-and-two-thirds innings, you wouldn’t think there are multiple inflection points.

Montero was the epitome of Didn’t Have It from jump at Nationals Park. It doesn’t reflect well on the former phenom, but it happens, particularly to a No. 5 starter who was in nobody’s plans until a few weeks ago, and who displayed, at best, flashes of adequacy until Monday. Monday he had problems with the strike zone, both when he was missing it and finding it.

Still, the young pitcher (not quite 26, even after all these years) persevered across a nightmarish first inning. He was fooling nobody, retiring nobody, yet escaped with merely two runs surrendered. The Mets were down only 2-1. What a break in the midst of this improbable playoff spurt. Gabriel Ynoa [2] was fully warmed and we could start almost fresh in the second. “Cut your losses” was never a more apt phrase from which to take heed. The gods were smiling upon us.

Collins told the gods to wipe that smirk off their faces. Despite Montero showing next to nothing, and despite the perfect exit opportunity presenting itself when the pitcher’s spot came up in the top of the second with two on and two out and a Shriners convention worth of pinch-hitters milling in the dugout, Collins did what he tends to do in these situations.

Nothing. He let Montero bat. Montero struck out. Then he came out to pitch the top of the second, and the gods told us to go screw ourselves. Rafael was hit hard and often. Opposing starter Mat Latos [3] homered to lead off. After generating two outs in the air, Daniel Murphy [4] doubled (Daniel Murphy is the reincarnation of Turner Field). An intentional walk to Bryce Harper [5] was issued because you can’t let Bryce Harper beat you…not when Anthony Rendon [6] can. And he did, with a three-run bomb that ended Montero’s night and, presumably, his tenure as a Met starting pitcher, at least for what’s left of 2016.

Sixty pitches, fourteen batters, six runs, five outs. It began badly, it kept getting worse. What was Collins waiting for?

Terry didn’t offer much of an explanation afterwards beyond he hoped the kid would find a way out of whatever was plaguing him, a concept that played better in the first several Septembers of Collins’s managerial stay here than it does in this one. If a, say, Chris Schwinden [7] went “splat” on the mound, it would be frustrating, but it would also be 2011. Nothing was doing anyway. Monday night, the Mets were attempting to push the Cardinals further behind them and the pull the Giants significantly closer to them. That was the idea. It didn’t quite work out.

The Cardinals lost. The Giants lost. The baseball gods took a modicum of pity on us after Terry rejected their assistance in what became an 8-1 blowout [8]. He could’ve removed Montero at 2-1, or 3-1. He could’ve summoned Ynoa. Ynoa would have…well, we don’t know’a. Gabriel walked the first batter he saw when he finally got the call after Rendon’s homer, pitched a spotless third, then gave up a couple of runs in the fourth. There’s a saying that the most popular person in any NFL city is the second-string quarterback. New York’s a baseball town, and we love whoever Terry Collins doesn’t use when we want him used. That guy can never do any wrong.

Collins can do wrong, and he did Monday night. There’s no pretending his faith in Montero wasn’t misplaced. Dents appear in every manager’s armor. Terry’s suit needs to be taken to the silversmith to have Monday’s crease taken out.

This is generally what Terry does. He does nothing if at all possible. If that sounds like an insult, it is not intended as such. There is something to be said sometimes, perhaps ofttimes, for leaving things be. Maybe not when your emergencyesque starter is melting down. Maybe not when the potential tying run is being carried by someone who just took his molasses pill [9]. Maybe not at lots of moments when keen foresight or legitimate hindsight suggests otherwise.

But probably more than we realize. Dancing with them what brung ya lends an air of stability to a chaotic endeavor. It’s an easier sell competing for the postseason than it is trying to hold on to fourth place, but the Mets have gotten this far this year with Terry doing a little more nothing than we might like. They got very far last year on the strength of trusting his players long enough for it to pay off. The itchy telephone fingers that would have exchanged Jacob deGrom [10] for Noah Syndergaard [11] in Game Five of the 2015 NLDS could not be blamed for going through tube after tube of Lanacane. But Terry stuck with deGrom [12], despite the trouble he was courting early at Dodger Stadium, and not too many innings later, the Mets were in the NLCS.

That’s an extreme anecdotal example, but it seemed typical of Terry. Now and then, panic is advisable. Probably not too often, however, not when you’re responsible for the emotional care and feeding of 25 professionals who are more talented than we can imagine yet likely more insecure than they let on. It’s a combustible mix in any clubhouse and a major league manager has to be a master chemist. Mix and match lineups. Mix and match personalities. Mix and match the philosophical with the strategic with the tactical. Mix and match a merry-go-round of outfielders who have bobbed up and down all season long. Mix and match the struggling starter who might give you sufficient length and maybe momentum if he can just get out of the second with the fresh long reliever who might rescue you just in time when the starter seemingly obviously can’t.

Every move that isn’t made but doesn’t go wrong generally goes uncommented upon; it’s just business as usual. The moves that aren’t made that blow up by dint of their not being made are the fodder that feeds our “I knew it!” instinct. So are the moves that implode. Enough goes awry in the course of 162 games to make simultaneous cases against doing nothing, doing something, doing anything. All of it can and will make a manager look bad on occasion, especially the occasion of a September when everything is magnified.

It’s difficult to not turn every misstep into a recall referendum on managerial competence, just as it’s easy to not notice when things are rolling along as we like. We blame the manager because we can imagine we’d make the right move. His job is more accessible than seeing ourselves throwing the right pitch or laying off the wrong pitch. I couldn’t get out Anthony Rendon. I couldn’t get out Mat Latos. I could tell Dan Warthen [13] to get on the horn to Ricky Bones [14] and send Gabriel Ynoa in from the bullpen. In theory, I could. In theory, we all could.

We’re fans. We’re entitled to our opinions. We’re better off informing them as much as we can before we release them into the atmosphere. My opinion is Terry should have taken Montero out after the first inning, whether his spot in the order came up in the second or not. My opinion is also that the starting pitcher depth chart is in tatters and sooner or later it was gonna show (it showed on a night that the Mets scored one lone run off Latos and three relievers, so maybe we’re going nuts over naught). Hopefully deGrom returns eventually [15], and in the interim somebody else can throw five effective innings. There are myriad options on the roster, none of them optimal. All are better than Montero at this point, but even Terry acknowledged that tacitly after Monday night’s game.

You can’t always do nothing, no matter how appealing that sounds.