- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Saving Face if Not Time

I hope the Mets don’t have one of those mobile plans that limits their minutes, because they’re tearing through them at a prodigious rate. Time of game over the past week reads like the schedule board at Grand Central as it gears up for rush hour. 4:08; 3:15; 3:14; 3:07; 3:34; 3:36. The Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines have rarely chugged along as deliberately as these Mets and their most recent spate of opposition. On Monday night, a date technically dedicated to the memory of Jackie Robinson, the American hero and baseball pioneer who ran fast and stole home, the pace-of-play rails slowed to an absolute crawl…but at least the Mets didn’t go off them.

It took four hours and twenty-nine minutes for the 7:05 from Philly to finally pull into the win column [1], including three hours and forty-six minutes ensuring a step up in fare to extra innings would be necessary. This train took its sweet time from the first inning to the ninth, then the ninth to the eleventh.

Time is apparently one commodity the Mets don’t know how to save. The game, however, got itself rescued on several occasions. Four stand out.

1) Jeff McNeil [2], who started in left field (and notched three hits to raise his average to .404), saved Jeurys Familia’s bacon in the eighth. Two were on, none were out, Familia had as little as possible in his arsenal while facing Maikel Franco, who hit a bullet to third. Where in the world was Jeff McNeil? In a position to grab the hot liner near the hot corner and convert it into a 6-4-3 double play that moved Odubel Herrera to third but kept the Mets’ lead at 6-5. What a lucky break that the man they call Squirrel had changed positions between half-innings. That Mickey Callaway is some genius, huh? Now all Mick had to do was be just as brilliant about taking out Familia, who had given up a single and a walk prior to Franco’s sizzler, and bring in Edwin Diaz [3] to end the eighth and set up a serene ninth.

2) Having drawn a 4 on 16, Callaway couldn’t leave his hand be and said “hit me” again and again. Actually, he left Familia in to walk a pair of Andrews (Knapp and McCutchen) and load the bases. Having blown past 21, Mickey finally decided to deal Jeurys out of the game. Robert Gsellman, not Diaz, was his next call. It probably wasn’t Gsellman’s call to immediately walk Jean Segura, but that’s what happened, which made it a 6-6 game, which made the second save of the night possible: Juan Lagares [4] racing from second to score when Rhys Hoskins muffed the hard grounder hit to him by Michael Conforto in the eleventh. Now that was some Jackie Robinson-style flair. Fittingly, Lagares wore 42. Less fittingly, so did everybody else. At that point, anybody who put the Mets ahead as Juan did deserved to be awarded not just the uniform number of honor but a save. After Noah Syndergaard had given back leads of 3-0 and 5-3 (he went five) and the Familia-Callaway-Gsellman straight royally flushed away the edge Brandon Nimmo gained them on his sixth-inning homer, not only the win had to be saved. So did face.

3) Diaz — remember him? — came on in the bottom of the eleventh and, for the first time as a Met, pitched like we all heard he did as a Mariner. Just a no-doubt eleven-pitch, three-strikeout dismissal of Bryce Harper, Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, a pretty fair slugging trio to nail down the 7-6 victory. It was Edwin’s sixth and biggest save of the season, not only vaulting the Mets back into first place but kicking the Phillies the hell out of it. That’s some cold Trading Places stuff [5] right there, apropos considering both the movie and the ballgame were shot on location in Philadelphia.

4) Though the win was safely in the books, Callaway needed to be saved again afterward when reporters couldn’t quite buy his declaration that no way, no how (at least not until the hypothetical playoffs) would he ever bring Diaz in to secure more than three outs. Seeing as how he was prepared to go down with his ship in the eighth — the S.S. Familia-Gsellman was surely taking on water — this was quite a decision to cement in advance of the next 146 games. Enter into the picture Brodie Van Wagenen to clarify and expand on Callaway’s policy, confirming this is indeed how the organization plans to use its most potent defensive weapon at critical junctures of contests that could determine the outcome of the division. Brodie allowed that there might be a touch of flexibility down the road, but to the Mets, a closer is a closer, no matter how close a critical situation might be.

Give Van Wagenen the save for coming into take some of the heat that was glancing off Callaway, I suppose. Mind you, the heat was deserved. There were instances when Diaz could have come in real handy, yet — despite having him warm up — the manager went in other directions. Gsellman. Luis Avilán. Drew Gagnon, freshly recalled from and recently started in Syracuse, was going to be the eleventh-inning man if Lagares hadn’t brought home the seventh run. Relievers are notorious for grumbling about getting up in the pen repeatedly and then not getting into the game (“dry humping,” they colorfully call it). Young Diaz said only he’s down with anything he’s asked to do by his manager.

But his general manager? The bizarreness of the postgame scene wasn’t that Callaway and Van Wagenen resided on the same debatable page. It was that Brodie thought it necessary to speak for in-game strategy. For as long as the Mets’ TV partners have been covering their clubhouse for viewer consumption, a practice that dates back at least as long as SNY as been on the air, I couldn’t recall until Monday a moment when the GM stepped forward to talk about how players had just been used and would be used. I don’t remember reading about it in the papers or seeing anything like it on the news before there was a Snigh. Omar Minaya didn’t do it. Sandy Alderson didn’t do it. The chronically kibitzy Steve Phillips resisted the temptation, at least not right after a game. There’s an unwritten rule quality to this practice. It’s a rule that probably didn’t need to be written. Managers address what happened in the game. General managers don’t pull focus unless there’s a front office kind of reason to clear a throat and announce a transaction.

BVW has never been a GM before, so you could look at his action several ways. You could say it’s inexperience, that he simply does not know that this is simply not done; you could say it’s a tacit vote of little confidence in Callaway, the manager he didn’t hire and the manager who last year did not lead the league in clear explanations; you could say it’s a bold overstep and as much of a breach of baseball etiquette as not stealing six runs up or flipping your bat toward the second deck before trotting around the bases; or you could say that Van Wagenen isn’t going to be bound by the hidebound if it doesn’t make sense to him.

I’d like to believe it’s the last one. If Callaway wasn’t getting his message across about Diaz going one inning and one inning only (as dopey as that message might be), he didn’t want to leave his manager hanging out there like a curve that didn’t break. At his inaugural press conference, the GM said something about everybody being in this Mets mission together, right up to the owners. An organization that isn’t hung up on titles and roles might be more nimble and better positioned to respond to a dozen different issues and challenges that pop up in the course of a week.

Which sounds great, even if the GM doing what a GM doesn’t traditionally do on the manager’s turf comes across as a little bush…and even if Diaz probably ought to be brought in to get batters out when the freaking game is on the line. That would be pretty nimble, too.