We know from starters, emergency starters, long relievers, middle men, lefty specialists, setup men and closers. In 2018, thanks mostly to the machinations of the Tampa Bay Rays, we were introduced to something called the opener.
Jason Vargas  filled none of those defined roles Friday night in St. Louis. Yes, he started as scheduled, though any scheduled Jason Vargas start is essentially an emergency. Because he threw the first pitch of the game, you couldn’t call him a reliever. Because there was no plan to limit him to one inning or one batter, he wasn’t exactly an opener. Because Mickey Callaway knows what he has in Vargas, he wasn’t going to extend him an open-ended invitation to keep pitching until his participation was no longer optimal…yet he wasn’t on a strict pitch count, so there was no obvious off ramp to his evening.
Somehow, on the heels of a very stressful piece of Met pitching news, Jason Vargas provided relief, going four innings, giving up one run on three hits and three walks and getting the hell out of Dodge with a three-run lead at his manager’s behest. He looked as good as he possibly could soldiering through the Cardinal order precisely twice, which is to say two very deep fly balls were somehow contained within the confines of Busch Stadium and a typically VERY VARGAS debacle was ducked. As aficionados of the Vargas Index  are keenly aware, SORT OF VARGAS represents a triumph of the human spirit, a veritable schissel of chicken soup for the Mets fan’s soul.
In another era — or in this one with another pitcher — you’d cringe that a healthy pitcher up 4-1 one inning shy of a decision would be pulled. With this pitcher who is almost never NOT AT ALL VARGAS, you had to be thrilled luck wasn’t hubristically pushed. Jason threw 75 pitches to record his twelve outs. The one run he yielded came in the fourth, on a leadoff home run by Jose Martinez, his fourteenth hitter overall. Hitter No. 16 of 18, Dexter Fowler, walked. You could feel the leaves crumbling from Vargas’s clover. To escape minimally scathed was to succeed. Asking this particular starter, whose previous outing lasted one-third of an inning too long  (which is to say one-third of an inning), would have constituted managerial malpractice.
Mickey occasionally properly processes the limitations of his personnel. In the pregame presser, Callaway said he just wanted to “get through” the upcoming game, which is an unorthodox rallying cry until you comprehend the context. The skipper had been asked how the rest of the series might play out from a starting pitching standpoint in light of that very stressful piece of news alluded to above. True, late Friday afternoon Mickey didn’t know who was going to pitch on Saturday night, but he definitely knew who was going to be pitching on Friday night. No use soft-pedaling the reality that a Jason Vargas start is the competitive equivalent of a get us over curve.
Jason’s four & door meant getting through nine would require five bullpen innings, a daunting order to be sure, but a scant request compared to the 7⅔ needed in Vargas’s last start. His successors would be working from ahead this time, thanks to a plethora of Met baserunners off Adam Wainwright and Geovanny Gallegos during the first four innings, enough driven in to construct four runs (Robinson Cano  fully awoke from his offensive nap with three hits and raised his batting average from .192 to .218). Seth Lugo  thus had some wiggle room when he entered in the fifth, which was great, because he had to wiggle it quite a little bit, stranding two in his first inning of work and giving up two runs on Lane Thomas’s first-ever homer in his second.
The net result of Seth’s shakiness was the contraction of a three-run advantage to two. In between his frames, that young hellcat Pete Alonso  — who’d somehow gone an entire week without exploring the real estate beyond National League fences — stepped up and belted a 432-foot home run to center off Cards reliever Ryan Helsley. Pete mashes all his taters off relievers. He loves the other team’s almost as much as Mickey is compelled to rely on his own.
Jeurys Familia , whose presence used to make me a little nervous on occasion but now catapults me into a constant state of fatalism, was superb in the seventh, putting down the Redbirds in order on seven pitches. Who could blame Callaway for continuing to roll his Familia dice? He’d been so admirably careful not to expose Vargas, why not give Jeurys a shot? One out and one double — to Yadier Molina, natch — indicated his luck had been pushed plenty. Familia gave way to Justin Wilson , who proceeded to mix dollops of misfortune (infield single, J.D. Davis  throwing error) with a spate of bad pitching (four unintentional balls to Kolten Wong, of them of the wild pitch variety). The cumulative effect wound up trimming the Mets’ lead to 5-4 and placing Cardinals on first and third. Wilson vamoosed in favor of Robert Gsellman , who’s been having not such a great year to date. Maybe it was his turn to turn it around, and he did, popping up Jedd Gyorko and grounding out Matt Carpenter. The Mets escaped the eighth up one.
This is where Edwin Diaz  comes in and blows away the opposition for another breeze of a save , but these are the Mets and those are the Cardinals and this is the bottom of the ninth at Busch Stadium. That’s not fatalism talking. We know St. Louis. It’s not the Gateway to Easy Wins. Sure enough, after striking out Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong proved nearly one Paul one too many. He lined Diaz’s one-oh slider on a plane to left field, but before you could say “there’s trouble in River City” three times fast, ace glove man Jeff McNeil  — just transferred in from the outfield — nabbed that harbinger of doom for the second out. McNeil took a rare collar Friday night, his 0-for-5 plunging his .424 BA clear down to .391, but this is one Squirrel who always finds some kind of nut.
You’d have to be some kind of nut yourself to figure the storm had passed. Diaz walked Marcell Ozuna and allowed a single to Martinez, chasing Ozuna to third. The next batter was Molina. The next batter has been Molina since 2006. We survived Wainwright Friday. What were the odds we’d get through Perpetual Hurricane Yadier without one last huff and puff and potential blow of our house down?
Somehow we did. Somehow Edwin flied the Big Yad Wolf to center and the Mets were somehow 5-4 winners . I keep saying “somehow” because the more the night wore on — despite Vargas’s competent start and the visitors’ eleven hits — the more it developed a strong “we have no business winning this game” vibe. On the other hand, because of Vargas’s competent start and the visitors’ eleven hits, it also maintained an equally strong “we have no business losing this game” vibe. Sometimes the vibe you prefer high-fives you when the game is over.
Unavailable for any kind of maneuvers involving the use of an arm for at least the next week is Jacob deGrom , whose Metsian significance is so gargantuan it’s a wonder his name isn’t in the first paragraph of this otherwise relatively informative report. In the interest of preserving a modicum of good vibrations, I opted to bury the lede  as deep as I could. I just hope we don’t have to bury the season. Jake, who was first going to start Friday, then Saturday, was announced as a St. Louis non-starter altogether by Callaway. The best right elbow in baseball was “barking,” the manager explained, which didn’t explain much, except variations on “barking,” including “bark” and “barky,” immediately replaced “redacted” as the most repeated word on social and electronic media.
It’s all about caution, the Mets barked back. Jacob had that strep throat, so he wasn’t on his usual between-starts routine. He felt a little “mild soreness” on the off day, but rebounded to “significantly better following treatment” from the team’s health and performance staff Friday. Leaving alone the straight line a decade of injury-fueled cynicism has bequeathed us, we’ll truly believe the trainers did no harm. Anyway, the Mets decided not to mess around with their crown jewel and opted to IL him, which is now a thing, and schedule him an MRI, which is always a thing. If you peer hard into the Mets’ skyline logo, you’ll see a magnetic resonance imaging tube whirring steadily on one of the Woolworth Building’s upper floors.
With deGrom out for a spell (and nothing more, we hope/pray/beseech the gods), Saturday’s game, the one Callaway didn’t want to think about Friday before getting through Vargas’s start, will be in the hands of Chris Flexen . Its first pitches, anyway. Lest you’ve forgotten from his Quadruple-A cameos, Flexen’s the pitcher Vargas stands next to in the team picture to feel less bad about himself. But we’ll get through this, too.
There’s a big night coming up at Citi Field May 1, a week from Wednesday. It’s Island Harvest’s “Home Run to End Hunger,” a fundraiser organized by the food bank and presented by Petro Home Services. The event will revolve around the Mets’ game versus the Reds, include a Field Level ticket, offer premium experiences depending on the level of support a person can give and feature Mr. Met. What could be more of a home run?
Island Harvest  provides food and services to more than 300,000 Long Islanders who could really use the help, with “94 cents of every dollar contributed directed back” into its vital mission. You can learn more about “Home Run to End Hunger” here .