You’re not going to believe this. Even I’m not sure I believe it, and I was watching.
The Mets hosting the Nationals. Each team shepherded by a pair of managers about whom saying they’re on the proverbial hot seat is a little like saying the Titanic had a little bump on the starboard hull. Playing the second game of a set that began with Mets manager Mickey Callaway barely dodging a date with the executioner.
As if to give Callaway their own vote of confidence after the front office gave him one Monday afternoon, the Mets beat the Nats 5-3 in ten innings Monday night. And it proved to be nothing compared to how the Mets beat them 6-5 Tuesday night.
And, to how Callaway actually out-skippered Nats manager Dave Martinez when the same situation presented to each skipper. With Martinez having no further to look than across the field as well as the mound to get the hint.
Three times the Mets came from behind in the game and entered the top of the ninth tied at five. And Callaway decided to forget whatever it is his Book told him earlier in the season regarding his closer Edwin Diaz.
Actually, Callaway had decided then that Diaz wasn’t going to be in anything much other than no-questions-asked save situations, even when the Mets needed a stopper before such situations arose, if they arose.
Maybe Callaway saw the light. Maybe he felt the heat. But that was then, this was now, and there was Diaz strolling to the mound to open the top of the ninth in a five-all tie. And he zipped his way around a one-out single with two strikeouts for the side. Then it was Martinez’s turn.
Martinez’s closer Sean Doolittle was nowhere to be seen in the bottom of the ninth. “Martinez considered using Doolittle,” noted the Washington Post‘s Jesse Dougherty, “but wanted to keep him ready for a potential save situation.” Infamous last words?
If you didn’t count Mets rookie Pete Alonso hitting a 1-2 service about 25 feet above the top of the left field foul pole to tie the game at five in the first place with one out in the bottom of the eighth, Martinez liked what he saw from rookie righthander Tanner Rainey. Maybe too much so.
Martinez stayed with Rainey. And at first Martinez looked like a genius when Rainey struck out Carlos Gomez on a climbing 3-2 fastball. Then Rainey walked pinch-hitter Adeiny Hechavarria after a seven-pitch wrestle. After which Rainey walked late game insertion J.D. Davis on seven pitches.
Doolittle was still the invisible Nat, but Kyle Barraclough, one of the Nats’ more notorious arsonists, was very visible warming up most of the inning. In he came. You could hear everyone back in Washington unoccupied with the foibles and follies of government wondering aloud if the game was lost right then and there. You couldn’t blame them.
At first Barraclough looked to keep things in order enough when he got Jeff McNeil to hop one that might have been a extra innings-setting double play, until the ball hopped oddly to second baseman Brian Dozier allowing McNeil, who’d broken out of the batter’s box like a horse busting out of the gate, to make first safe and first and third, period.
And Doolittle remained the invisible Nat.
After McNeil took second on the house, the Nats not even bothering, Barraclough fell behind 3-1 to Mets shortstop Amed Rosario. Then Rosario bopped one off the plate and it two-hopped to his Nats counterpart Trea Turner playing deep enough. Rosario up the line and Hechavarria from third made McNeil resemble a flu-addled mule, Rosario beating Turner’s throw to first by a step and Hechavarria shooting home with the winning run.
To think that the Nats had taken a 3-1 lead off Mets starter Zack Wheeler in the seventh, after Callaway left Wheeler in for one pitch too many, the one-out/one-on/1-1 hanging slider Dozier hung over the left field fence.
To think that Callaway atoned for that mistake in the bottom of the inning when he shifted into all-hands-on-deck mode and got rewarded richly enough. By usually slow catcher Wilson Ramos following a leadoff single by taking second alertly on a passed ball. By Wheeler’s pinch hitter Dom Smith wringing Nats reliever Wander Suero for a four-pitch walk. By Davis catching hold of Suero’s hanging curve on 1-2 and sending it the other way off the top of the right field fence to give the Mets a 4-3 lead.
To think that Turner in the top of the eighth would hit a bizarre RBI double, the liner hitting a concrete sidewall past the left field foul line and then taking the kind of ricochet you’d see throwing a rubber ball to a stoop with the ball hitting the edge of a step, shooting past the oncoming Davis inserted into left field. And, that Juan Soto—who led off the top of the second with a hefty home run off Wheeler to open the game’s scoring—would double to right a walk and a sacrifice bunt later.
And, to think that Alonso would tie the game while breaking the Mets’ rookie record for most pre-All Star break home runs while also hitting the eleventh of his sixteen bombs on the season in or after the seventh inning.
No wonder he’s already in the Rookie of the Year conversation. So far as bullpens are concerned the bulls probably think Alonso might as well check in at the plate in a matador outfit with a big red cape for what he does to those bulls, and a sword instead of a bat.
But Callaway’s bigger test comes Wednesday, when Jacob deGrom squares off against Max Scherzer in the second meeting between National League Cy Young Award winners defending (deGrom) and past (Scherzer, twice). When he has to decide at long last, does he insist stubbornly on running Ramos out behind the plate despite the 5.33 ERA deGrom has throwing to him, or does he wake up and run Tomas Nido—throwing to whom deGrom’s ERA this year is 0.43—out to work?
Callaway showed Monday night that he can be a little on the bold side when the situation demands it. Well, Wednesday night demands it. If the Mets want a shot at sweeping the staggering Nats and maybe postponing Callaway’s execution orders far further while they’re at it, it needs to be Nido catching deGrom. There needn’t be any further debate.