There are few feelings in baseball worse than making the right move that gets blown up in your face. Especially when you have the league’s shakiest bullpen other than your closer. And you’re thought to be in a seat almost as hot as the one your counterpart in the other Citi Field dugout was thought to occupy.
Unless it’s watching your one genuinely reliable relief stopper surrender a three-run double and a three-run homer within two blinks. The latter hit by a veteran recalled from the minors who almost couldn’t find his way to the park or to his clubhouse.
Dave Martinez’s seat may have gone from toast temperature to broiler in one terrible eighth inning Wednesday night, and he had nobody in the mirror to blame this time. The Mets—including a former World Series almost-hero who couldn’t find Citi Field itself until about the third inning—took care of that with a six-run eighth and a 6-1 win and an omelette all over Martinez’s face.
And Rajai Davis, who was once an Indians icon for tying a seventh World Series game with a mammoth two-run homer, must feel like there was an angel on his shoulder after he could have spent the first night of his new promotion in the proverbial doghouse.
“I was trying to stay short to the ball,” Davis said after he hit a three-run homer to finish the six-run eighth. If he hadn’t, it’s not impossible that his stay as a Met could have ended up a long walk off the shortiest pier along the Gowanus Canal.
Martinez didn’t want to ask Sean Doolittle for a six-out save even though Doolittle is maybe the only Nats relief pitcher this year who refuses to leave himself at the mercy of an opposing lineup. Even with a 1-0 lead as the inning began.
Even with that lead earned the hard way, with the previous two seasons’ Cy Young Award winners, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, dueling hard, fighting through less than their best, and battling despite a plate umpire with an incredibly changing-on-a-dime strike zone that had both pitchers and about half of each side’s hitters fuming.
Martinez opened the Mets’ eighth with Kyle Barraclough. Having two outs but a man on second wasn’t Barraclough’s fault, since in between the outs Mets second baseman Adeiny Hechavarria—in the game after Robinson Cano strained a quad muscle on a baserunning play—shot one high toward the left center field wall on which, inexplicably, both Nats center fielder Victor Robles and left fielder Juan Soto pulled up short, allowing a catchable ball to hit the wall.
Then Barraclough walked Mets third baseman Todd Frazier on four pitches. With two out and the Nats still up by the sole previous run—a first-inning homer by Adam Eaton—Martinez took no more chances. He reached for Doolittle. He had every reason on earth to have faith in Doolittle.
He had no reason to believe Doolittle would hit Carlos Gomez on the first pitch to set the ducks on the pond, right off the elbow guard with a wicked ricochet. He had no reason to believe that Juan Lagares would clear the pond with a drive into the left center field gap. And he had no reason to believe putting late Mets catching insertion Wilson Ramos aboard to get to ancient Davis would telegraph disaster.
Davis signed a minor league deal with the Mets last December and was toiling on their Syracuse farm when Brandon Nimmo hit the injured list and Davis got the call. His age caught up to him in earnest, alas, little by little, after he became an Indians legend by taking Aroldis Chapman deep to tie Game Seven of the 2016 World Series.
When he arrived in New York Wednesday, the 38-year-old Davis had a hard time finding both the ballpark and the Mets’ clubhouse. He didn’t even meet his new skipper Mickey Callaway—the pitching coach for those 2016 Indians—until the fifth inning. Yes, that’s so Mets.
Naturally, then, Davis got the call to bat in the eighth. That, too, is just so Mets. And he fought Doolittle to a ninth pitch on a 2-2 count after several lofty foul offs. Then came pitch nine, the ninth straight fastball of the sequence. And Davis drilled it over the left field fence. There’s nothing like a howitzer shot for three runs to get you off the hook for failing to have your GPS calibrated properly on the first day of your new promotion.
Out in the Mets bullpen, a fully warmed-up Edwin Diaz suddenly knew he’d get the night off, and Tyler Bashlor shook off a one-out single by Juan Soto to strike Matt Adams out and lure Kurt Suzuki into a game-ending force.
Martinez may have had his issues with game tactics and resource management in his first two seasons on the Nats’ bridge, but this one wasn’t on him. He didn’t build this Nats bullpen, and it wasn’t his idea to enter tonight’s game with his pen brandishing a collective ERA over six going in.
If he couldn’t bring himself to ask Doolittle for six outs at least he was sharp enough to know his best chance to keep that 1-0 lead in the Nats’ harried hands was to bring his lefthander in for four outs.
If neither Scherzer nor deGrom expected to have to have a psychological wrestling match with plate umpire Ryan Blakney until they each came out of the game, Doolittle didn’t exactly go to the mound looking to hand Gomez first on the house, never mind a pair of bases-emptying drives that handed him his head on the proverbial plate.
All Nats fans know is someone got some splainin’ to do. Good luck trying to explain Wednesday night’s inexplicable. I’m not even sure the Mets can explain their part in it, and they were the ones doing it.