Votes of confidence turning to revivals?

2019-05-26 HowieKendrick

Howie Kendrick opened Sunday’s scoring with a blast over the scoreboard in right center . . . and, what a surprise, the Nats’ bullpen almost blew even a 9-0 lead before hanging in to win somehow . . .

Maybe there are times when a manager getting the dread “vote of confidence” from the front office is good for a club? Maybe. The Mets and the Nationals are arguing the affirmative in baseball’s court.

But the Nats damn near blew the case on cross examination Sunday afternoon. And they were lucky to escape with a 9-6 win.

Last Monday, the Mets went home from a disaster in Miami with Mickey Callaway facing execution. You could have fit in a closet every observer who didn’t think Callaway was going to get it, good and hard.

Then the Mets went forward to win six out of seven, including a four-sweep of the Nationals—whose own manager Dave Martinez has been on watch for a date with the guillotine—and back-to-back against the usually hapless Tigers after losing one the hard way Friday night but winning almost the hard way Saturday and Sunday.

Before the Nats opened against the likewise ordinarily hapless Marlins Friday night, the Nats’ brass, specifically ops president Mike Rizzo, gave Martinez the dread vote of confidence. With practically every Nats observer wondering when, not if Martinez was really going to be strapped into the guerney or the electric chair, depending on the mood of the brass.

So what did the Nats do? They took the first three from the Marlins with Max Scherzer due to go Fishing on Memorial Day.

But almost as if according to the script every Nats fan in creation has memorised this season, the bullpen couldn’t even let a 9-0 lead the Nats built before the seventh inning Sunday go unmolested. Scherzer could be forgiven if even he entertains a moment’s thought that Monday could become his memorial.

Maybe Patrick Corbin understood more than he’d come right out and say Saturday, when he talked Martinez into letting go out for the ninth and finish what he started, a four-hit shutout in which his mates rewarded him with a five-run fourth. Nothing to it, folks?

“I felt good,” the Nats lefthander said after the game. “I thought I could get three more. So I said I’ll get the next three.” Because, Skip, you and me both know saying we have a bullpen is like saying Ma Barker’s running the day care center.

On Friday night, after a lot of back and forth and yet another infamous bullpen implosion, Juan Soto smashed a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to yank a lead back, Matt Adams followed him with a bomb, and closer Sean Doolittle—abused in New York—shook off a ninth inning leadoff launch (from Jorge Alfaro) to close out the 12-10 win.

The Nats felt good enough after Corbin’s shutout that Victor Robles, who was nearly decapitated by a pitch Saturday night, hit the pregame batting practice cage Sunday wearing a full fire helmet to laugh it off. With these Nats, this season so far, there’s nothing like a rare pair of back-to-back wins to let a man shake off disaster with a pre-game gag.

Then Erick Fedde—whose splendid start in New York got ruined by (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the bullpen and some late but frisky Mets hitting—cranked up and went to work. He worked so fast his first two innings Sunday you’d have missed them if you blinked even once.

Howie Kendrick slowed the lad down the right way when he led off the bottom of the second and wrestled Marlins lefthander Caleb Smith—bringing a .173 batting average against him into the game—to a ninth pitch that he sent four rows into the right center field seats above the Nationals Park scoreboard.

When the Fish decided to snap at Fedde in the top of the third, the Nats said not so fast, kiddo. Nats catcher Yan Gomes whipped Migeul Rojas—aboard second after a leadoff single and a Smith sacrifice—out, right on the snoot, trying to steal third. Adam Eaton ran down and pounced on Harold Ramirez’s double down the right field line to keep Curtis Granderson from even thinking about scoring. And Fedde struck Neil Walker out on a delicious curve ball with the bases loaded to finish that threat.

Then Kendrick shot one past shortstop into left center to send two home in the bottom of the third, just moments after Adeiny Hechavarria in New York launched a three-run homer to pull the Mets back and ahead of the suddenly tenacious Tigers, 4-3 in the sixth for a score that held up despite a dicey ninth. And Brian Dozier promptly banged one off the top of the scoreboard to send home another pair of Nats. All that with two outs, yet.

With Smith out and Wei-Yin Chen opening the bottom of the sixth on the mound for the Marlins, Gomes opened with a double and pinch hitter Michael A. Taylor (for reliever Tanner Rainey) doubled him home. Eaton reached on an infield hit to set up first and third for Anthony Rendon, and the third baseman banged a two-run triple off the center field fence before Juan Soto sent him home with a sacrifice fly just deep enough to count.

This kind of Nats largess just couldn’t go unpunished, could it?

Javy Guerra shook a leadoff hit off in the seventh but, with one out and one on in the eighth, he fed Walker something so meaty Walker would have been cited for neglect if he didn’t drive it over the center field fence.

Martinez felt safe enough with a now-seven run lead to hand rookie James Borque his first major league assignment. Borque is a righthander who sports a thick mustache with hints of Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers’s famous handlebars on either end. He sported anything but Fingers’s equally famous command in his maiden voyage.

He turned a leadoff walk into Miguel Rojas dialing a sharp Area Code 4-6-3 and a huge heave of relief. Unfortunately, he served a followup double by Rosell Herrera and a five-pitch walk to Garrett Cooper. Then Ramirez’s grounder to the back of second tied Dozier’s hands against throwing him out and the Fish had ducks on the pond that sat there just long enough for Anderson to send a three-run double to the back of the yard.

Martinez reached for Wander Suero post haste to spare the rook any further humiliation. Walker shot an almost immediate RBI single up the pipe before Suero somehow managed to strike Starlin Castro out to finish at last.

With a 9-0 lead you’re in a position where you can just about dare the other guys to swing away. Doesn’t mean it’s smart to make the offer in the first place. When, oh when, Nats fans must have asked, will this bullpen quit making things between difficult and impossible even when they’re so simple a child of five could navigate them?

The Nats out-scoring the Fish 26-10 on the weekend so far is just a little more comfortable than the Mets in New York out-scoring the Tigers 17-16 while all three games were decided by a single run. So why does it feel that the Mets had an easier time of things?

Votes of confidence have gotten a little mojo working for the Mets and the Nats so far. Memorial Day may not be so simple. Scherzer may have a simple enough time of it, even if he might have to think about becoming his own setup man at minimum. But the Nats may have one moment of pity for the Mets, who have to deal with the Dodgers in Los Angeles starting on Memorial Day.

And unlike the Nats last week or the Tigers in the end this weekend, the Dodgers don’t know the meaning of rolling over and playing dead. Forget their manager, the Mets themselves need a vote and a shot of confidence, even with Jacob deGrom opening against Clayton Kershaw. Maybe a three-finger shot. Or, a howitzer.

Lay off Cespedes

2019-05-24 YoenisCespedes

Yoenis Cespedes on his Florida ranch.

Among all the Mets who aren’t there because of injuries, Yoenis Cespedes seems to draw the most witless derision by fans about whom you can no longer say they should know better. Because Joe and Jane Fan too often regard injuries on and off the field as the product of some moral flaw almost regardless of how the injuries were incurred.

That is why there are analysts who believe Joe and Jane Fan are bigger boneheads than a lot of the ones who earn six or higher-figure salaries to write cracks or columns condemning  players like Cespedes. Or, who blog about them.

Cespedes’s Mets tenure hasn’t exactly been unhazardous to his health as it is. He was already on the injured list since last year, rehabilitating after surgery to remove calcification on both his heels. And while rehabbing at his Florida ranch, Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures last weekend when he hit a hole on the grounds, requiring surgery to end a season that hadn’t even begun for him.

To look at some of the comments on assorted forums as well as some of the headlines in the press you’d have thought Cespedes was some sort of mental case.

“MORON!” went a small passel of fan comments from forum to forum. “Folly Rancher” hollered the headline on the New York Post‘s back page. “Like a soldier who shoots himself in the foot to avoid combat,” went another fan comment. On Twitter, Slam Central Station, which describes itself as “the official banter account for the 27 times World Series champion New York Yankees,” wrote “Yoenis Cespedes after signing a 4-year, $110M contract with the Mets” to describe . . . a video of a young woman falling over while walking in a pair of highly elevated shoes.

Maybe I’m out of line but I can think of a lot more bizarre ways in which professional athletes have spent their disabled time rehabilitating. And if you think Cespedes owning, living on, and rehabilitating on a Florida ranch makes him a candidate for the rubber room, I’m afraid of what you think about Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. Who’s divided his baseball retirement between baseball administrative activities or on his Texas ranch.

If Ryan hasn’t incurred any strange injuries during his ranching life, perhaps he’s fortunate. Another former pitcher, Ross Ohlendorf, lives the rancher’s life. “Ohlendorf is sympathetic to Céspedes’ plight,” writes The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark, “because he has been there and done almost every ranch thing imaginable, right up to his current case of nasty poison ivy.”

It may be a better thing that Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures. If Joe and Jane Fan, Joe and Jane Headline Writer, and Joe and Jane Blogger/Tweeter can mock, rip, and ream him for hitting a hole on his grounds the wrong way, don’t ask what they’d do if Cespedes came up with poison ivy instead. Would you rather he broke his ankles on the dance floor of a New York hot spot trying too hard to impress a few females?

They’re already less than empathetic with the likes of Albert Pujols, whose career decline phase has been accelerated all too much by the series of leg and heel injuries he’s incurred since the first season he played for the Angels on a mammoth contract.

You hear them talk about his inability to do just about anything other than continue to hit home runs as if he was nothing more than a useless bum. You don’t hear them talk about the injuries that reduced the Hall of Famer-in-waiting to the performance level of a reserve player in the first place.

And they’ve been long less than empathetic with hapless Yankee outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s been the poster boy for almost epidemic injuries almost from the moment he became a Yankee in the first place. Remind them that Ellsbury’s injuries came entirely from, you know, playing the game, and you might be reminded not to let those pesky facts get in the way of their comforting biases.

They see the money and forget these men are only human, too. And the minute you suggest to Joe and Jane Fan, Joe and Jane Headline Writer, and Joe and Jane Blogger/Tweeter the plain truth that professional baseball isn’t just a matter of suiting up and playing a game, that it requires work and lots of it and comes with risks and lots of them, they’d sooner sign your deportation papers than ponder the depth of what you’ve just told them.

You’d have thought by some of the comments, brickbats, and slanders that Cespedes’s entire career has been one marked by recklessness. Stepping wrongly into a hole on his ranch grounds may actually be the only injury he’s incurred when not playing the game. He’s had more than his share of baseball injuries already, and a few times he exacerbated them while actually—what a concept, albeit a foolish one—trying to play through them.

2019-05-24 YoenisCespedesMets

Yoenis Cespedes, when he’s a healthy Met.

(Don’t even go there about the time the Mets asked Cespedes not to play golf while he was rehabbing an injury a couple of years ago. You could probably win the pennant with the players who’ve enjoyed golf off the baseball field even when they were on a baseball disabled list. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine to fellow Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, when they went into Cooperstown together: “You made me better by watching you pitch, and you made me wealthier with all the money we took from Smoltzie on the golf course”)

Earning eight figures a season doesn’t make baseball players any less prone to the slings and arrows of the game on the field and life off it, unless you really are dumb enough to think $29 million a year immunises you against illness or injury.

And Cespedes’s ankle isn’t even close to the most bizarre injury any baseball player has suffered. Listen up, Joe and Jane Jackass.

Cespedes didn’t put his false teeth into his hip pocket and then get a bite in the butt while sliding into second base. (Nondescript pitcher Clarence Bethen thought of that in 1923.)

He didn’t break his ankle chasing (it was alleged) Jill St. John down a ski slope. (Cy Young Award-winning Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg managed that after the 1967 season.)

He didn’t take up an exercise routine involving running backward and step subsequently into a gopher hole causing a back injury. (That was 1980s pitcher Jamie Easterly’s idea.)

He didn’t try demonstrating a slam dunk technique on a storefront awning and catch his ring in the awning to shred ligaments in the hand and lose a season. (Braves closer Cecil Upshaw did that in 1970.)

He didn’t spend a day off running too fast from his kitchen back to his television set and busting a toe out of desperation to see a buddy batting on a baseball telecast. (Hall of Famer George Brett did that because he couldn’t bear to miss a Bill Buckner at-bat.)

He didn’t strain or injure his back pulling on his cowboy boots. (Hall of Famer Wade Boggs did.)

He didn’t fall asleep with a bitter-cold ice bag on his foot to give himself a case of frostbite in August and cost himself a few games. (Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson did.)

He didn’t get a sunburned face on a tanning bed. (Marty Cordova did.)

He didn’t decide that if a motivational speaker could tear the thickest phone book in half then he could, until his dislocated shoulder told him, “No, you can’t!” (Relief pitcher Steve Sparks learned that the hard way.)

He didn’t think he could get away with hauling a full heavy side of deer meat up a flight of stairs until the venison-to-be won the weight division and sent him flying down into a broken collarbone. (Clint Barmes did, also in 2010.)

He didn’t tear his left meniscus trying to smoosh a pie in a teammate’s face during said teammate’s postgame television interview. (Marlins utility player Chris Coghlan did, trying to nail Wes Helms in 2010. An accident, you say? What do you think happened to Cespedes, then, a premeditated plot?)

He wasn’t the genius who forgot to look in all directions while reaching for a sock under his bed, until the suitcase his wife fiddled with on the bed fell over and injured his hand, an injury he tried to hide until even the blind saw he couldn’t grip his bat properly. (Earth to Jonathan Lucroy, 2012.)

And he didn’t injure his ankle while jumping a trampoline, with or without a son. (Joba Chamberlain jumped into a dislocated ankle while trampolining with his then five year old son, also in 2012.)

If you still think Cespedes suffering ankle fractures on his ranch during a surgery rehabilitation makes him a moron, I have some land to sell you cheap. On Bizarro World.

 

Toast of the tomb?

2019-05-23 DaveMartinez

Dave Martinez may have been frustrated by a lot more than just a checked-swing strikeout getting his hitter and himself tossed Thursday afternoon.

When this week began, the Nationals went to New York in the somewhat delicious position of maybe holding the fate of the Mets’ embattled manager in their hands. Starting with the day Mickey Callaway received the guaranteed-to-make-you-shudder vote of confidence from the Mets’ brass after their weekend of Miami vice.

The week is now almost over. And it’s the admittedly injury-battered Nats going home to face the same Marlins this weekend who made life so miserable for the Mets last weekend, before the Mets did to the Nats what the Nats could have done to the Mets: the possible conversion to “when” from “if” manager Dave Martinez would be the toast of the tomb.

It must have been in the back of Martinez’s mind Thursday afternoon, when he got himself thrown out late in the game after hustling out futilely in the top of the eighth to pick up where his freshly-tossed batter Howie Kendrick left off.

Kendrick got the ho-heave for arguing a checked swing third strike with plate umpire Bruce Dreckman despite a few television replays showing his bat crossed the front of the plate by a fingertip. Martinez went out and put on a show that would have gotten him laughed out of Lou Piniella’s, Billy Martin’s, and Earl Weaver’s taverns post haste.

He spiked his hat so weakly despite a hefty windup that it almost spun like a paper plate around the batter’s box. He didn’t kick dirt so much as he brushed it almost lazily around the plate. Not a drop kick or a dirt punt to be seen. Dreckman must have thought he was throwing Martinez out of the game not for insubordination but to spare the poor chump any more embarrassment than he must have felt already.

The good news was the Nats putting an end to Mets reliever Robert Gsellman’s fifteen-inning scoreless streak almost the moment Martinez disappeared and turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. The bad news was Wander Suero throwing enough of a bloated diet of cutters in the bottom of the inning that Carlos Gomez whacked a three-run homer to turn that lead into a 6-4 Mets lead and, in very short order, Nats loss.

A four-game sweep from the team whose own manager they could have guaranteed assassination this series. At the helm, a manager of their own who really does seem to be in so far over his head he can look up and not see the propellers of any ship sailing above.

“Dave Martinez is a good man,” read the headline on Thomas Boswell’s Washington Post column Wednesday morning. “But he probably shouldn’t be managing the Nationals.” The Mets, who have a good man people think probably shouldn’t be managing them, either, made that headline the understatement of the week.

But on Thursday the Mets turned Callaway’s own eighth-inning brain vapour into a virtue by default. After reversing his early season proclamation that there’d be no way Edwin Diaz would see four-out save chances so soon if at all, Callaway now seemed to reverse his reversal. He needed a four-out save try from Diaz to keep the Nats from overthrowing that 3-1 lead. He didn’t go for it.

Callaway got bloody lucky that Gomez caught hold of the Suero cutter that didn’t even pinch. And that prompted another Post baseball writer, Barry Svrluga, away from being quite as kindly as Boswell was a day earlier. “Who cares about Dave Martinez?” went the headline on Svrluga’s column within an hour after the Mets finished the sweep. “In a lost season, Nationals face tougher decisions.”

The National League East race that was supposed to be between four teams has been shrunk to a two-and-a-half-team race before May’s finish. Nobody knows just when Callaway’s stay of execution expires, but the Nats go home from New York with Martinez’s execution orders possibly being drawn up as I write.

Every detailed account I’ve read to date tells me Martinez knows how to get along with and manage people and personalities. Those of his players who’ve disagreed with how he’s deployed them admit he listens to their complaints, discusses them, never holds the complaints against them, and even (as Boswell pointed out) admits when he blunders. If you could take your baseball sins to a confessional, Martinez could be accused of melting the priest’s ears off.

After cashiering Dusty Baker for blowing a postseason win Baker had absolutely nothing all that much to do with blowing, the Nats hired Martinez figuring, reasonably, that anyone who spent a decade total as Joe Maddon’s consigliori—including a surprise World Series gig for the Rays and an even bigger surprise World Series conquest for the Cubs—couldn’t possibly let the needs and necessities of baseball games leave him stuck for answers.

This week the earnest, glass-half-full Martinez was stuck for too many answers while he was out-generaled by a Mets manager about whom you can say it’s pushing it to hand him a rank higher than master sergeant. It got out of hand enough that even when Martinez did the right thing—bringing in Sean Doolittle to stop the bleeding and keep it close in the eighth Wednesday night—it blew up in his face.

First, the customarily reliable Doolittle plunked Gomez in the elbow guard to load the bases. Then, Juan Lagares cleared them with a double that weird-hopped off the bottom corner of the left field wall padding. Then, Martinez elected to put former Nats catcher Wilson Ramos on first intentionally to let Doolittle get to Mets pinch hitter Rajai Davis.

Davis, a fading journeyman three years removed from his greatest glory, a mammoth Game Seven-tying two-run homer in the 2016 World Series. Davis, who signed a minor league deal with the Mets last December, was called up from their Syracuse minor league team, and had to hire an Uber driver to take him from Scranton to Citi Field—where first he couldn’t find the park, then he couldn’t find the clubhouse, and didn’t meet his new boss until the fifth inning.

That’s so Mets, the world and probably the Nats in hand thought when Davis went out to bat for Mets reliever Drew Gagnon. In probable need of atoning for meeting the new boss late on the first day of his unlikely promotion, Davis hit a three-run homer and put the game far enough out of reach that Callaway would have wasted Diaz by sending him out for the ninth, instead ending the game and the Mets’ win with a (Tyler) Bashlor party.

To the Nats it must have felt as though this was becoming just so Nats.

You can’t hold Martinez responsible for Adam Eaton missing first on Thursday, or for Juan Soto being stranded after a leadoff triple, or for Yan Gomes throwing the ball into center field with no backup crossing over behind second, or for Suero showing so many cutters Gomez could have swung a meat cleaver through it and sent both halves over the fence.

But Martinez “hasn’t fixed those unforgivable ‘little things’,” Svrluga writes, almost mercilessly, “and they’re killing this club; strategy-wise, he’s too often chasing the game, trying to solve yesterday’s problems today; and worse, he can’t offset those deficiencies with his presence, which is far more part-of-the-wallpaper than let’s-go-to-war.”

Svrluga won’t be the only observer wondering now not just when and not if Martinez will be executed but when and not if the Nats should start re-tooling if not rebuilding.

Including thoughts of turning Anthony Rendon into fresh talent, Doolittle into something more in the bullpen than yet another helping of bull, and even Max Scherzer into value before Scherzer can exercise his 10-5 rights and stamp REJECTED on any possible trade.

Including thoughts of retooling around a pretty solid core of Turner, Soto, Victor Robles, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. And maybe even Erick Fedde, who gave the Nats a terrific chance to win Tuesday night before Martinez suddenly had no choice but to turn that game over to the Show’s number one arson squad. Of arsonists, not firefighters.

“The Nats still can’t defend against a safety squeeze bunt or remember that the cutoff man is not twenty feet tall or grasp that a baserunner’s first responsibility is to avoid getting picked off,” Boswell wrote. “The Nats still regard turning double plays as optional; they need a manager who regards it as a prerequisite to remaining in the lineup tomorrow. Pitchers, including Max Scherzer (and Wander Suero), don’t seem to grasp that giving up a gopher ball on an 0-2 pitch is about the dumbest thing you can do.

“Martinez addressed all these issues,” he continued. “But after 210 games, they haven’t changed. The Nats now have a clubhouse . . . in which no one is above the law. So why all the recidivist scofflaws?”

General manager Mike Rizzo loves to hoist his mantra: “You’re either in or you’re in the way.” As Svrluga writes, that should be his question the rest of the way. (Never mind that Rizzo and perhaps the Nats’ owners often enough have an off-kilter view of who or what’s in the way.) Martinez is in, on Rizzo’s terms, but that hasn’t alleviated his in-game confusions and his players’ inconsistent abilities to execute.

“If this guy ever gets to work with a young team,” Boswell wrote, “that grows with him and melds with him as he learns to handle a pitching staff and a bullpen . . . he might be good.” Might, in more ways than just strength, doesn’t make right. And Martinez has managed the Nats to the fastest 31st loss of a season since the team landed in Washington in the first place.

If Martinez’s execution orders have been signed and sealed, you can be forgiven if the list of reasons ends with, “Allowing the manager most likely to be guillotined to lock him into the blade’s path instead.”

This season especially, that’s so Nats.

A three-run homer bails out a manager’s brain vapor

2019-05-23 CarlosGomez

Usually, you come out of your shoe swinging hard. Carlos Gomez came out of his running hard enough—stealing second in the fifth, before hitting the three-run homer that bailed his manager out.

Leave it to Mickey Callaway to go from two steps from the electric chair to three games worth of resembling a craftsman to tripping over his own sensible change of mind in one harsh top of the eighth. Here was the perfect opportunity to send Edwin Diaz out for one of those four-out saves Callaway formerly quaked over asking, until he either saw the light or felt the heat when his execution seemed nigh.

Diaz wasn’t seen anywhere near a warmup mound in the Mets bullpen, though Tyler Bashlor and Ryan O’Rourke were. Bloody good thing for Callaway that Carlos Gomez bailed him out with a three-run homer. He’d have had a lot of splainin’ to do otherwise.

You guessed it. That’s when Diaz was ordered up and throwing. You take your victories when you can get them, of course, but Callaway didn’t have to make it this hard on himself or his Mets, even though the 6-4 win did consummate a sweep against even the hapless Nats on which nobody would have bet after last weekend’s Miami disaster.

Two outs, Nationals on second and third, Robert Gsellman already having allowed the Nats to cut a hard-pried Mets lead of 3-1 down to a single run. That was after he opened the inning nailing Howie Kendrick on a check-swing strikeout that got both Kendrick and Nats manager Dave Martinez tossed for arguing. So far, so good.

But Diaz wasn’t seen on either warmup mound in the Mets bullpen, though Tyler Bashlor and Ryan O’Rourke were. And Gerardo Parra, pinch hitting for Nats starter Stephen Strasburg, was checking in at the plate. The good news was Gsellman starting Parra in the hole 0-2. The bad news was, after missing with a curve ball and a changeup and a weak foul off, Parra shooting a base hit to right center to overthrow the Mets lead.

Then Gsellman struck out Trea Turner for the side, after the Mets’ possibility of sweeping the otherwise hapless Nats suddenly hovered above an alligator pit. And Diaz still wasn’t seen warming up until the Mets opened the bottom of the eighth with pinch hitter Dominic Smith’s leadoff double.

So at minimum Callaway figured now to bring him in in a re-tied game. Assuming it would be re-tied, after Nats reliever Wander Suero dialed his inner Mariano Rivera and, feeding Todd Frazier and Pete Alonso a diet of cutters, back-to-back strikeouts.

But the Nats inexplicably elected to put Mets catcher Wilson Ramos aboard first. Unless they thought Ramos couldn’t possibly account for a second Met run behind Smith on any base hit, since Ramos runs at paraplegic speed, the move made no sense. It made even less sense when Gomez fell behind 1-2, with Suero continuing to serve up the same strictly cutter diet, before Suero served a cutter that didn’t cut and Gomez sent it on a high line over the left field fence.

Then Callaway brought Diaz in for the conventional ninth-inning save opportunity. First, Diaz struck out Adam Eaton. Then Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon channeled his inner Robinson Cano, sort of, nicking one in front of the plate fair and standing frozen as Ramos picked up the ball fair and tagged him. Then Diaz fought Matt Adams to a tenth pitch and struck him out swinging on a pitch that dove so low a golfer couldn’t have gotten a driver onto it.

Strasburg and Mets starter Steven Matz dueled peculiarly enough. The Mets pried only one run out of Strasburg with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly, but the Nats shoved Matz into and out of trouble with ten hits and nothing to show for them than a sixth-inning run, scoring on a bunt single by Brian Dozier and an error of styling by Mets second baseman Adeiny Hechavarria on a throw, allowing Juan Soto—who missed the cycle by a homer on the day—to score it.

(For those scoring at home, the Mets have been the victims of only three cycles in their entire history, with only one of those three coming at home, in 1965 in Shea Stadium. The last two—to Ray Lankford and Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero—came in those players’ home playpens.)

Somehow, the Nats spent the day going 3-for-14 with men on second or farther to the Mets’ going 2-for-6 likewise. The Nats went 6-for-33 in that situation over all four games. Matz and company Thursday only completed the Nats looking guilty of first-degree desertion.

And somehow, Gsellman—who saw his fifteen-inning scoreless streak evaporate with two bad pitches, a fastball down the chute to Parra and a sinker that sank about as much as a 747 on takeoff to Soto—came out alive and with credit for a win. Still believe in the irrevocable supremacy of pitching wins? Explain how Gsellman barfed a Met lead into a Met deficit and won the game.

Oh, yes. Gomez provided all the explanation you needed in the bottom of the eighth. Lucky for Gsellman. And, lucky for Callaway.

For the moment, Gomez—who hadn’t hit one out in a Met uniform in twelve years—made Callaway resemble Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. (“The key to winning baseball games,” Weaver liked to say, “is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.”) The skipper could look worse, and too often he has.

But what happens the next time the Mets might be in need of a four-out save? Maybe it’s best not to ask just yet. The finish wasn’t quite as pretty as the rest of the series but let the Mets enjoy this sweep. The Nats’ Lucys got a lot more splainin’ to do after this one.

Even doing right can be turned wrong

2019-05-22 RajaiDavis

Can’t find the ballpark, get there in the third, can’t find the clubhouse, don’t see the boss until the fifth—that’s how you pinch hit a three-run homer in the eighth, folks . . .

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.