Legit enough not to quit

Luis Gonzalez

Luis Gonzalez—the first Giants position player to pitch in back-to-back games since 1906 wasn’t exactly just thrown to the Mets wolves in the ninth ┬áMonday night. The Mets didn’t exactly abuse a patsy, either.

They’ve been without uber ace Jacob deGrom all season thus far. They’ve lost Max Scherzer for six to eight weeks thanks to an oblique strain forcing him to pull out of a start against the Cardinals last Wednesday. Hands up to everyone who thought the Mets would fold the way they did often enough when the injury bugs swarmed in the recent past.

Guess again. Without deGrom the Mets sit 29-15 and a very healthy eight games in front of the second place Phillies in the National League East. Since Scherzer went down, they’re 5-1, including the game from which Max the Knife removed himself after feeling it a little too hard on the left side.

And, especially after they demolished the stumbling, likewise injury-plagued Giants 13-3 in San Francisco Monday night, a fifth straight loss for the Giants leaving them third in the NL West and with a 3-7 record in their last ten games.

The Mets rode a solid start from David Peterson, freshly recalled from the farm, to a five-run third, a four-run eight, a three-run ninth, and a single run in the sixth. They laid fifteen hits on legitimate Giants pitching and three more against Luis Gonzalez, a right fielder by trade asked to pinch hit in the eighth before taking one for the team in the ninth.

More on that soon enough. Peterson’s shakiest inning was the second, when Brandon Crawford tore a two-run homer out of him on 2-0, but then he got stronger for the next four innings before handing off to the Mets’ pen. Of course, the Mets’ bats made Peterson’s life almost comfortable enough that he could have pitched to the Giants from a lounger and kept them quiet.

That was Francisco Lindor with two out and the bases loaded on Giants starter Alex Cobb in the top of the third, bouncing a ground-rule double into the left field stands, before Pete Alonso sent a first pitch the other way over the left center field fence for a three-run shot.

The game stayed manageable enough for the Giants over the next several innings, before J.D. Davis—whose recent plate struggles had Met fans’ side of the Twitterverse demanding his replacement, if not his execution—sent Jeff McNeil home with a flare double on two outs into left in the top of the sixth.

That ended Cobb’s evening and turned the Mets fast and loose into the Giants’ bullpen, and in the top of the eight they got faster and looser. Alonso opened beating out an infield hit, McNeil hit a two-run homer to the top of Levi’s Landing, and Mark Canha followed almost immediately with a launch over the left center field fence, all on Giants reliever Mauricio Llovera’s dollar. One out and a Davis double later, Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika doubled Davis home with a shot all the way down the right field line.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler elected to waste no further pitching from there. He sent Gonzalez out to the mound for the top of the ninth. Prowl the social media world and you’ll find plenty harrumphing against the Mets’ lack of “sportsmanship” for the way they treated Gonzalez. It might be a fine thing to ask in reply whether it’s sportsmanlike to ask the other team to tank because you don’t want them to waste legitimate pitching.

Closing seven-run deficits or larger in the ninth inning isn’t unheard of, either. The Tigers looked doomed trailing by nine at 13-4 in the ninth on 25 April 1901 . . . and beat the ancient Milwaukee Brewers (about to become the American League edition of the St. Louis Browns) 14-13.

The same year, Cleveland trailed Washington by eight coming to the bottom of the ninth of a May game—and won, also 14-13. The 1934 Indians trailed the Philadelphia Athletics by eight in the top of the ninth in an August game and scored nine before holding on to win, 12-11. And the 1990 Phillies trailed the Dodgers by nine coming into the top of the ninth of another August contest—and won, too, also 12-11.

You get Kapler not wanting to burn a relief pitcher, but you also remember baseball doesn’t have a mercy rule yet. Suppose the Mets had cut Gonzalez and the Giants a break and played dead in the ninth. What was really to stop a) the Giants from mounting a seven-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth; or, b) anyone else from accusing the Mets of—dare we say it?—tanking for a game?

On the other hand, quit your yammering, social media meatheads. Gonzalez wasn’t just thrown to the Met wolves, either, and the Mets didn’t just pile on against a puny position player. He had a pitching record for the season entering Monday night and it wasn’t exactly a record to be ashamed of, either.

He’d had two previous relief outings before Monday night with a zero ERA to show for it. And, a very respectable 3.11 fielding-independent pitching rate to match it. He surrendered no runs and a hit to the Cardinals for an inning while the Giants got blown out 15-6 in St. Louis on 15 May. He surrendered no runs and a hit in two and a third while the Giants got blown out by the Padres 10-1 at home the night before the Mets came to town.

Come Monday night, Kapler and the Giants just might have had a reasonable hope that Gonzalez—whose only known pitch seems to be an eephus that goes up to the plate in a floating parabola—really could keep the Mets from any further damage in the top of the ninth.

The Mets must have scouted him on the mound somehow. Gonzalez may have gotten two quick ground outs to open, but he walked McNeil on 3-1, surrendered a clean base hit to Canha on 1-1, a two-run double to Eduardo Escobar on 1-0, and a first-pitch RBI single to Davis. He threw ten strikes out of nineteen pitches but four built three more Met runs.

Alas, Monday ruined Gonzalez’s chance to inspire waxings about the bullpen’s answer to Shohei Ohtani. He’s got a nifty .372 on-base percentage, an .825 OPS, a respectable 137 OPS+, and a 2022 Real Batting Average (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) of .523 so far.

But he only has two home runs on the season thus far, too. (Ohtani has nine, not to mention a 2.82 ERA/.2.14 FIP on the mound.) The Giants may continue using him to mop up on the mound when they’re getting blown out, but that’s probably all. They’re probably hoping Monday night was his exception, rather than his rule to come.

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