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.