Maybe it’ll be better all around if the Mets end up out of the postseason picture, after all. If the manner in which manager Luis Rojas ran Tuesday’s 7-6 loss to the Cardinals is any indication, the Mets would be lucky to get past a wild card game, never mind to it in the first place.
No, we’re not taking the Mets’ hitters off the hook for going a measly 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position. We’re not taking them off the hook for killing four rallies by hitting into double plays.
We’re not taking them off the hook for one of those double plays coming in the tenth inning, after a walk to Jonathan Villar added to the free cookie on second to start the inning. And we’re not taking Pete Alonso off the hook for hitting into two of those double plays plus striking out with first and second to kill a fifth-inning chance at tying or taking a lead.
But we’d like to know what on earth Rojas was or wasn’t thinking, after he lifted his starting pitcher Marcus Stroman following six innings of two-run ball in which his only troublesome inning was the fourth, when the Cardinals scored those two runs on a deep infield hit and a sacrifice fly.
Since Rojas entered the game knowing he wasn’t going to use either Seth Lugo or Miguel Castro, he brought Aaron Loup in for the seventh. Watching Loup use only seven pitches to get two fly outs and a swinging strikeout, it didn’t cross Rojas’s mind that Loup might have another healthy and even economical inning in him.
No, Rojas went instead to Jeurys Familia, who’d been less than effective in his previous two outings, rather than giving the ball to his usual eighth-inning option Trevor May. May might have been pried for three runs in his previous outing (against the Yankees, in the 9/11 anniversary game), but he’d been sharp and un-scored upon in nine of his prior ten gigs until then.
Familia surrendered a one-out walk (to Paul Goldschmidt) and a two-run homer immediately to follow (by Tyler O’Neil). Not until the Cardinals followed at once with Nolen Arenado singling and Yadier Molina reaching on catcher’s interference did Rojas finally remember May. And May only caught Dylan Carlson looking at strike three before getting Edmundo Sosa to ground out for the side.
Rojas also didn’t read the deep text when inconsistent Edwin Diaz pitched a scoreless ninth with only thirteen pitches needed. Sure, Harrison Bader led off reaching on an error, but the Cardinals handed Diaz and the Mets a present by ordering pinch-hitter Lars (Sometimes You Feel Like a) Nootbaar to sacrifice. After such Cardinal generosity, Diaz needed only two pitches to get rid of Tommy Edman on a ground out and four to get Goldschmidt to foul out for the side.
Then Javier Baez led off the bottom of the ninth against Cardinals reliever Geovanny Gallegos by hitting the first pitch of the turn over the left field fence to tie it up at four. Three Met outs later, Diaz might well have been able to pitch the tenth successfully, leaving Rojas the option of Heath Hembree for the eleventh.
But no. He lifted Diaz and sent Hembree out for the tenth. Hembree struck O’Neil out swinging to lead off. The Mets ordered Arenado to first on the house and got exactly what they bargained for, Molina hitting into a double play to end the inning. It only cost Hembree seven pitches (remember, you don’t have to throw four wide ones for an intentional walk anymore) to do it. There might have been no harm, no foul if Rojas sent Hembree back out for the eleventh, either.
“I can’t ask any more from the guys,” Rojas said post-game, when asked why he didn’t push his pen men just a little bit harder considering the time running out on the Mets’ hair-thin postseason chances.
“Right now, it would be unfair,” he continued. “I can’t put them in a situation where it would compromise anything else, their stuff, their health. You might run a guy out there and he might not be the same pitcher you’re asking the guy to be, as well. There’s just a lot of things that go into it. Ideally, the manager wants to pitch everyone every day, but there’s some other things that come into play when you talk. It’s the player’s feel, the pitching coach’s feel, my feel.”
Where was the feel when the best options Rojas played pitched so economically in their effectiveness that an extra inning from any of them might have made a phenomenal difference?
There came harm and foul when Rojas instead went to Jake Reed, a 28-year-old rookie not long returned from the injured list and not having thrown a major league inning since mid-August. The good news was Reed, too, pitching economically enough—eight pitches total.
But then there’s the bad news: 1) His third pitch was hit for a leadoff single, sending the free cookie on second to third post haste. 2) His sixth pitch was hit for an RBI single to break the four-all tie. 3) His eighth pitch was turned into a two-run single.
Then Rojas brought in Trevor Williams, his import from the Cubs and normally a starter but well between assignments and able to throw part or all of an inning if necessary. Williams shook off a base hit to get Goldschmidt to dial Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.
Now the questions would include why not have Williams open a clean inning (if you didn’t count the cookie on second) instead of opening it with a rusty rookie? Said Rojas: Well, Reed’s a reliever and Williams is a starter. There’ve been how many skippers burned alive when they went by The Book instead of what their eyes, ears, and actual numbers whispered in their ears?
Going his Book enabled Rojas to pull the lulu of the night—turning to spaghetti bat Albert Almora, Jr. to pinch hit in the bottom of the eleventh, after the Mets pulled back to within a run on an RBI double and a throwing error by Cardinals reliever Kim, and with Williams’s lineup slot due up.
He picked Almora over Luis Guillorme. After opening 0-2, Almora wrestled his way to a full count—and grounded out modestly to end it. Why Almora over Guillorme? “Against a lefty,” Rojas said, “not the right matchup.”
Which part of his Book did Rojas ignore, in deciding the righthanded Almora was his best chance to tie or win despite the fact that Almora’s been hitting like . . . a pitcher, this season? (Slash line: .115/.148/.173.)
Which part of that Book did Rojas ignore in deciding Guillorme the lefthanded bat had no business going to the plate in that spot . . . even with his .344 on-base percentage against portside pitching in 33 plate appearances this season?
(What’s the name of his Book, anyway? For Whom the Bell Tolls?)
Maybe Guillorme would have poked an RBI hit to tie or even win the game. Maybe he would have ended the game the same way Almora did; maybe he might have flied out to end it. But he’d have given Rojas and the Mets the absolute better shot at keeping the game alive or winning it.
The only time Rojas did set his Book to one side Tuesday night was taking Familia over May. As Casey Stengel might have said, there comes a time in every man’s life and he shouldn’t have had that one.
You want to know why frustrated Met fans call for Rojas’s summary execution after just about every other Met loss and sometimes after oddly-managed Met wins? Tuesday night was gilt-edged evidence for the prosecution.
This morning they’re thanking God and His servant Stengel that Tuesday night wasn’t a postseason game. They may even thank both if the Mets finally don’t make the dance at all. How sad is that?