Bart Giamatti once wrote of baseball, “It breaks your heart,” and just think, the late commissioner published that 31 Mets bullpens ago.
If it’s a Mets gut-punch loss, it must be their bullpen.
OK, to be fair, their 10-inning, 9-8 defeat to the Phillies on Monday afternoon at Citi Field could’ve been far more pedestrian and less exciting, thanks to rookie David Peterson’s awful return to the starting rotation (five runs in two innings); credit goes to the Mets’ fully resurgent offense for fighting back against old pal Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi’s relief corps as well as journeyman Erasmo Ramirez’s contributing five innings of one-run ball after Peteron’s departure. The Mets found themselves trailing 6-0 to Wheeler, one of Jacob deGrom’s top challengers for the National League Cy Young Award, in the middle of the fifth inning.
In September, however, pandemic season or non-pandemic season, moral victories are outlawed, all the more so when you currently don’t qualify for the low-bar pandemic playoffs. And after Jeff McNeil’s three-run, seventh-inning homer off David Phelps put the Mets up by a 7-6 count, Jeurys Familia and Miguel Castro teamed to ensure that their club, now 19-23, would settle for a series split and fall into 11th place in the NL, a half-game behind the Brewers (18-21).
“Next time, we’re going to close the deal and hopefully get a win,” said McNeil, apparently a cockeyed optimist.
Let’s tackle the strategy debate of the day: The one late-inning reliever who pitched well for the Mets was Edwin Diaz, who tossed a perfect top of the ninth, requiring only 12 pitches. Rojas defended not bringing Diaz back out for the 10th, explaining that the right-hander had thrown two innings Thursday in a win over the Yankees — his first appearance of that length since May 2017 — and he didn’t want to push the closer physically.
“The stress level that he’s had on that up-down, it was not recommendable to do it again,” Rojas said, referring to pitching an inning, returning to the dugout and pitching another inning.
Spare me your macho laments for times past. The prospect of throwing two innings twice in a week after not doing it in more than three years prompted understandable caution from Rojas and the Mets. On top of that, what, now you suddenly find Diaz so reliable? A week ago at Yankee Stadium, you wanted him returned to sender in Seattle.
Besides, Diaz’s work proved insufficient because right after McNeil’s three-run bomb, Familia entered the game in the eighth and promptly allowed the Phillies to tie it up on a trio of singles. And in the 10th, Castro, whom the Mets acquired from the Orioles last week at the trade deadline, retired Bryce Harper and saw placed runner Rhys Hoskins get trapped in a rundown between third and home on a grounder by J.T. Realmuto (who advanced to second), only to serve up a meatball that Jean Segura crushed 423 feet, clearing the wall in left-center field and drilling the green M&M in the eyes at 109 mph.
“Physically, I feel fine. I think my biggest issue has been mechanically,” said Castro, who has a 6.75 ERA in four appearances as a Met. “Since coming here, I feel like my mechanics haven’t been as sharp as they were since before I got traded.”
The Post conveyed Castro’s self-diagnosis to Rojas, who responded, “Mechanically if he’s saying these types of things, we can definitely talk and see where he’s at, look at some old videos of him. The stuff is there. It’s unbelievable.”
It’s utterly believable that the Mets’ bullpen (4.12 ERA) easily has outperformed their starting rotation (5.13) despite the presence of deGrom in the latter unit. This Mets bullpen must flex its muscles to propel this group into the tournament.
Do you believe in them, though? It probably depends on the durability of your heart.
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