Jon Niese lost his temper and focus, and it cost him early on Saturday
Over the course of this season, Jon Niese has gotten better and better and dealing with adversity, putting difficult moments behind him and maintaining his focus on the current moment, not the past.
On Saturday night in the first inning, his temperament was put to the test once again after he failed to get a strike three call to Andrew McCutchen, walking him instead.
Niese became visibly frustrated at home plate umpire Bob Davidson, an official known for his own short fuse, floating strike zones, and reputation for finding the most subtle movements on pitchers for balk calls.
And in fairness to Niese, he had a beef. That pitch was a strike. It had enough of the plate and certainly was at or slightly above the knees.
But the call didn’t go Niese’s way, and he got mad and lost his focus.
On the very next pitch, Niese grooved a fastball to Aramis Ramirez, who slugged a two-run home run and put the Mets behind in the first inning for the third consecutive day.
Niese realized after the game he should have maintained his focus better on the pitch to Ramirez.
“It is what it is,” Niese explained after the game. “You have to go with the calls that are out there that are made. I tried to execute on pitch one, but [Ramirez] kind of ambushed me there and made a good swing.”
After the inning, Niese let Davidson know exactly what he thought of the call, who proceeded to follow Niese towards the dugout following the third out of the frame.
Travis d’Arnaud had to get in between Niese and Davidson to avoid a possible ejection.
From that point forward, Niese put forth a solid effort, allowing only another run in his final five innings of work. He allowed a solo home run in the third inning to Gregory Polanco in the third inning, then proceeded to retire the next eight he faced before Polanco reached for the third time in as many at-bats and pitches in the fifth inning.
He certainly pitched well enough to win, and it could have been an even better if he had better fortunes and temperament in the first inning. He was keeping the ball down, his cutter and curve were a little off but he was still keeping them off the middle of the plate, and the Pirates really didn’t do much against him aside from the two home runs.
All-in-all, he has nothing to be ashamed of, and most definitely should have had a better outcome in the first inning. There’s no disputing that.
And he has pitched wonderfully over his last 13 starts to the tune of a 2.88 ERA despite the team losing seven of those 13 games, proving he is most deserving of the fourth spot in a potential playoff rotation.
Having said that, it’s a situation where both clubs know who the home plate umpire is, and the likelihood of some controversy is always high when Davidson is officiating a game, whether its behind the plate or at one of the bases. Neither club agreed consistently with Davidson’s calls from the first through the 14th inning, but each team has a responsibility to maintain their cool and focus, and just move on.
Niese struggled with that early, and it cost him in a big way on Saturday.
Fortunately, his team bailed him out with three runs in the seventh inning, thanks to a solo home run from Juan Uribe and a two-run homer from Michael Conforto, his first home run at Citi Field.
“I was going crazy in here,” Niese said of Conforto’s homer. “That was a great swing.”
“It’s something I’ll remember forever,” Conforto said about his home run.
But alas, the Mets were unable to close the door on the Pirates, as they eventually fell in 14 innings to a club primed to make a serious run in October. They’re a team the Mets might meet again if they intend to make a run at the World Series themselves.
“The last two games just goes to show you what kind of teams both of us are,” Niese concluded. “I like our chances [on Sunday] with Harvey on the mound.”