The disease in the Mets bullpen is spreading, and it’s alarming
The disease plaguing the effectiveness of Mets bullpen has spread to even their best and most reliable arms.
And it’s a scary and unfriendly reminder of things which have gone wrong in years past.
With the Mets leading 5-1 over the Orioles with one out in the ninth, Tyler Clippard allowed a walk to Chris Davis and a soft single the other way to Matt Wieters.
“We thought Clippard should face the two lefties. He’s got great numbers against left-handed hitters,” manager Terry Collins said.
Collins is correct. Clippard has held left-handed hitters to just a .370 OPS in 2015. He could arguably serve as a left-handed relief specialist, if the Mets didn’t need him so badly to bridge the game to Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning.
But this time, Clippard couldn’t retire the two lefties to face him in the ninth inning. So, Terry Collins then went to Familia to get the 26th and 27th out, outs which would prove to be the toughest of the night to bank, by far.
Familia struck out Jonathan Schoop – who basically handed this game to the Mets all by himself with three mistakes on the field – for the second out of the inning.
So far, so good. The tying run remained on-deck.
But that’s when things got scary. Really, really scary.
Familia allowed a, “single” to Steve Clevinger to load the bases. It should have been the third out, but there was some confusion on the part of Lucas Duda on the throw from second baseman Kelly Johnson, and he failed to find the first base bag with his foot, allowing Clevinger to reach and the game to continue.
Instead, the game continued, and it was at that point the nightmare began to brew.
Even Collins had a bad feeling about what was transpiring.
“We’re all human,” Collins said laughing after the game. “When Wieters’ ball dropped in, I said, ‘oh no,’ because that’s how big innings get started.”
With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth and the club leading by four runs, Familia started playing a game of tag with the strike zone, a game he was struggling to overcome.
He walked JJ Hardy to force in a second run for Baltimore. Then he waled the light-hitting Henry Urrutia to force in a third run for Baltimore.
The tying runs were now in scoring position, the winning run was on first, and their best all-around player, Manny Machado was at the plate.
This had a Metsian disaster written all over it. Fortunately, Familia composed himself and induced a groundball to Daniel Murphy, who made the easy throw from third base to Duda to end the game.
“I’m not too sure how many times a lot of these guys have been put in this situation we’re in right now,” Collins said about the near-disaster in the ninth inning. “Especially Jeurys Familia. He’s the closer in a pennant race for the first time in his life, and today was a good test for him.”
The Mets were moments away from wasting one of Jacob deGrom’s best performances this season and a necessary win after dropping three straight to the Pirates. It was heart pounding, riveting, albeit very messy baseball in the ninth inning for the Mets.
“I was happy because we won the game,” Familia explained after notching his 33rd save of the year. “I was just trying to do the best I can, like always.”
The Mets need to get their bullpen situated again, and fast. It’s becoming an opportunity for opposing teams, as it seems all they have to do right now is keep themselves close enough against their starting pitching jewels to have a chance against a fading group of relievers.
It has to change, because if Clippard and Familia are going to struggle to get outs over the final 43 games of the year, they’re going to be hard pressed to maintain their 4 1/2 game lead over the Nationals, who have a real soft schedule down the stretch themselves.
But that change is going to have to happen within the confines of that clubhouse. Even if the front office stumbles upon a reinforcement ahead of the conclusion of the August waiver period, they cannot completely transform the entire relief corps at this point in the season.
No, it’s going to have to be some combination of what they have here – and maybe some arms in the minors – who get the Mets to where they need to be when play concludes on October 4.
Welcome to the pennant race.