Two Mets starters not named Matt Harvey gave the team a shot in Game 1
Lost in what was really a frustrating loss for the Mets in Game 1 of the World Series was some outstanding work from their starting pitching.
No, not Matt Harvey, although he made a yeoman’s effort while allowing three runs in six innings (really two if the first pitch he threw in the game was caught).
But on this day, it was two other starters who actually came out of the bullpen who at least kept the Mets alive and afforded them opportunities to take the lead, two starters who have done very little bullpen work in their careers, but have come through nicely for the Mets in relief throughout the postseason.
Jon Niese took over in the tenth inning in relief of Jeurys Familia, who moments earlier allowed a game-tying home run to Alex Gordon. He provided two stellar innings of relief, allowing just a hit with three strikeouts.
Then, Bartolo Colon took over for Niese in the 12th inning and was solid as well. He ultimately allowed the game-winning run to score with one out in the 14th inning, but he allowed only three hits and one unintentional walk in an effort which also helped saved the bullpen for the rest of the series.
And the run he allowed in the 14th inning was mainly the result of an error from David Wright.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s played for a long, long time, who has been to Postseason,” Collins said about Colon on Tuesday. “He just takes the ball and does what he does. He doesn’t try to change anything.
“He’s comes in and he is not going to beat himself,” Collins continued. “He’s going to make you swing the bat. He doesn’t walk guys. For the most part if a sinker is working, he gets ground balls. He knows what he has to do to get outs.”
Unfortunately, his defense behind him betrayed him, but Colon and Niese for that matter have both shown they can be versatile yet effective in any role they’re asked to be in.
And it’s remarkable considering neither have much experience in relief, and for Niese in particular who admitted at the end of the regular season he needed to learn how to adjust to the life of a reliever, learn how to get ready quickly and manage his stamina to be able to pitch in back-to-back games.
But Niese has embraced this role, as he knew if he was going to even contribute at a high level in the postseason – or at all – he would have to do it out of the bullpen.
So, he went to Terry Collins and asked to be converted into a reliever.
“We were kind of getting close to clinching. And I kind of understood kind of what the roles were going to be as starters,” Niese explained on Tuesday. “For me as a veteran it was really hard to take the backseat. But looking at the guys that we had starting I realized I had to. And I told Terry, I said, ‘You know, whatever role you need me in in the Postseason, I’m here to do whatever you need me to do.’
“When we clinched,” he continued, “he pulled me into his office and said, We really need you to be in the bullpen to get lefties out late in the game. So that’s what I did. I went down to the bullpen, got my feet wet, got used to getting hot real quick, and faced some lefties, and here I am.”
Niese has made only three relief appearances in the postseason. But he’s taken what he did well as as starter and transitioned it seamlessly out of the bullpen. He hasn’t walked a batter, he’s struck out five and allowed only one hit, keeping the ball on the ground in the process in a total of 2 2/3 innings.
Barring injury in 2016, the Mets will only get deeper in their rotation when Zack Wheeler returns sometime around the All-Star break. That will likely mean Niese – who has one guaranteed year left on his contract – will have to transition back to a relief role again.
But now he knows he can do it, and do well at it. For both the Mets and the player, having that extra depth and insurance policy, and having a player willing to transition with no questions asked is a blessing in and of itself.