Bartolo Colon has never considered himself a relief pitcher. And for good reason. Before this season, he had just six relief appearances in 18 major-league seasons.
Yet, when it became evident that Colon likely wasn't going to be a part of the starting rotation in the playoffs, he made it clear to Terry Collins that he wouldn't mind being used in a different role.
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And so, in the most unlikely of scenarios, the 42-year-old righthander has developed into a key factor in the Mets series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a player who the team has trusted again and again to bridge the gap between the powerful starters and their not-so-powerful bullpen.
Collins went to Colon for the third time in four playoff games Tuesday night. And Colon proved to be one of the few clutch performances in an otherwise tough Game 4, as he pitched two scoreless innings in what would end up being a 3-1 Mets loss.
"He was outstanding again tonight," Collins said. "Anytime you mention Bartolo Colon's name, it's the same. He pounds the strike zone, keeps the ball down for the most part, fields his position. All the things you want done."
The Mets were trailing 3-1 when Collins brought Colon in to relieve Steven Matz at the top of the sixth. Colon faced just six batters, giving up just one hit with no walks and two strikeouts.
In the sixth inning, it was three up and three down as Colon struck out Yasiel Puig, got A.J. Ellis to pop out to first baseman Lucas Duda and then struck out Andre Ethier. In the seventh, Colon struck out Clayton Kershaw, gave up a single on a line drive to Enrique Hernandez and then ended the inning when he got Howie Kendrick to ground into a double play.
It marked the third straight game in which Collins has gone to Colon.
In Saturday's Game 2, he called on Colon to relieve Noah Syndergaard with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Mets holding a one-run lead while the Dodgers had runners on first and third. Colon faced one batter, then allowed the Kendrick ground ball up the middle that resulted in the infamous play on which Chase Utley upended Ruben Tejada, breaking his leg.
In Game 3 on Monday night, Colon pitched two solid innings in relief of Matt Harvey. He struck out three and gave up what ended up being a meaningless home run.
Colon's performance Tuesday night gave the Mets a chance to win after their rookie starter got off to a shaky start. It's a sudden job change for a player well into the second decade of his career, yet it shows his dependability and resilience.
Collins said that late in the season, Colon approached Mets bullpen coach Ricky Barnes and told him, "I hope Terry knows I don't mind pitching out of the bullpen."
Collins used him twice in the final month of the season, and a middle reliever was born.
"It doesn't bother him a lick," Collins said when asked about Colon's adjustment to coming out of the bullpen. "You've seen both games he's come in, big smile on his face walking on the mound. He likes to pitch, he loves to pitch."