David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The strange thing is, Alex Torres didn't really like the new protective cap he unpacked at his locker before Saturday night's game. By the ninth inning, however, nobody at Citi Field even noticed he was wearing the odd-looking plastic halo.
They were just surprised to see him. As was Terry Collins, who probably wondered what he had gotten himself into by calling on the little-used Torres for the final out of a white-knuckle 5-4 win over the Marlins.
Collins already knew he wouldn't have Jeurys Familia or Jerry Blevins, the two most effective weapons in the Mets' bullpen arsenal a dozen games into the regular season. And he also didn't think he'd need a replacement closer when the Mets built a 5-0 lead after six innings.
But the night soon turned into the type of game that can suck the wind out of a team, a potential momentum-crusher. It also served as a reminder for what the Mets still are missing as long as Vic Black and Bobby Parnell are stuck in rehab limbo.
Familia has been a bright spot for the Mets, but he's only one relief pitcher in a bullpen that is lacking at the back end. Collins believed he was safe in going with Carlos Torres to protect a 5-1 lead in the ninth. But Torres, making his seventh appearance in 12 games, had other ideas.
The Marlins greeted him with a long home run by Michael Morse and tacked on two more runs, thanks in part to a wild pitch that Torres flung all the way to the backstop. If not for some help on a called third strike below Ichiro Suzuki's knees, we might still be playing.
When Dee Gordon punched a liner over Daniel Murphy's head for a two-run single, the booing crowd sensed it too. And Collins had only Alex Torres and Eric Goeddel left in the bullpen.
"It's hard," Collins said. "We just thought let's get to the ninth inning and we can piece it together. But Carlos didn't have very good stuff tonight."
The Mets are showing incredible resiliency during this homestand, which has included four come-from-behind wins in six games. Familia has been getting quite the workout with five saves in six days. All good. But the supposed depth for the late innings has become quite shallow.
Black is maxing out at 92 mph at Double-A Binghamton. Parnell still is trying to get the handle on his curveball down at Class A St. Lucie. There is no definitive timetable for the return of either one.
The Mets were mentally prepared for that. Getting blindsided by Jenrry Mejia's 80-game PED suspension was another story. So instead of four potential closers to choose from, the Mets are down to 1½, if we count Blevins or Buddy Carlyle as part of that mix.
Who knows where the Mets would be if Sandy Alderson hadn't gotten clearance to pick up Blevins' $2.4-million salary. On the same day, he acquired Alex Torres from the Padres, and it was his turn to come up big Saturday night. For a reliever with almost zero closing experience, he did a heck of a job.
We say almost zero because Torres, 27, does have one save on his professional resume. It came in 2006, pitching for the Angels' Rookie League team as an 18-year-old. It was so long ago that Torres had no recollection of the event.
When he trotted to the mound with two outs in the ninth, Citi Field was a restless, anxiety-ridden place. To Torres, it was fun.
"I love that," he said. "You just have to be ready at any time. I was just waiting for Terry to give me an opportunity."
Collins didn't want to do that. But he signaled for Torres to face Christian Yelich with the speedy Gordon standing on first base as the tying run. For all the drama, for all the buildup, Torres struck out Yelich on three pitches. Yelich took a fastball and changeup, then swung through a 94-mph heater, flinging his bat at the pitch in desperation. It wound up in leftfield.
Torres got the save, the Mets won their seventh straight and Familia is back Sunday. Maybe it's no coincidence that his new plastic cap is shaped like a horseshoe.