David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
If it hadn't been such a crucial spot, Wilmer Flores and his tin glove would have had a chance to duck under the radar Thursday night. With the Rangers hosting the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs and both local football teams picking high in the NFL Draft, Citi Field was light on attendance as people in the metro area focused their attention elsewhere.
But in the midst of all that channel-surfing, the baseball still found Flores in what turned out to be a very damaging situation for the shortstop and the Mets.
These days, every ground ball to Flores feels like a whistling-by-the-graveyard moment, with onlookers holding their breath and hoping for the best.
After last night's 8-2 loss to the Nationals, that partially blind faith seems to be wearing thin. The cost-benefit analysis with Flores always centered around his plate production. Would he help create more runs than the number he gave away?
Both sides were on display last night, and when Flores booted a sure double-play grounder that led to the Nats' three-run fourth inning, his earlier double was forgotten.
The season's loudest boos greeted Flores during his next trip to the plate in the fourth. And Flores whiffed on five pitches from Stephen Strasburg.
More of these episodes will erode Flores' confidence. The team's decision-makers know that staying in contention will be nearly impossible if they're unable to make routine plays up the middle. Flores' error -- his sixth -- was a tailor-made DP.
"He just dropped it," Terry Collins said. "He was in the right spot, his hands were in a good spot -- he just dropped it.''
That's the most frustrating thing about the Mets' subpar middle infield, including Daniel Murphy. The simple plays are the pair's undoing. But the team opted for a patch job late Thursday night by promoting Dilson Herrera from Triple-A Las Vegas, the plan being that Herrera will play second and Murphy will move to third now that David Wright won't be back from the disabled list until next Friday, at the earliest.
Flores and Murphy have totaled 10 of the Mets' 17 errors. Overall, the Mets ranked 15th in defensive runs saved with one. The only first-place team with fewer is the Yankees, who are 20th with a minus-three.
We're not talking about needing an Andrelton Simmons at short. Just your basic catch-and-throw guy. There was nothing challenging about Yunel Escobar's ground ball in the fourth. It even took Flores slightly toward the bag, giving him an easy toss to second to start the double play. But Flores couldn't get a grip on the ball.
Everyone makes mistakes. But with the Mets up 2-0, these are the type of plays that decide games, and Jacob deGrom -- who had yet to allow a hit -- wasn't the same afterward. That's not all Flores' fault, but his error was the catalyst for the meltdown.
Before the game, Collins talked about grading on the curve for his middle infielders, and this was a mark below.
Collins also talked about the importance of positioning and credited infield coach Tim Teufel, a big analytics guru, with giving them an edge. But the way Flores and Murphy have played, Teufel could correctly predict the trajectory of every ball and it still wouldn't matter.
Now that Murphy is moving, Flores could end up on shaky ground, too. But that's a trigger the Mets don't want to pull yet.
"I wish I had the answer to it," Collins said. "When we decided he was going to be the shortstop, you realize there might be a couple rough spots. But you realize the minute you jerk him out of the lineup, and throwing him on the bench because he's not good enough to play shortstop, you might as well put him someplace else because those days are over playing shortstop."
Frankly, that might not be the worst thing for the Mets.