Amid all the hype surrounding a Mets pitching staff that includes four of the best 20-something arms in baseball, 42-year-old Bartolo Colon stands out as an anomaly, an ageless wonder. Against the Braves on Monday night at Citi Field, Colon also was overshadowed at the outset by the Mets’ hot bats, which produced three home runs in a four- run outburst in the first inning.
But after allowing six hits through the first three innings, Colon persevered and endured in the way that has been the trademark of his long career. When the scorekeeper added it up at the end, Colon had pitched eight scoreless innings on the way to a 4-1 Mets victory that was the 220th of his career.
That’s a historic number in his native Dominican Republic because it moved Colon into second place on that country’s all-time victory list, one win ahead of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, a former Met, and 23 short of the record 243 recorded by Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.
“Of course I’m very excited,” Colon said of his place in Dominican baseball history. “It’s neat to pass Pedro, but he’s always going to be one of the big ones for us.”
Colon said friends told him Martinez reached out on Twitter to congratulate him for his 219th victory, and he was hoping Martinez will do the same for No. 220. But someone else will have to relay the message to Colon, who doesn’t use Twitter.
Colon, who turns 43 on May 24, didn’t even want to think about whether he can pass Marichal, saying, “I can’t think about that. I’m just thinking about 221.”
Colon’s shot at that number will come up Saturday, and manager Terry Collins chose to bring in closer Jeurys Familia for the ninth inning because Colon had thrown 99 pitches while allowing seven hits, striking out seven and walking none. Familia gave up a leadoff double to Adonis Garcia, who scored on Erick Aybar’s single.
Asked if he wanted to go for the shutout, Colon said, “I would have liked to, but I respect the manager’s decision.”
Through the first three innings, Colon was a little shaky, surrendering six hits and working with two runners on base in each inning. But starting with the last out of the third, he retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced, with the only hit being a two-out pinch-hit single by Chase d’Arnaud, brother of Mets catcher Travis, in the seventh.
Explaining how he improved as the game went along, Colon said, “I started throwing a different pitch and stuck with it. It was a cutter, which I really never throw. I always threw it, but when I was in Anaheim, it bothered my shoulder.”
Nothing bothered Colon on Monday night, and of course, it helped that the bats staked him to a 4-0 lead. The barrage began with a one-out solo shot by David Wright off Mike Foltynewicz (0-1), who was called up yesterday from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Michael Conforto singled and scored on a massive two-run blast by Yoenis Cespedes to left-center. Cespedes has three homers and 11 RBIs in his past five games, and he became the fastest to 25 home runs as a Met, reaching that mark in his 77th game to best the previous record of Carlos Delgado, who needed 88 games. Lucas Duda added a long solo home run to right.
Colon, who often is a source of comic relief at bat, came close to contributing on offense in the first himself. On the second pitch, he ripped a 94-mph fastball barely foul before striking out for the final out of the inning.
“Even I was pretty shocked,” Colon said. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball as hard as that.”