WASHINGTON — At some point this season — several points, probably — Mickey Callaway will make a decision, it will backfire, and it will look bad even if the choice is grounded in reason.
It just hasn’t happened yet and it definitely didn’t happen Saturday. Callaway continued his lineup-making, bullpen-managing magic and the Mets continued their hot start with a 3-2 win over the Nationals, their fourth in a row.
The Mets (6-1) are off to their best start since 2006 and are at least five games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2016 season.
Callaway’s choices again proved correct. This time he decided to start Juan Lagares in centerfield, stick with Jay Bruce instead of Michael Conforto, bat Asdrubal Cabrera leadoff, and mix and match his relievers to an extreme degree, including asking closer Jeurys Familia for a five-out save.
It all worked.
“The players, they’re just doing the job,” Callaway said. “It’s almost like you throw anybody in any situation [and] they’re going to get the job done.”
Said Cabrera of his first-year manager: “He knows what he’s doing.”
Conforto found himself on the bench after homering Thursday in his first game off the disabled list. Callaway instead went with Lagares against lefthander Gio Gonzalez (one run in 5 1⁄3 innings) and stuck with Bruce in rightfield when he could have gone with Conforto there, too.
The payoff? Bruce doubled and finished 2-for-4, his second multi-hit game in a row. Lagares was 1-for-3 with a walk and, more significantly, threw out Brian Goodwin at home in the second inning. Goodwin was trying to score from second on Pedro Severino’s single, but Lagares’ zero-hopper beat him to the plate.
“He’s awesome out there,” said Mets starter Steven Matz (one unearned run in five innings). “It was huge; in a tight game he comes up firing like that.”
Cabrera, Callaway’s preferred leadoff guy on days when Lagares starts, went 2-for-5 and was in the middle of the game-winning rally in the seventh. With the Mets down 2-1, he doubled into the rightfield corner, driving in Amed Rosario from first to tie it, and scored on Todd Frazier’s grounder to second.
Callaway’s string-pulling with the bullpen meant five pitchers in four innings, including three in the eighth: righthander Jacob Rhame for one batter (Matt Reynolds, groundout), lefthander Jerry Blevins for one batter (Bryce Harper, walk) and Familia.
Familia retired all five hitters he faced for his fourth save. This was his second of more than three outs.
The lone relief hiccup was Harper’s no-doubter home run against righthander Hansel Robles in the sixth.
“Everybody is happy with the way he’s using the bullpen,” Familia said. “The biggest thing for us is going out there and doing the best we can to win games. I think everybody in the bullpen is on the same page. We don’t worry about [what the inning is] right now. We’re just doing the job to win games.”
All of the Mets’ runs Saturday came in the half-innings immediately after the Nationals scored.
After the Nationals went up by a run in the bottom of the fifth, the Mets came back in the top of the sixth when Travis d’Arnaud singled home Frazier, who had doubled.
After the Nationals went up by a run in the bottom of the sixth, the Mets came back with two runs in the top of the seventh. Assisting on the second run was Conforto, who was intentionally walked for Wilmer Flores and then took off with the pitch on Frazier’s RBI groundout to avoid a potential inning-ending double play.
“It can be contagious,” Callaway said. “There’s something to be said when you give up a run and your guys come in and are raring to go and score another one.”
Callaway has written seven different lineups in seven games, and almost all of it has worked.
“We’ve been doing well. We’ve been doing really well,” Frazier said. “People always talk about, ‘Oh, man, it’s easy [now]. You need these games late.’ We need every game. That’s a blunt way of putting it. I don’t care if it’s early, middle of the season or late. Every win counts.”