The Mets’ finale against the Padres on Sunday always was going to be a feat of funambulation. Eventually they plummeted to a 7-3 loss, missing out on a series sweep, after Fernando Tatis Jr.’s game-changing grand slam.
Without Edwin Diaz (rest), Seth Lugo (rest), Aaron Loup (rest) and Miguel Castro (tight neck), the Mets were shorthanded in the bullpen. Without Jonathan Villar (family matter) and Billy McKinney (sore right knee), they were shorthanded on the bench.
So after lefthander Joey Lucchesi provided a season-high five innings and Jose Peraza hit a two-run home run against righty Chris Paddack that gave the Mets a lead going into the late innings, manager Luis Rojas faced a series of suboptimal decisions. It didn’t work out.
"Knowing we had the lead against this team and knowing how our bullpen has been pitching, we felt pretty good," Rojas said. "And it flipped for us."
It flipped in the seventh inning, which was Jeurys Familia’s second. He already had thrown 16 pitches and escaped a two-on, none-out situation in the sixth, yielding several hard-hit balls in the process. With few other options, the Mets (32-25) stuck with him, but he worked into another jam: two outs, runners on second and third.
Familia put Jurickson Profar, a pinch hitter with a .217 average, in a 1-and-2 count, a strike away from ending the inning. But Profar worked an eight-pitch walk to load the bases for Tommy Pham, the leadoff hitter for the Padres (38-29).
Jacob Barnes, who said he thought he was preparing for Pham, was ready in the bullpen. Rojas said he remained confident in Familia, who was at 37 pitches.
"He didn’t show that he was gassed out or anything at that point," Rojas said. "If some pitches were missing bad, arm-side, to Profar when he walked, then that’s different. That’s when you’re lowering your arm angle because of getting tired. But I felt he was controlling the ball."
Familia, who declined an interview request, walked Pham to force in the tying run. Just one of the four pitches was close to the strike zone. His 41-pitch total was his highest in a game since he was a rookie in 2014.
That is when Rojas went to Barnes, in the seventh inning of a 2-2 game with two outs and the bases loaded and Tatis, an NL MVP candidate, stepping to the plate.
The biggest pitch before the big pitch was a 1-and-1 fastball that might have caught the lower outside corner. Plate umpire Laz Diaz called it a ball.
"It changes [the at-bat] big time," Barnes said. "If it’s 1-and-2, you know you can start playing around and expanding the zone a little bit more.
"With the bases loaded and after they tied that ballgame up, once you get to 2-and-1, you don’t want to walk this guy, too, to give them the lead that way. It makes you throw it more in the zone and your margin of error is obviously much less that way. So yeah, it changes the at-bat quite a bit."
On the next pitch, Tatis hit a no-doubter of a grand slam, 444 feet to leftfield. Manny Machado, the next batter, added a solo shot.
The Mets could have gone to Trevor May, but Rojas said he was saving him for a save opportunity. They could have double-switched May into the game to use him through the eighth, but they already were short on position players (and later ended up with catcher Tomas Nido at third). Before the game, they could have added another reliever, albeit probably one not fit for a high-leverage situation, but Rojas said they did not consider putting Castro on the injured list.
And so the Mets bet on Familia and lost.
"He’s gotten big outs in his career," Rojas said. "We felt he was going to get another big out there."
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