For his Mets debut, Vic Black was asked to clean up somebody else's mess. It was late last season, during a blowout loss to the Braves, and Black remembers there were two outs and runners on second and third.
"I ran out there because I was on a new team," said Black, who wanted badly to make a good first impression. "And I was like, 'I've never thrown to this catcher, I've never warmed up to this guy.' "
Even with his adrenaline pumping, Black reminded himself that with first base open, he'd at least have some margin for error. Not until the next day, when he came to the ballpark early to review tape of his successful outing, did Black notice that there was a baserunner standing on first base.
"It was like, 'Holy crap,' " said Black, who had actually stranded three runners, not two. "I didn't know the bases were loaded."
Black vowed at the time that he was "not going to tell anybody about this." But recently, the Mets righthander recounted the experience, which taught him a lasting lesson about pressure situations.
"This is just not complicated," Black said. "The more complicated you make it the less you're able to perform. Everything locks up. Your mind races. Looking back, I'm thinking why does anyone ever go into these things with the stress of, 'I have to do this?' "
Perhaps he's on to something.
As a bullpen, the Mets have stranded 81 percent of inherited baserunners, tied with the Padres for the best mark in baseball entering Tuesday night. And nobody within that group has been better than Black.
He has stranded 26 of 27 of inherited baserunners -- a success rate of 96.2 percent -- which is second best in baseball among those who have inherited at least 20 baserunners.
"The difference in this guy, when he comes in a game with guys on base, is incredible," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He takes the mound and he's got a different look on his face. When you give him the ball, he's looking right through you. I don't know if he hears a word you say. Seriously, I'm not sure he does."
Black, 26, was acquired from the Pirates almost exactly a year ago. He came in a waiver trade that also netted infield prospect Dilson Herrera from the Pirates in exchange for veterans Marlon Byrd and John Buck.
Expected to begin the year in the Mets' bullpen, Black instead wound up being sent to minor-league camp, a victim of his inability to control his emotions on the mound.
But since earning a promotion on May 27, Black has a 2.20 ERA in 39 appearances, including a streak in which he's stranded 23 consecutive inherited runners.
Indeed, it's possible that Black's propensity for stranding runners may stem partly from luck, as opposed to strictly from skill. Nevertheless, to this point, he has produced results. Black has been so good at extracting the Mets from jams that it has reshaped the way Collins has used him out of the bullpen.
"We're better off trying to start the seventh inning with someone else, and if somebody gets on, bring him in," Collins said. "Because the way he's pitching, the inning's over. And it saves us because he doesn't have to throw 28 pitches in an inning."
With fewer pitches per inning, Collins believes he can lean on Black more often, especially when the Mets need to escape a jam. The challenge appears to suit Black, who insists that the pressure rests not with him on the mound, but with the batters standing at the plate.
"You're the offensive character in that sense," Black said. "The hitters in their mind are offensive. But to me, they're trying to not get beat. I already have gained that advantage. So what am I stressed about?"
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