As the Brooklyn poet Mike Tyson loved to say, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Iron Mike’s words popped into my head Saturday afternoon when the Mets’ rookie general manager — more scarce in recent weeks — held court with the media just outside the clubhouse.
Brodie Van Wagenen talked a great game during the winter. He had a plan, too. And in the giddy buzz from his flurry of moves — none of which has performed up to the hype — the agent-turned-GM probably thought this fight would be easier.
Back in January, Van Wagenen dared to suggest the Mets could be “the favorites in the division.” He was anxious to show everyone “we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
And the now-infamous kicker, “Come get us.”
Nearly five months later, the wobbly Mets are a team in crisis. They’re giving away games at an alarming speed and can’t get above .500 (34-36). There exists a real danger of the suddenly-streaking Braves (6 1/2 games up on the Mets) running away with the very division Van Wagenen already had promised to his own team’s fan base.
Even when the Mets managed to win Saturday night — needing Jeff McNeil’s throw from rightfield to cut down the tying run at the plate for the final out in an 8-7 victory over the Cardinals — they still lost. Noah Syndergaard had to exit in the seventh inning with a right hamstring strain, and the injury easily could put him out a month during the middle of this critical 18-game stretch that could determine the course of their season.
“It’s hard right now,” Mickey Callaway said. “It’s not easy for us.”
Callaway got to use his trusted relievers Saturday, and if not for McNeil’s heroics, they would have flushed the game. The Mets are barely treading water, and Van Wagenen is reeling. The plan is gone. It’s a scramble now, and for proof, look no further than Saturday’s pregame moves.
With the bullpen in flames, the best the Mets could do for a fire extinguisher was buy Triple-A reliever Brooks Pounders from the Indians, send Tim Peterson and Tyler Bashlor back to Syracuse, and designate Hector Santiago for assignment.
Pounders had a 2.31 ERA for Columbus. He does have 38 major-league games on his resume, along with an 8.92 ERA. Not exactly Craig Kimbrel, but he should fit right in at Citi Field.
“His slider usage has been impressive,” Van Wagenen said, “and we feel like he can help us here in the near term.”
What’s the harm? It’s not as if the Mets can get any worse in the relief department. Before Saturday, the bullpen led the sport in blown saves with 16 and was ranked 26th with a 5.31 ERA. Edwin Diaz had torched three saves himself in his previous five chances, and his tailspin was threatening to take down the Mets almost singlehandedly. Or should we say, with Jeurys Familia (6.91 ERA) as his accomplice.
I asked Van Wagenen if the Mets could overcome a lost season from Familia, who was supposed to be a critical piece to his bullpen makeover.
Without an effective Familia, the strain has been almost unbearable. When he’s pitched, it has been even worse.
“I don’t believe that we’re looking at anything as a lost season,” Van Wagenen said. “We have talent, we have heart and we have a group of people that believe in each other and that will pick each other up.”
He’s still sticking to the script. And it’s possible, if the Mets somehow survive these next 16 games against above-.500 teams -- including 10 against the Braves and Phillies -- that Van Wagenen will sturdy himself to trade for a more legit bullpen upgrade than Pounders.
The rotation had been solid, and the Mets’ offense hasn’t been an issue. Getting a lead isn’t a problem. Keeping it is. And this is close to a fatal flaw. Even Van Wagenen can’t sugarcoat that. It’s possible the damage already may be irreversible when coupled with Syndergaard’s expected absence.
“I don’t think my mindset or the mission statement for this franchise has changed,” Van Wagenen said. “My hope and my belief is that we can be in contention over the course of the next several weeks and can continue to push that gas pedal down.”
Maybe it’s the same mission statement. But the tone is different now. The winter’s bravado has disappeared. That’s what usually happens when the punches land and reality sinks in. The truth hurts.