Trumpets in the eighth inning?
Yes. Trumpets in the eighth at Citi Field. You heard that right.
We already this knew was a huge visit by Atlanta, that this weekend’s Flushing five-gamer (in four days) could swing the balance of power in the NL East for the next two months. The Mets refused to get too caught up in that narrative, but the significance hung in the steamy air Thursday night.
And the trumpets said it all.
There was just one minor detail. When the Mets’ bullpen door swung open for that eighth inning, and Diaz burst through, there were no trumpets. By calling for Diaz early, Buck Showalter put Atlanta’s heart of the order on alert -- but nobody woke up the staffers manning the Citi Field sound system.
Summoned for the biggest six outs of the season, Diaz had to create his own adrenaline by imagining “Narco” by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet blaring though the stadium.
“I don’t know what the problem was,” Diaz said, smiling. “They were doing a promo or something. They played it when I was almost on the mound. I was good. I just trying to run in at the same pace of the song in my mind.”
Maybe an earlier version of Diaz, from his first few bumpy years in Flushing, would have been fazed by the interrupted routine. But not this one. He mowed through Atlanta’s 2-4 hitters during the 11-pitch eighth then returned to shake off Eddie’s Rosario’s leadoff single in the ninth to save the Mets’ 6-4 victory before 38,693 at Citi.
It was the first six-out save of Diaz’s career, coming in his seventh season and 386th game to increase the Mets’ lead to 4 1/2 games in the NL East with four left to play this weekend. That means Showalter & Co. are now guaranteed to finish this series the way they began it -- on top of the division.
“We’re battling for first place and we’ve got to do everything now,” said Diaz, on a career-high 16 1/3 innings scoreless streak. “Everybody here is trying to do the same thing — win the game — so I just came in and did my job.”
The Mets were fortunate that the stars aligned earlier in the week to make it happen. Diaz hadn’t appeared in a game since last Friday, a 10-pitch save against the Marlins, so Showalter knew he’d have the sport’s best weapon at his disposal when he needed him the most. Carlos Carrasco also helped by supplying the quality start, allowing three runs over six innings, and the Mets smacked four homers — including a pair by newcomer Tyler Naquin to keep the Mets in front, 6-3.
When Adam Ottavino managed to protect the lead with a nervous seventh inning, Showalter wasn’t going to mess around with half-measures. The Mets took a conservative approach to improving their bullpen at the trade deadline, only choosing to add Mychal Givens, so Showalter went with the sure thing. If this was June or July, Diaz likely stays put until the ninth.
But calling for those trumpets, even delayed, spoke to what was at stake Thursday night. Not even Showalter, who doesn’t show his cards, could deny that.
“I do think it’s that time of year where we kind of go to different modes of operation,” Showalter said.
The Mets never doubted that Diaz was capable of shutting down a lineup for six outs. But until he’s actually done it, in this high-stakes scenario, you’re never absolutely certain. And now the Mets know, as well as the Atlanta -- and any other potential playoff opponent -- that Diaz can be just as lethal in the eighth.
Diaz just overpowered the defending champs from the jump. With a fastball that averaged 99.8 mph -- and maxing out at 101.2 -- Diaz got Dansby Swanson to meekly ground out on his opening pitch of the eighth. He then whiffed Matt Olson on seven pitches and needed only three to punch out Austin Riley, who slammed his helmet in disgust immediately afterward.
The ninth inning was a little more eventful. Rosario poked a leadoff single to rightfield, and reached second on a wild pitch. But Diaz retired the next three in order — the one K being Marcell Ozuna — and got a break when Orlando Arcia tried to duck away from a 3-and-0 inside fastball (99 mph) and instead hit a harmless tapper back toward the mound. Diaz scooped it up on the run and stepped on the base for the final out himself.
“Obviously he’s got a good arm, but it’s his resiliency too,” Showalter said. “Y’all probably know better than I do some of his challenges — he’ll tell you were kind of self-inflicted — but a lot of people don’t rebound from that here. It wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing for him here, but he’s taken that, grown from it and used it as a springboard.”
Enough so that Diaz can summon his own soundtrack, when necessary, just in case someone is late with the trumpets again.