WASHINGTON — Contrary to popular opinion, the sun did rise Wednesday for the Mets, who stumbled out of Nationals Park the previous night in stunned silence, knocked dizzy by the worst ninth-inning collapse in franchise history.
Their salvation? The Mets had another game to play, a series to potentially win, and an awful loss to hopefully forget.
So Mickey Callaway spent Wednesday morning reminding his team of that fact during a clubhouse meeting, handed the baseball to Zack Wheeler and placed his faith in the favorable odds that something like Tuesday’s baseball atrocity could not possibly happen again.
“We’ve got to keep pushing forward,” Pete Alonso said later. “That’s the only option.”
The Mets did come out safely on the other side, with an 8-4 victory over the Nats, thanks to another offensive outburst that featured home runs by Alonso (No. 45), Juan Lagares and Robinson Cano (three hits in his first start since Aug. 4). Cano looked every bit the 100 percent he said he was a day earlier, and combined with Brandon Nimmo’s OBP skills, scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem this month.
But the issue is preventing them beyond the sixth inning, and the Mets came perilously close to experiencing flashbacks from Tuesday’s debacle once Wheeler exited after five with a 4-1 lead. Wheeler struggled early with an escalating pitch count, but even at 101, he was ready to forge ahead — and Callaway was plenty willing to green-light him. Such is the ramshackle state of the team’s bullpen.
But when the Mets rallied in the sixth, they already had two runs in and were threatening again when Wheeler’s spot in the order came up, so Callaway pulled him for pinch-hitter Brandon Nimmo. The move made sense, but what should have felt like insurance had a more sinister vibe when Jeff McNeil followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 7-1.
Another six-run lead? Really? Less than 24 hours after a 10-4 cushion went up in flames in spectacular fashion?
Even for the Mets, this was too cruel, because they had only two trusted arms left in the bullpen — Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson — with 12 outs between them and the finish line. That left Callaway to roll the dice with Jeurys Familia, and his sixth inning went about as well as you would expect, given his recent malaise.
There’s an easy barometer with Familia. If his opening pitch is a strike, he has a chance for a good inning. If not, buckle up. In this instance, Familia started with a ball to Victor Robles and still got him on a bouncer to first, but he didn’t survive the sixth — allowing two walks, two hits and three runs that raised his ERA to 6.43.
“For us to get where we want to go, everybody has to perform from now on,” Callaway said. “That’s just what you have to do. It seems like we have the talent to do that. We just got to go do it.”
With only 23 games left, however, the Mets aren’t going to get that from the whole roster, and Familia seems like he can’t be in the Circle of Trust for September. We’re not ready to give up on Edwin Diaz yet — despite him teeing up Kurt Suzuki’s walk-off homer the previous night — and neither apparently are the Mets.
Callaway said he talked with the demoted closer before Wednesday’s game, but the Mets don’t really have the luxury of so-called low-leverage situations to get Diaz fixed the rest of the way. Tuesday’s fiasco provided that lesson.
“He lets things roll off his back,” Callaway said. “At least he has that quality.”
These Mets, as a group, are able to do that, too. Luis Avilan, who got burned by Juan Soto’s rally-extending single Tuesday, struck him out this time in relief of Familia. And that allowed Lugo to do what he does — two scoreless innings — in his first back-to-back outing of more than one inning.
“We all know how tough [Tuesday] night was,” Lugo said. “But we weren’t going to let that get to us.”
After Lugo, the only (reliable) man left was Justin Wilson, and he pitched an uneventful ninth — but not without knocking down Suzuki with a first-pitch fastball under his chin. Suzuki worked a two-out walk, and when Robles followed with a grounder to short, Amed Rosario actually stepped on second base before throwing over to first for a fourth out.
Better safe than sorry, right? And with the Mets, you never can be too sure.