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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Despite loss in 14 innings, Mets' bullpen has gotten its act together

Jeurys Familia, shown here pitching Aug. 22, 2019,

Jeurys Familia, shown here pitching Aug. 22, 2019, versus Cleveland, took the loss Friday night, Aug. 23, 2019, giving up the winning single to Atlanta's Billy Hamilton in the 14th inning.   Credit: Jim McIsaac

Somebody had to lose.

Maybe that’s a cavalier attitude to express after the Mets ultimately succumbed to the Braves in 14 innings Friday night, 2-1, in a game that required 4 hours, 37 minutes to complete at Citi Field.

And you can’t really get too hung up on Jeurys Familia being the reliever to finally let this one get away, on Billy Hamilton’s ground-ball RBI single that squeezed through the pulled-in infield, narrowly skipping past the diving reach of Joe Panik.

The vastly improved Familia was pitching for the third straight day, and it became immediately clear that this was going to be a white-knuckle ride for Mickey Callaway. To that point, six Mets relievers already had combined for six scoreless innings, and Familia was the only arm left before Chris Flexen. And as soon as Familia issued a leadoff walk to Tyler Flowers, you could tell the proverbial clock was ticking.

“He’s throwing with everything he’s got,” Callaway would say afterward.

Which wasn’t much by then. It was a miracle that Familia limited the damage to one run in that 14th inning, helped immensely when what looked like an RBI triple by Adeiny Hechavarria — remember him? — was video-reversed into a ground-rule double because the baseball briefly was lodged in the wall’s padding.

That temporarily took the go-ahead run off the board before Hamilton later put it back. Callaway was asked if he thought of intentionally walking Hamilton to load the bases for the pitcher’s spot — Saturday’s starter Max Fried was sent up — but he didn’t think that was the right call based on Familia’s command issues.

“I wasn’t as sharp,” Familia said through an interpreter, “becasue I haven’t pitched three days in a row in a while.”

It happens. Friday’s game stretched into some extraordinary circumstances, and that forced Callaway to use Familia when he would have preferred not to. But the takeaway from this loss — only the Mets’ second in their last 15 games at Citi — is that now it’s actually surprising when the bullpen doesn’t hold.

Hard to believe, right? During the first half, the bullpen was intent on destroying this season entirely, and came pretty close to doing exactly that. But now? This relief corps seems to be morphing into a strength — or at least much, much less of a weakness. And Friday offered more encouragement in that area.

After Jacob deGrom delivered another epic 13-strikeout performance that included eight straight — two shy of Tom Seaver’s MLB record — the bullpen followed with a baker’s dozen of their own. By doing so, the Mets became only the fourth team to rack up 26 strikeouts in a game, and the first since the Dodgers in 2017.

And of all those Ks, none were more impressive than what Edwin Diaz did in the 10th inning, an appearance that we’ll probably single out as perhaps the turning point in his season. The struggling Diaz, whos’s been working intensely with pitching coach Phil Regan, was supposed to get his test run the previous night, but heavy rain washed away his opportunity.

So instead, Callaway summoned him to protect a 1-1 tie in the 10th inning, a situation that had not been one of his favorites this year. It didn’t look promising when Diaz nailed the No. 8 hitter, catcher Alex Jackson, on the elbow with his second pitch, causing the crowd of 31,437 to groan.

But after the Braves gifted the Mets with a sacifice bunt, and the speedy pinch runner Billy Hamilton swiped third, Diaz locked in with the go-ahead run just 90 feet away. First he whiffed Ronald Acuna Jr. on six pitches, the last a 97-mph fastball. Next up was Ozzie Albies, and after getting a swinging strike two on a nasty slider, Diaz blew a 99-mph heater right past him for the third out.

Diaz leaped off the mound, pumping his fists as the stadium roared. A day earlier, he expressed confidence that his side work with Regan would be helpful, and that “everything would be fine” once his slider returned. On Friday, that was the Edwin Diaz the Mets have been desperate to see for a while now.

“That should get him going,” Callaway said. “That was great. Big situation, to hold them right there and give us a chance to win that ballgame. He should take pride in what he did.”

In a tight wild-card race, Friday’s loss still stings. But Diaz’s revival should have a more positive impact long term, as well as faith in a bullpen that should be a difference-maker down the stretch.

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