It’s still early June, so let’s hold off on the buyer-seller discussion for the Mets, or whether this maddeningly bi-polar ballclub can climb back into the NL East race.
But what the Mets have shown us, and did so again with Thursday’s wild 7-3 victory over the Giants, is that they’re capable of winning just enough to keep Mickey Callaway in the manager’s chair.
Everyone’s become so fixated on Callaway’s future (guilty as charged) to the point where it’s distracted us from Brodie Van Wagenen’s bold mission statement of taking the NL East. Or maybe you’ve already conceded the division to the Phillies or Braves.
Either way, there’s 100 games left, and Mea Culpa Callaway is now 2-0 since apologizing to the team for Tuesday night’s regrettable yanking of Noah Syndergaard. Also, his luck is improving.
For Thursday’s series-clincher, Seth Lugo pitched a perfect eighth inning to keep the score tied at 3 (could have used that Lugo on Tuesday). And after Todd Frazier’s gravity-defying 6-iron shot put the Mets in front, along with Adeiny Hechavarria smartly blowing through Gary DiSarcina’s stop sign at third, Jeurys Familia was lights out (2 Ks) with a four-run lead in the ninth.
Again, it would have been nice if that Familia showed up on the West Coast, but no sense crying about that now — carrying a grudge is fine, though. The bottom line is that the Mets prevailed in yet another Citi Field series they absolutely, positively had to do so, with the next on tap against the Rockies this weekend.
“We’re just trying to find ways to win,” Frazier said.
So can this team be taken seriously with Jason Vargas possessing the rotation’s best ERA (2.84 in nine starts) and near zero from Robinson Cano, who was out of the lineup Thursday after re-aggravating his left quad muscle strain? Conventional wisdom says no.
But if Callaway can hold onto the rabbit’s foot or horseshoe that got him through Thursday’s victory, then maybe there is a chance. Like in the seventh inning, after the Mets had fallen behind 3-2 on Pablo Sandoval’s monster blast into the rightfield upper deck.
Nine outs away from more hot-seat chatter, Callaway caught a break when his No. 7 hitter Juan Lagares drew a leadoff walk and Tomas Nido followed with an infield single to deep shortstop. That brought up an interesting scenario as next up was the spot belonging to Zack Wheeler, whose work on the mound was done.
Was it time to pull the trigger on Jeff McNeil, who was prepped for the obvious pinch-hit chance? Not for Callaway, who opted instead to use Carlos Gomez to bunt the runners over — not just deploy Wheeler for the job, a move that would have saved a bench player in a tight game.
“You go with a position player,” Callaway explained afterward, “because if he gets behind 0-2, he can still maybe do some damage — hit a double, or continue to get on in that situation.”
Fair enough, but Gomez didn’t look so sharp in fouling off the first slider and then popping up a fastball that miraculously dropped in the middle of Sandoval and reliever Reyes Moronta.
If either Giant was, well, a little less gigantic, they would have had Gomez’s floater in their back pockets. But it fell safely, and if Gomez bolted from the box, he probably could have beat the throw, too. “He got the bunt down — scarily,” Callaway said.
Now the manager had what he wanted: McNeil up with two runners in scoring position and only one out. It came with a cost, however. McNeil was hitting for Amed Rosario — who opened the game with his second homer in as many days and has been one of the Mets’ hottest bats.
But McNeil being McNeil, he fought Moronta for six straight 97-mph fastballs before dunking a 90-mph changeup over the shortstop’s head to drive in the tying run. So Callaway’s strategy worked — thanks in part to a few dozen pounds and a couple of feet.
"I thought it was a great call,” McNeil said of Callaway’s move. “Then I just did my job.”
When three-time champ Bruce Bochy then went to lefty Tony Watson, Callaway played into his hands by pulling the dangerous Dom Smith (first-inning homer) for J.D. Davis, who promptly killed the rally by grounding into a 6-4-3 double play. Not to worry, though, because Frazier picked up the manager by homering off his shoetops for the winner.
“It might not be ideal all the time, but I have faith in this team,” Callaway said. “When you look up at the end of the season, we’re going to be in a really good spot.”
Let’s aim for the end of the week first.