With the boos still ringing in his ears, and no doubt nursing a headache from Monday’s 10-car pileup of an eighth inning, Mickey Callaway tried to play forensic scientist on the long walk from the manager’s office to the media room podium at Citi Field.
How did it happen? How could the Mets, the team with the top record in the National League, with the most reliable bullpen (1.51 ERA) in the majors, spit up a 6-1 lead before recording three outs? How was it possible for four of the club’s best relief pitchers to all fail — one after the other — as the Nationals sent a dozen hitters to the plate en route to a shocking 8-6 win?
The implosion was so thorough and so utterly demoralizing, there had to be something Callaway was missing. But what the new manager came up with during that disappointing trot to the microphone might have been more upsetting than the unsightly mess of the inning itself.
Callaway’s theory? With Jacob deGrom “dealing” into the eighth, racking up 12 strikeouts along the way, perhaps the bullpen turned out the lights early. That was the only explanation he could muster.
“It shouldn’t happen, but maybe the guys shut down mentally,” Callaway said. “Maybe they relaxed a bit. I’m not quite sure.”
We realize that Callaway was grasping at straws here, the stunning result only 10 minutes old.
The Mets’ magic-carpet ride had caught flames, spiraled to the turf and exploded on impact — with the despised Nats mostly acting as spectators, using three walks and a hit by pitch during that eighth inning as the glue that helped string together six runs.
This being the first true catastrophe of 2018, we’ll give Callaway a pass on the lack-of-focus alibi. As composed as he was postgame, the new manager had to be in shock, sort of like someone staggering from an auto wreck. We were only watching and couldn’t believe what was unraveling on the field below.
Seth Lugo. Jerry Blevins. AJ Ramos. Jeurys Familia. The bedrock of the Mets’ bullpen, and each was worse than the previous. The stats say this group was the best in baseball, but it can’t be without someone stepping up in desperate situations like Monday night. And there’s no doubt about it — Callaway was desperate once he called on Familia for what he hoped would be a four-out save, the third time this season he dialed up his closer for an assignment of that length.
Familia’s response when the fire alarm was pulled? Toast marshmallows. Wilmer Difo greeted him with a two-run single, Moises Sierra got plunked and No. 9 batter Michael A. Taylor (hitting .183 after going 0-for-3) walked on five pitches to force in the go-ahead run.
Familia was fortunate that Trea Turner lined the final out of the inning to Michael Conforto. Otherwise, the Mets might still be playing.
Familia, who had been 7-for-7 in save chances, appeared to be lost. But he wouldn’t co-sign the manager’s explanation of the whole focus thing, preferring instead to say it was an off night, as his bullpen-mates did.
“I’m always ready,” Familia said. “Anything can happen quickly, so I get my mind ready to pitch.”
In some ways, the Mets might be better off if this was merely a mental lapse. It’s scarier to think the bullpen could look this terrible, this early, before the odometer on these arms begins to add up. What’s closer to the truth? The Mets’ relief corps that shut down the opposition before Monday night, or the flawed bunch that left the field to a cascade of boos that only increased in volume as the night wore on?
“We’re always locked into the game,” Ramos said. “I think it was just one of those days.”
If so, Ramos experienced a major brain glitch when he somehow walked pinch hitter Matt Reynolds — yes, the former Met — on four pitches to force in a run and keep the bases loaded for Familia’s entrance. When we last saw Reynolds, a week ago in Washington, Jacob Rhame was blowing him away.
“It was just unfortunate,” Callaway said. “We have to move on.”
Is it possible to give back almost three weeks of positive mojo in the span of a single inning? Check back Tuesday night at Citi.