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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Accountability must extend beyond Mickey Callaway

Mets manager Mickey Callaway looks on from the

Mets manager Mickey Callaway looks on from the dugout before a game against the Giants at Citi Field on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

From what we could gather before Wednesday’s game, the Mets remain committed to Mickey Callaway. And, after the previous night’s self-admitted screw-up, you have to wonder how much hotter his seat needs to get before he’s removed from it.

But this isn’t all on Callaway. If Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson had been anywhere close to competent relievers -- rather than a toxic combination of ineffective, injured or both -- we feel safe in saying the Mets would be comfortably over .500 for the season.

How much smarter would Callaway look then?

But those two free-agent pickups, at a total cost of $40 million, are on Brodie Van Wagenen’s tab. Callaway is just the person paying for it right now, and as someone managing every game like it could be his last, he often puts forth a doomed mix of desperation and lousy luck.

The Mets, for now, are giving Callaway yet another reprieve. And fortunately for him, Jason Vargas -- the unlikeliest of saviors -- spared his manager any more grief Wednesday night by pitching a complete-game, five-hitter in a 7-0 rout of the Giants at Citi Field.

As long as the bullpen door stays shut, Callaway comes off as a genius. Despite Vargas throwing 102 pitches through eight innings, the manager sent him up to hit in the eighth inning (standing ovation) and back out for the ninth (more raucous Citi applause) to wrap up the 117-pitch effort.

“I think any night we can get a starter to finish the game,” said Vargas, who has a 1.85 ERA in his last seven starts, “you give everyone an extra boost of morale.” 

After Tuesday night’s mea culpa, the Mets needed a Costco-sized barrel of morale, between Noah Syndergaard fuming upon his exit and Callaway managing himself right off the proverbial cliff, pushed by his pathetic bullpen. Initially, that appeared to signal another Mickey Watch, but the alert evidently was premature. Callaway can thank Vargas for turning down the volume a bit.

“You can’t overlook the fact that we needed this bad,” Callaway said afterward. “I can sleep tonight.” 

Before Wednesday’s game, Callaway was asked to reflect a bit further on the previous night’s unusual display of public regret, and during that process, he actually revealed something positive we hadn’t thought of. While many figured it was a sign of weakness for Callaway to say he blew it in front of the entire team, the manager had a different view.

“I wanted them to know how I felt about the situation and that I held myself accountable for it,” Callaway said. “We all have to hold ourselves accountable. They need to hear that sometimes.”

Novel concept. Accountability. And Callaway’s right -- it can be an elusive commodity at the major-league level, whether you’re talking about the front office or clubhouse. Callaway appeared to score a few points with his players for wearing that failure, and he can only hope they’re up to owning their sub-par performance through the season’s first nine weeks.

Could a better, more experienced manager have squeezed a few more wins from this underachieving roster? Definitely. Probably three in the past week alone. Callaway just isn’t quite there on the learning curve yet to maximize this sub-optimal group.

How do we know this? Callaway said as much Wednesday. Not only is he getting shaky reads from the field he’s watching, the manager doesn’t even trust his own judgment. In rehashing Tuesday’s breakdown, Callaway talked about caving to the numbers rather than going with his gut instincts, which apparently told him to stick with Syndergaard.

 “I didn’t do a good job of listening to my gut,” Callaway said. “If I made all the decisions based on the numbers, it would be total chaos. We use our gut 85 to 95 percent of the time on our decisions, then we went on numbers [Tuesday] night. I just didn’t listen to my gut good enough.”

Wasn’t Callaway supposed to be the modern, new-school antidote for Terry Collins? Oh well. Never mind. We didn’t expect this to devolve into a guts vs. analytics argument. Maybe in 2009, not 2019. But Callaway, once again, tends to overthink the situation, like someone more than a little gun shy about making a wrong move.

It’s impossible to manage that way, or at least win on a consistent basis. Staying with Syndergaard was the simpler of the two decisions, and if he had given himself the chance to talk with Noah for a minute -- instead of issuing the immediate double-switch -- Callaway likely would have saved everyone involved a great deal of aggravation.

Roughly 24 hours later, Vargas did just that.

New York Sports