PHILADELPHIA -- Roughly two hours before Sunday’s meaningless Game No. 162 at Citizens Bank Park, the conversation around the Mets fast-forwarded to the playoffs, and Terry Collins was asked if there was something he learned last October that he might pack with him for this postseason trip. His response was immediate.
“Yeah,” Collins said. “I’m going to put Familia in.”
Laughter filled the manager’s office. Collins smiled. It didn’t require further explanation. He was referring, of course, to his ill-fated decision to let Matt Harvey attempt to finish Game 5 of the World Series, with the Mets holding a 2-0 lead, rather than automatically go to his closer, Jeurys Familia.
Collins’ head told him to summon Familia. His heart urged him to give Harvey a chance to pitch himself into Mets lore. The call backfired badly and instantly became one of the bigger regrets of Collins’ career. Almost a year later, the memory evidently still stings.
Anything else come to mind, Terry?
“That’s it,” Collins replied.
The one thing we can try to do in this life is learn from our mistakes. None of us is perfect, but we insist that our managers should be. In Familia’s case, you can safely assume that Collins has taken this lesson to heart. And if it required any follow-up reinforcement, Familia practically stamped it across the manager’s forehead by leading the majors with 51 saves this season, eight more than a year ago and tied for ninth on the all-time list for a single season.
With the Giants coming to Citi Field for Wednesday night’s wild-card game, setting up a do-or-die showdown between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ greatest advantage is waiting at the back of their bullpen. Familia alone has more saves than the entire Giants pitching staff (43) and his five blown chances are far fewer than their 30 — the most in the majors.
More than 72 hours away from Syndergaard’s opening pitch, Familia already was amped up for Wednesday night. The World Series was not the best of memories for Familia, who was saddled with three blown saves, mostly because the Mets’ suspect defense betrayed him. During the previous two rounds, Familia went 5-for-5, including three in the NLCS sweep of the Cubs. In looking ahead to Wednesday, he’s bubbling over with that same confidence.
“I can’t wait,” Familia said before adding, “If everybody plays like we can, we’re going to win the game.”
Not exactly a Patrick Ewing-type guarantee. It’s more of a belief on Familia’s part that these Mets have the ability to stretch their resurgence deeper into October after riding a .692 winning percentage (27-12) — the best in the majors since Aug. 20 — into Sunday’s meaningless loss.
Familia silenced any whispers of a World Series hangover this season in becoming the first Met to lead the entire sport in saves. Only 13 closers have reached the 50-save plateau, and if we didn’t know Familia better, we’d suggest he pitched this season as if he had something to prove — or a manager to convince.
When told what Collins had said about not repeating his Game 5 blunder, Familia appreciated the gesture.
“It’s really important, because those words came from the manager,” he said. “You can tell how much he trusts me. I think everything happens for a reason, you know? We learn from the bad times, we learn from the good times. God gave me the opportunity to be here again and I think things will be different this year. But I really appreciate what he said about me.”
The Mets have a long way to go before Collins can put Familia back on the same stage he denied him that November night at Citi Field. Wednesday night, however, would be a good start.
The truly elite closers may have short memories, but it’s not as if Familia has forgotten what happened nearly a year ago. His job is to prevent that bit of Mets history from repeating itself, and he’s convinced the manager that it shouldn’t.
“I wasn’t upset then,” Familia said. “I respect every decision that he makes. Right now, I know everybody trusts me in this room — my manager, my pitching coach, my teammates.”
Once again, after almost 100 saves over two seasons, he has earned it.