Edwin Diaz of the Mets looks on during the seventh inning...

Edwin Diaz of the Mets looks on during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Edwin Diaz looked invincible once.

He would run in from the bullpen, trumpets blaring, as the crowd noise swelled around him.

And for one of the few times in recent memory, this fan base was allowed to feel a sense of certainty: Diaz would pump in his high-octane fastballs and his devilish sliders, and the game would be over. Whatever woes could befall the Mets — and don’t worry, there were plenty, even in 2022 — nothing could touch this team’s best, last line of defense.

But the smallest things have managed to topple this particular giant.

In 2023, it was a torn 5cm tendon in his knee that cost him the whole season. This year, it’s partially the shoulder impingement that will have him on the injured list until Thursday. But the true culprit actually appears to be the lack of confidence that saw him crying at his locker after blowing a save last month. Certainty has been replaced with doubt, and before he went on the IL, that translated to a 5.40 ERA, and four blown saves to five converted ones.

When Diaz is activated, he’ll be immediately slotted in as the Mets closer, Carlos Mendoza said. He hit 97 in his final rehab appearance with Single-A Brooklyn, pitching two scoreless innings in two games.

“You’ve got to show him you have the confidence in him,” Mendoza said. “You’ve got to give him the ball. You can’t hide him.”

 

And then: “For us to make a run at this, we’re going to need Edwin Diaz to be Edwin Diaz.”

It’s exactly the right thing to do.

The Mets entered Wednesday night’s game, a 10-4 victory over the Marlins, in fourth place and nine games under .500; they are four games out of the final wild-card spot with a whopping seven teams ahead of them, and have about a month or so to convince David Stearns not to trade away anything that isn’t bolted to the ground.

Making “a run at this” feels improbable, and I’ll grant that hinging it on a pitcher that has struggled like Diaz has this season is a risk.

But fortune favors the bold, right? And if the Mets are going to do anything this season, they have to start playing like there’s nothing left to lose. Because right now, there really isn’t.

Attendance is down, the fans are upset, there’s every chance huge pieces of this team will be gone by the July 30 trade deadline, and right now, it looks like it’s going to be a very quiet October in Flushing. Again.

So yeah, Diaz might get back in here and blow a three-run ninth-inning lead. The scoreboard trumpets might start sounding more taunting than celebratory.

But he very well might not.

There was little like watching Diaz befuddle batters in 2022 — he imbued the Mets with a sort of resilience and swagger that has too often gone missing of late. The word “electric” is overused, but there are few other ways to describe the palpable zing that went through Citi when he was called in to pitch.

I believe some version of that player still exists, and we saw sporadic glimpses of it this year. But coming back from the freakish injury he sustained last year is no small feat; doing it while trying to live up to the legend of your own success just makes it more difficult.

The only way past this trial, though, is through it, and Mendoza is likely correct in surmising that the key to building Diaz’s confidence is to give his closer ample opportunity to try being the pitcher he used to be. He’s earned that right, and the Mets are better off if they give it to him.

This isn’t charity work, by the way. This isn’t a metaphorical gold watch to thank Diaz for time served. It’s a necessity.

The Mets aren’t rife with late-game options. They have a 4.96 ERA in the ninth inning or later, which is 26th in baseball, and Diaz’s struggles are only part of the problem.

On top of that, if last year taught us anything, it’s that his absence trickles down to the rest of the reliever corps: Other pitchers aren’t put in places that allow them to succeed, and shaky or tired arms get thrown into high-leverage situations they’re simply not equipped to handle.

Let’s also not forget that Diaz has three more years on his contract after this season, meaning he’s very much part of those future plans Stearns and Steve Cohen keep throwing around.

Mendoza said he was heartened by Diaz’s “outings in the minor leagues, the shape of his slider, the fastball . . . but the biggest thing is that he’s feeling really good not only physically, but mentally.”

That’s progress, and that’s important, because even if Diaz once looked automatic, he’s still human like the rest of us. In the end, he was just a player who could throw a ball very, very well. Now, he just needs to stop doubting his ability to do it.

That’s a lot more attainable than “invincible.” And for the sake of this season and those to come, possibly just as valuable.

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