Fans often like to nitpick Major League Managers’ strategic in game decisions, and while the majority of time the end results are trivial, on several different occasions Wednesday night Mets’ manager Terry Collins’ blatant ineptitude caused a game New York once had in hand to spiral into their worst defeat of 2017.
Let’s pick it up in the 6th inning. With the Mets leading 5-3 right handed starter Robert Gsellman had just walked off the mound after retiring the middle of the Padres’ order 1-2-3 using only nine pitches. That brought the 23 year olds’ pitch count to only 84, in a game where he wasn’t great, but plenty good enough to navigate a weak San Diego lineup. With the state of the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen, the situation screamed for Gsellman to take the mound in the 7th, and perhaps 8th if he was able to enjoy another quick frame. Collins, however, disagreed, pinch hitting for his starter in the bottom of the 6th because he “[w]anted him to leave the game feeling good about himself.”
Enter Fernando Salas, appearing in his 24th contest (Only three Major Leaguers, including teammate Jerry Blevins have made more relief entrances.) Less than 24 hours earlier Collins had asked his set-up man to get the final four outs of a lopsided game, something the skipper has done far too often with his better relievers. Salas was able to easily discard the first two Padres in the 7th, but a seeing-eye single and a walk put him in two out jeopardy with Jangervis Solarte, who had driven in all three San Diego runs to this point coming up. Collins had left-hander Josh Edgin warming up, and while the veteran Solarte is a switch-hitter, he’s hitting 26 points lower from the right side, and with Salas clearly struggling, it seemed pretty straight forward to go get the lefty. Collins, however stuck with his righty, who walked Solarte to load the bases and bring the opposition’s best hitter, Wil Myers to the plate. Now Terry’s hand was forced. He couldn’t bring his left-hander in to face a righty power hitter with the game on the line, but his current reliever was obviously gassed. With anguish painted on his face, the manager walked out to get the ball and signal newly acquired righty, Neil Ramirez into the game. The same Neil Ramirez who while pitching with the Giants a month ago served up a home run to a Padre named Wil Myers. The result this time was a ringing line drive that missed going over the fence for a Grand Slam by mere inches, and easily tied the game. Edgin was finally summoned to face left handed hitter Ryan Schimpf, whom he easily discarded to end in inning, but this was the equivalent to closing the barn doors after the horse got out.
After the Mets went down noiselessly in the bottom of the 7th, Collins had another choice to make. Between not wanting to use closer Addison Reed in the 8th, Paul Sewald reportedly being unavailable, and having no confidence in Rafael Montero, Collins was forced to go with a lefty, and called upon Josh Smoker, who recently rejoined the Major League team after a demotion to AAA Las Vegas. This move was as mind boggling as any all night. If you were going to go with a southpaw, why not stick with Edgin? The veteran has been better then Smoker all year, and required only three pitches to get the only batter he faced out. With power hitting Hunter Renfroe leading off, you could almost see the second deck tie-breaking home run coming in slow motion.
Lastly, as we skip ahead to the bottom of the 9th, New York was still trailing 6-5 but this game was very much within reach. Neil Walker led off the inning with a single against Padres’ closer Brad Hand, and Lucas Duda worked an impressive lengthy at-bat to draw a walk. With Wilmer Flores coming up it was clear the Mets needed to run for Duda, carrying the winning run at first base. I for one questioned Collins’ choice however. Terry sent utility-man Matt Reynolds onto the field, in a spot I felt called more for a pitcher, someone like Zack Wheeler or Jacob deGrom. After Flores singled to load the bases with no outs, my worry from just a minute ago came to fruition. Stepping to the plate was the Mets’ struggling veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson, who has hit just .168 this year including a horrendous .135 clip against southpaws. Hand, arguably the only bright spot on the San Diego pitching staff and a man who will be in high demand this July, has held left handed hitters to just a .115 batting average. Did anyone in the ballpark or watching in their living room honestly believe Granderson could come through in this spot? Saving the right handed swinging Reynolds, a strong contact hitter, to pinch hit here would have made much more sense in a situation where even a double play ground ball would have pushed across the tying run. Granderson predictably struck out in a non-competitive at-bat, catcher Rene Rivera followed with a strikeout of his own, and Juan Lagares flew out as the Mets wasted a golden opportunity to salvage a game that never should have even gotten to that point.
We all know New York is in survival mode, missing several important players, but at this point in the season the team needs to be piling up as many ugly wins as they can get to give themselves a chance when some of their prominent names are able to make their way back to the big club. When the worst team in baseball makes a cross country trip to your own ballpark, this week had to result in a sweep. HAD TO. The Mets still may win the series behind Jacob deGrom tonight, but even if they do, this will feel like a wasted opportunity to make up much needed ground in the National League. Something that is all the more frustrating when the manager is inadvertently literally snatching defeat from the hands of victory.
Justin Mears, Baseline Times MLB Contributor