It was the top of the second inning, the Citi Field scoreboard reported Atlanta 8, Mets 0, and you could at least take solace in the fact that the team wouldn’t need Edwin Diaz in that case, at least.
But even if the closer hadn’t been out of reach 24 hours after recording the first save of six of his career in Thursday’s 6-4 win over the Braves, it seemed like he was about as useless as a hand warmer at Jones Beach week.
Until the Mets rallied to make it 8-5 in the fifth. Until the Mets put the tie on the plate in the sixth. Until the Mets put 16 men on base from the second through the ninth.
Until you get caught thinking, well, Seth Lugo can close.
Ultimately, Lugo was not necessary in the 9:6 defeat. No need for a closer one. But the fact that the Mets kept coming and coming and coming wasn’t too much of a surprise for a group that has every opportunity right in front of them.
“Our boys kept crunching,” manager Buck Showalter said after the Braves cut his team’s lead to 3 1/2 games. “We were able to get hold of a very good pitcher [Kyle Wright] on [Thursday] and they were able to get a very good pitcher tonight.”
That would be Taijuan Walker, who has been so reliable all year and only faced 12 racquets. Nine reliably made base, including one due to an infield error. He delivered eight carries on seven hits and allowed two homers and two doubles while hitting a hitter. His ERA jumped from 2.79 to 3.45.
“It just wasn’t a good day for me,” Walker said. “I don’t want it to happen on a big show like this, but it happened. I wasn’t doing my job and the bullpen had to carry it, which I’m not proud of.”
The majority of the happy recaps of the season come from rotation. In fact, since Max Scherzer’s return from injury on July 5, the Mets’ starters had recorded a 2.01 ERA.
That was before Friday’s mishap, which saw Walker become the club’s first starter to last less than five innings since David Peterson – who was due to start the opener of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader before Max Scherzer goes into Game 2 – Lasted in Cincinnati only 3²/₃ on July 6th.
But disaster was averted when Trevor Williams took the baton from Walker and was able to carry him through the fifth inning. Meanwhile, the Braves were forced to go to five relief pitchers in a game they had led by eight runs in the blink of an eye.
In other words, it could have been worse.
The Mets have held the top spot for 120 days and have been alone at the top of the division since April 12. The 114-48 1998 Yankees were first for 152 days. The 108-54 1986 Mets were first for 170 days. There are 62 days and 56 games left.
“You start to see the finish line and you see the number of games left starts with a ‘5,’” said Showalter, whose team travels to Atlanta for four games starting August 15. “When it comes to August and September there are changes and different things that I do.”
Like Diaz on Thursday.
These aren’t Luis Rojas’ Mets of 2020 and 2021, and these aren’t Mickey Callaway’s Mets of 2018 and 2019. But the truth is, these aren’t Showalter’s Mets from two weeks ago either.
Because by deadline, the Mets added four players in Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin, Darin Ruf and Mychal Givens while also activating Jacob deGrom for the first time this season and subsequently returning James McCann to the active roster for the first time in almost a month. Trevor May is back in prison after three months on IL.
Vogelbach and Naquin each hit two home runs. Ruf, whose full name seems a few consonants too short, ripped a two-run pinch double in the fifth inning on his Mets debut to put the team 8-4.
That equates to an overhaul of more than a quarter of the squad. That’s almost a game changer for a team that hit a season high with 29 games over .500 on Friday. It extends the list and gives Showalter more weapons and options. But there’s always a chance that multiple plays can disrupt a team’s chemistry. Scientific experiments, yo.
“The schedule drives every day, you’re trying to do your best but also remember to do things that make you a good, well-rounded team,” Showalter said. “It’s one thing to have something but want to take advantage of it [a player] Also [has] to be able to play enough to be able to deliver that.”
The Mets accepted the change. The Mets are the change. A night the starting pitcher imploded doesn’t change that.