Tuesday was a great day for the Mets. A doubleheader sweep over the hated Braves would be enough to make that statement true, but the fact that it came at Turner Field hours after an excruciating loss on a walk-off HR in the bottom of the ninth inning made it all the better. And on top of that the Mets saw their two young aces – Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler – absolutely dominate one of the league’s top offenses and give hope that maybe there’s a plan after all.
But man, oh man, the eighth inning in Game One was a clinic in why Terry Collins needs to be removed as the club’s manager.
Harvey had a no-hitter through six innings but because he had piled up 12 strikeouts to that point, his pitch count was getting up there. An infield single in the seventh inning ruined the no-no but at the very least it removed the possibility of Collins agonizing (before, during and after the game) over what to do with a pitcher chasing history while also going past the accepted 110-115 pitch-count maximum.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Mets had a 2-0 lead and then loaded the bases with one out. Juan Lagares was due up and Collins sent up Jordany Valdespin to pinch-hit. This seemed like a curious decision at the time. While Lagares is struggling at the plate, he is considered the club’s top defensive outfielder, one you figure to prefer to be on the field in the late innings of a close game.
That decision worked out for Collins, as Valdespin bucked the odds and drew a walk – just his seventh free pass this year – to drive in a run. Next batter Omar Quintanilla drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0 with two outs. Due up next was Harvey, who had thrown 103 pitches.
At this point, let’s have a flashback to the previous game. Dillon Gee had dominated the Braves and the Mets had a decision to make – bring Gee out for the ninth inning with a 1-0 lead or turn it over to the bullpen, for closer Bobby Parnell to shut the door. Due in part to a low pitch count, Collins chose to let Gee finish the game. And while he ended up with a complete game, Gee took the loss after serving up a homer to Freddie Freeman.
So, hours after seeing a pitcher who had dominated the Braves lose it in the final inning, Collins decided to play it the exact same way. Except this time there was not the rationale of a low pitch count. Also, the bullpen was fortified with an extra pitcher due to this year’s new rule about carrying 26 players for a doubleheader. Finally, the Mets had a four-run lead.
Everything was screaming for a pinch-hitter. Shoot, you could have also justified the decision by going for the jugular and hoping to pad the lead, as the Mets still had two runners on base. Yet Harvey strode to the plate. After having a pitch buzz his head – can you imagine the outcry if he got beaned? – Harvey struck out to end the inning.
A walk and two singles to start the eighth loaded the bases and finally Collins came to get Harvey. It’s hard to imagine a tougher situation to bring in a reliever and no one has been singing the praises of the Mets’ bullpen, either. But the dirty secret is that most of the team’s relievers have been pitching well recently. Collins wasn’t going to use his closer with no outs in the eighth but here were his options:
David Aardsma – 4.2 scoreless innings with just one hit allowed as a Met
Scott Atchison – just activated from the DL
Josh Edgin – 3.0 scoreless innings since his recall
LaTroy Hawkins – A 5.54 ERA in his last 13 games, with 6 BB and 3 HR allowed in 13 IP
Brandon Lyon – A 2.57 ERA in his last 7 games and a 2.76 ERA in his last 17 games
Scott Rice – A 12.15 ERA in his last 10 games including runs allowed in three of his last four games (1.1 IP)
Carlos Torres – Two scoreless innings in his only appearance as a Met
Collins chose Hawkins. The veteran struck out his first batter but then surrendered a two-run single. He got the second out of the inning on a fielder’s choice, which put runners on the corners. Collins made another pitching change and with two lefties due up, he called on Rice. This is standard operating procedure for Collins, to bring in a lefty late in a close game whenever the other team has a lefty due up. But the guy he brought in is a 31-year-old rookie who the rest of the league has figured out.
Jason Heyward delivered an RBI double, putting the go-ahead run at second base. With another lefty due up, Collins had Rice issue an intentional walk. Hopefully this was Collins waving the white flag in his three-year quest to play the lefty-lefty matchup. But don’t count on it. Regardless, with two outs and the bases loaded he brought on Parnell, who after seven pitches was able to strike out the batter to end the inning.
So, Collins chose to pinch-hit for one of his defensive guys in a close game, he allowed his pitcher, who had already thrown 103 pitches, to bat for himself in the top of the eighth inning, he allowed Harvey to load the bases before going to his pen and then he used the two pitchers who had been performing the worst recently to pitch in these ultra-high leverage situations.
During the Game Chatter for the Gee game, I remarked that I didn’t envy Collins having to make the decision on whether or not to bring in Parnell in the ninth inning. My belief is that it was a defensible decision either way. But Collins’ choices in the eighth inning of Game One Tuesday were not nearly so hard and he screwed up every one of them.
It feels wrong looking at the negative in what was a tremendous day. But if the ascension of Wheeler really is the start of the next chapter for the Mets, then it is clear there’s something that needs to be done sooner rather than later to usher in this new era.
It’s time to make a change in the managerial seat and, much like with Ike Davis, the replacement isn’t nearly as important as the addition by subtraction element of the transaction.