What in the world was going on?
During an afternoon Mets game on May 9, 2018, your intrepid columnist was busy at work. Fortunately, his job affords him the luxury of internet access and the ability to follow a game online via MLB Gameday. So the afternoon was planned out: finish up outstanding projects, while keeping an eye on the doings from Cincinnati. Started off OK. Brandon Nimmo struck out on three pitches from Sal Romano and Wilmer Flores did the same. Asdrubal Cabrera reached on a ground-rule double, Gameday told me. Then they said there was an “on filed delay.” Usually that means a drunk ran out of the stands and onto the field, but at 12:42 PM? Besides, the fans at Great American Ballpark on a Wednesday afternoon could be counted on one hand: a drunk didn’t need to run on the field to gain notoriety. No. Suddenly I started getting texts from a retired friend who was home watching the game on SNY. The Mets had batted out of order. “What the heck are you talking about?” says I. “I’m looking at the lineup MLB.com has posted. Same as what happened.” He replied, “Yes, but the umps got a different lineup card. The Reds waited for a base runner before they said something.” This is the proper procedure in such a situation. Cabrera was called out, his double removed from his record, a possible rally squelched. This is a scenario that happens once or twice a year in MLB – it’s the second time the Mets did it ever. The first time was in 1977, a year infamous in Mets history for so much else, but it served as a highlight for that team’s early-season dysfunction. It was a factor in costing second-year manager Joe Frazier – an experienced, veteran minor league skipper – his job.
Current manager Mickey Callaway is not an experienced, veteran skipper, on any level. That’s not to say he might not be a very good one, but this lineup card business – for which, to his credit, he took responsibility – shines a light on his very public growing pains. Callaway earned his bona fides as a pitching coach. An American League pitching coach, at that. His experience with in-game strategy, with Xs and Os was limited at best when he took the job and he seems ill-prepared for the nuances of the National League game. His handling of double-switches can be head scratching at times. On the night the Mets traded Matt Harvey for catcher Devin Mesoraco, Callaway had the luxury of having three catchers rostered. Light hitting Tomas Nido had started the game and had made the last out in the top of the fifth, in a game the Mets trailed 4-0 at the time. Callaway wanted to switch out struggling starter Jason Vargas in favor of Seth Lugo, but Vargas was due to hit second in the top of the sixth. The natural move would have been to swap out Nido and use either Mesoraco or Jose Lobaton to bat in the pitcher’s spot. Instead, Callaway switched in Flores at third base and shifted Jose Reyes to shortstop, removing Amed Rosario – a better defender than Reyes, who, to that point in the game, had gotten the Mets’ only hit. The fact that Flores homered for the Mets’ first run of the night hollows out this argument, but that’s playing the result, rather than the process: no matter what Flores did, this was a puzzling move.
“Playing the result” has been kind of a theme for Callaway: there have been more than a few similar moves in these first few weeks of the season, but they were drowned out by the Mets winning 11 of their first 12 games. When a team is winning, unconventional decisions are seen as “daring,” or “innovative.” When a team is losing, they’re seen as “stupid,” or “reckless.” And this is just about game strategy. The elephant in the room is that Callaway and new pitching coach Dave Eiland were brought in to prop up the pitching staff and implement new ideas for training and conditioning. Well, as of right now, the Mets have two reliable starting pitchers, one of whom is currently on the disabled list. Callaway has stated publicly that he feels he and Eiland had “failed Matt [Harvey]” in his attempt to reclaim his status as an elite starter. Callaway appears to be a good communicator and the players seem to enjoy playing for him, seem to embrace the atmosphere in the clubhouse. That’s all well and good, but the idea, here, is to win games.
Just ask Joe Frazier.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.