Callaway’s decision-making hurts Mets in second straight loss

Callaway’s decision-making hurts Mets in second straight loss

There was no bullpen meltdown on this night, or anything particularly dramatic about a second straight loss to the Nationals. But there was a moment in a sixth-inning rally when Mickey Callaway had an important decision to make about a pinch-hitter.

And he chose Jose Reyes over Michael Conforto, Adrian Gonzalez, and Brandon Nimmo.

Predictably, based on the way Reyes has swung the bat so far this season, this was one decision that didn’t work out well for the manager.

In fact, with one out and runners at first and third, the Mets trailing 3-2 at the time, Reyes struck out with what amounted to an emergency half-swing of sorts at a fastball, when he seemed to be looking for a breaking ball from lefty Sammy Solis.

The strikeout left Reyes 0-for-17 on the season, and when Amed Rosario popped out behind him, the inning was over and the Mets never got that close again, losing 5-2 to the Nats at Citi Field on Tuesday night.

Reyes wasn’t the only one to fail in a big spot, and maybe the Mets would have lost anyway, but the moment stands out because Callaway had better options in a difference-making situation.

Clearly he preferred to stay away from the lefty-lefty matchups with his other pinch-hitters at that point, but as badly as Reyes is going, I’d have taken my chances with Gonzalez or Conforto, who can both hit lefties.

Gonzalez, in particular, is the type of savvy hitter you want in a situation where you just need a sacrifice fly to score the tying run. Only last week Callaway used Gonzalez in a similar spot against a Marlins’ lefty and he delivered a go-ahead single up the middle.

Maybe you can make the case that Callaway wanted to save his best pinch-hitters for later in the game, but that was a chance to change the entire feel of the game. Even if the Mets had only tied it there, you never know how the game plays out from that point.

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Maybe the law of averages is catching up with Mickey Callaway.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

And as it turned out, Conforto wound up pinch-hitting in the eighth inning with two outs and nobody on, the Mets trailing 5-2, and walked. Gonzalez never did hit.

Not that Reyes is the blame for the loss. In fact, plenty of Mets’ hitters failed in big spots, as they put 14 runners on base against Gio Gonzalez and four relievers, making for a frustrating night for the home team.

But perhaps it was an indication that the law of averages is catching up with Callaway. Every move he made seemed to work when the Mets were winning 11 of their first 13 games, but on Monday night his bullpen decisions didn’t work out, as his relievers failed him, and on this night it seemed he was forcing an opportunity for Reyes to get untracked.

And so the Mets didn’t get the bounce-back win they needed to soften the blow of Monday night’s killer loss, and suddenly some of the feel-good air from their hot start is coming out of the balloon.

They had a chance to bury the Nationals deep in the standings this week while their rivals came in reeling, playing without Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon.

And now on Wednesday they’ll be trying to avoid getting swept.

They did get a solid start from Zack Wheeler, who allowed three runs over six innings and didn’t give up a lot of hard contact.

That could make for more intrigue regarding the starting rotation, for as Jason Vargas gets closer to coming back from that broken bone in his hand, Matt Harvey is going to be under the gun to pitch better than he has so far to justify keeping his spot over Wheeler.

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

The Mets will try to avoid losing three consecutive games for the first time all season on Wednesday.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

At the very least, Callaway and the Mets’ front office has to consider finding a way to keep Wheeler in the rotation, as he followed up his strong start against the Marlins with a good effort against a much better lineup.

Bottom line, though, two straight losses to the Nationals has changed the feel of the Mets’ hot start, and some superstitious fans might be wondering if Callaway brought this on by intimating what they were already worried about after the eighth-inning meltdown on Monday night.

In fact, it wasn’t hard to imagine the reaction when Callaway said his team would need to make sure that one bad inning didn’t lead to a tailspin.

“Tailspin?” Did he tailspin? He shouldn’t say tailspin.”

In other words, fans wondered: why would he even suggest such a possibility?

Well, the answer seems obvious enough: Callaway doesn’t have any of the scar tissue that comes with being a Mets’ fan, so to him he wasn’t tempting fate by suggesting that one killer loss could short-circuit his team’s hot start.

He was merely stating the obvious, and as he said before Tuesday’s game, he did so because of the confidence he has that there is nothing flukey about the way the Mets have played so far.

A second straight loss doesn’t really change any of that. Or does it?

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Mickey Callaway confident Mets won't fall into 'tailspin'

Mickey Callaway confident Mets won't fall into 'tailspin'

It was Mickey Callaway, strangely enough, who intimated what so many Mets’ fans were thinking after the eighth-inning meltdown against the Nationals on Monday night.

In fact, it wasn’t hard to imagine the reaction when Callaway said his team would need to make sure that one bad inning didn’t lead to a tailspin.

“Tailspin? Did he say tailspin? He shouldn’t say tailspin.”

In other words, fans wondered: why would he even suggest such a possibility?

Well, the answer seems obvious enough: Callaway doesn’t have any of the scar tissue that comes with being a Mets fan, so to him he wasn’t tempting fate by suggesting that one killer loss could short-circuit his team’s hot start.

He was merely stating the obvious, and as he said before Tuesday’s game, he did so because of the confidence he has that there is nothing flukey about the way the Mets have played so far, going 12-2 and beating up on the Nationals 6-1 through seven innings before the bullpen imploded.

As such, Callaway made the case that all was well, even as Games 2 and 3 of this series suddenly had added pressure for the Mets to win the series against their rivals and prove they’re tough enough to overcome such a bad loss.

“Everybody’s in good spirits,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, it was a tough loss, those are going to happen again.’ But we just can’t dwell on them.

“Guys only need to worry about what they can control. I think if our players take that approach, we’re going to be just fine because we have a really good team.”

Mickey Callaway is confident the Mets' hot start is no fluke.

Mickey Callaway is confident the Mets’ hot start is no fluke.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

He was asked if having a team full of veterans made it easier to move on quickly from the loss.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I don’t think Todd Frazier has ever had a bad day in his life. I promise you he’s in there having a good time, keeping things loose. That really helps.”

All of that may be true, but it didn’t change the fact that we were going to find out a lot more about these Mets because of Monday’s loss. Nary a thing had gone wrong for them through the first 14 games of the season; the two losses had been of the routine, didn’t-hit-much variety.

And though they had demonstrated toughness in games, establishing a habit of answering immediately when opponents scored or took leads on them, this was different.

For one thing, the bullpen had been the surprise strength of the ballclub, only to come apart collectively, as all four relievers used in that eighth inning failed in one way or another to get the job done.

And what bothered Callaway most was that those relievers made it easy on the Nationals, as Seth Lugo, A.J. Ramos and Jeurys Familia all issued costly walks.

As a former pitching coach, the manager talks a lot about attacking hitters and pitching with conviction, and he saw little of that Monday night.

“I’m sure Dave (Eiland) will mention something about that to them today,” Callaway said on Tuesday. “But I don’t think it really needs to be mentioned. I think they know the issues in that inning were not us getting hit. It was the walks.

Jeurys Familia and the Mets bullpen imploded, but Mickey Callaway doesn't believe it was a sign of things to come.

Jeurys Familia and the Mets bullpen imploded, but Mickey Callaway doesn’t believe it was a sign of things to come.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

“That’s just how it was. If we don’t walk the guys we walked, we probably win the game. Or at least have the lead coming out of that inning.”

For another thing, shaking off a late-inning loss and rebounding immediately is always the ultimate test of mental toughness for a ballclub, especially against the same team, and especially in this case when it’s the team that dominated the Mets in 2016 and 2017.

Furthermore, this is still the time for the Mets to take advantage of the Nationals, while Daniel Murphy remains out of the lineup as he rehabs from offseason knee surgery, Anthony Rendon was out for a second straight night after fouling a pitch off his foot, and Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .111.

Adding more intrigue, after his strong start against the Marlins last week, Zack Wheeler has the opportunity to perhaps force his way into the rotation with another good one against the Nationals _ or at the very least, put a lot of pressure on Matt Harvey to fend off the challenge.

The Nationals pounded Wheeler in his final two spring training starts, resulting in him being sent to the minors, so obviously he needed to pitch at a high level.

Finally, making a bounce-back even more difficult was Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, who has owned the owned the Mets at Citi Field in his career, as evidenced by a 10-1 record and a 1.73 ERA in 14 starts here.

All of it added up to an important test for the Mets on yet another freezing cold night in this frigid April.

After all, two straight losses would leave them needing to avoid a sweep on Wednesday and leave fans fearing exactly what they wished Callaway had never mentioned.

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Don Mattingly may share Jeter link, but can he survive rebuild?

Don Mattingly may share Jeter link, but can he survive rebuild?

In the dugout before the game, Don Mattingly had spent considerable time talking about his new owner, Derek Jeter, and the connection they’ll always have as ex-Yankees who grew up in the organization embracing the Steinbrenner Doctrine, believing that winning championships is all that matters.

“That’s where I think we’re on the exact same page,” Mattingly said at one point.

In that sense, perhaps it’s true, the two former Yankee captains would both love to win the World Series with the Marlins, and believe the only way to do it is by starting over, rebuilding in a market that won’t support a big payroll.

But whether they’re in this together for the long haul is a fascinating sub-plot to the state of the Marlins.

As the new owner, Jeter has as much time as he wants or needs to turn the Marlins into a winner, and he has shown no patience for sentimentality, running off the likes of Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jeff Conine, who held ceremonial positions in the organization.

So how much time will he give Mattingly?

It seems clear Jeter has established himself as a boss, if not The Boss, who is not necessarily leaning on his one-time teammate for help making decisions about the Marlins, or anything else for that matter.

After his press session, for example, as Mattingly lingered in the dugout, I asked him if Jeter had conversed with him about the decision not to show up here in the Bronx for the two Marlins-Yankees games.

They may be ex-teammates, but time will tell if Don Mattingly can survive Derek Jeter's rebuild.

They may be ex-teammates, but time will tell if Don Mattingly can survive Derek Jeter’s rebuild.

(Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Mattingly looked at me like I’d asked if Jeter had offered him a piece of the Marlins’ ownership.

“No,” he said simply.

“That’s not on the program?” I asked.

“No, that’s not on the program,” he said with a laugh that added emphasis.

In other words, much as Jeter may have admired Mattingly as an impressionable young player, coming up from the minors in 1995, it’s all business between them now.

Mattingly seems to understand. Times change, relationships change. Just as he said he still enjoys coming back to New York, where he’ll always be a fan favorite, he said the sentimentality disappears when he’s managing from the other dugout.

Likewise, he said, he didn’t think Jeter would have been conflicted at all had he chosen to show up here for this series.

Don Mattingly may enjoy shaping the direction of the organization, but he may not stick around once the Marlins can compete.

Don Mattingly may enjoy shaping the direction of the organization, but he may not stick around once the Marlins can compete.

(Ralph Freso/AP)

“You move on,”Mattingly said. “You’re here to win. That’s what you learn when you come back with another organization.

“You don’t mind rooting for them when they’re playing someone else, but when you’re playing them yourself, you’re trying to win a game that day. So I’m sure it’d be a little different, but he’d be fine.”

Jeter himself was quoted a few days ago saying he’d decided not to be here at least partly because it would be “awkward” as the owner of the opponent.

Before Monday’s game a Marlins’ spokesman made a point of telling a couple of New York reporters that Jeter hadn’t meant “awkward” as much as emotional, considering the feelings he has for the Yankees.

Fair enough. Of course, it could also be that Jeter wouldn’t necessarily want to watch in person if his old team pummeled his overmatched Marlins, especially given the possibility that Giancarlo Stanton, the slugger he traded to shed salary, enjoyed a big night.

The rebuild has to be painful already for someone who won as much as Jeter did with the Yankees. The Marlins were 4-11 as the night began, and it is almost certainly going to be at least a few years before they’ll have a team that can contend, never mind win a championship.

But where it was Jeter’s call, Mattingly didn’t have a say in the matter, and he’ll be the one dealing with the day-to-day grind of losing 100 games.

OCT. 3, 2017, FILE PHOTO. MANDATORY CREDIT

Derek Jeter is trying to build up the Marlins in a small market.

(Taimy Alvarez/AP)

Meanwhile, you can’t help but wonder: will he make it to the other side, a la someone like Brett Brown, the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers who survived the whole “trust the process” rebuild and now has a playoff team that hasn’t lost in a month?

Not many coaches or managers survive lengthy rebuilds. For now, Mattingly insists it’s actually “thrilling” to be undertaking this operation.

“Struggling to win games is always tough,” he said. “But as far as what we’re building, knowing what the plan is, for any kind of coach you want to teach, you want to develop. So it’s actually pretty thrilling to be part of it, to have a chance to mold and shape the direction of the organization.”

Mattingly has always loved the game enough that I can believe that, at least to a point. Like if he knew for sure that Jeter would allow him to be Brett Brown.

But does he?

When asked about how much the new owner communicates with him, Mattingly was complimentary of Jeter, but he also talked about the chain of command in a way that sounds like he speaks a lot with GM Mike Hill, and perhaps not so much with Jeter.

“Mike’s in constant contact with Derek, and I’m in constant contact with Mike,” Mattingly said. “So I feel connected with what we’re trying to do, and what he wants.”

It’d be a great story if Mattingly survived the rebuild and someday won a championship for the owner he once rather famously told to jog it in with him from a back field in Yankee spring training one time because “you never know who’s watching.”

Unfortunately for Donnie Baseball, at the moment that sounds more like a fairy tale.

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Mets have perfect chance to increase lead over Nationals

Mets have perfect chance to increase lead over Nationals

By the late innings, after a rare questionable decision from the manager and then some shaky defense, this one had the feel of a game that was getting away from the Mets. Except they obviously have something special going that makes them practically unbeatable at the moment.

Call it resolve, call it Mickey Magic, call it whatever you want, but the Mets pulled out a 3-2 win over the Brewers on a walk-off home run by Wilmer Flores, as they continue to ride this wave they may look back on as the difference if they go on to win the NL East.

As it is, they’ve already jumped out to a six-game lead over the big, bad Nationals, and have a chance to bury them a little deeper in the standings over the next three nights at Citi Field.

Sure, the Phillies and Braves are playing better than expected, and who knows, maybe their young talent will move their rebuilds ahead of schedule. But more than likely the Nationals will hit their stride at some point, so it’s vital the Mets pile on while they can.

After all, the division champs are struggling and clearly miss Daniel Murphy’s presence in their lineup, as the ex-Met continues to rehab from microfracture surgery on his knee.

And as was the case in Washington when the Mets earned the three-game sweep, they’ll miss Max Scherzer in this series, and Stephen Strasburg this time as well.

So the opportunity is there to widen the gap a little farther, and the way these Mets are playing, raising their best-ever start to 12-2 on Sunday, you surely wouldn’t bet against them at the moment.

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Wilmer Flores and the Mets have jumped out to a 12-2 start.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

They continue to get contributions from up and down the roster. On Sunday it was a pair of bench players who changed the script: for while Flores hit the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth, Brandon Nimmo had gone deep in the bottom of the sixth to tie game 2-2 just minutes after the Mets had given away a 2-0 lead.

So the rather remarkable ability to bounce back quickly in games this season has become perhaps their most defining trait, and you can hear the belief it has created in the clubhouse.

“Anybody in here can be a hero on any day,” was the day Nimmo put it. “That’s the feeling here. A lot of the guys say it’s the most talented team they’ve ever been a part of, so at-bats might be tough to come by for me, but I want to be part of a team that can win a World Series.”

Yes, it surely says something about this team that it is off to such a hot start even while Yoenis Cespedes, the most important hitter in the lineup, is hitting just .190, with 26 strikeouts in 14 games.

Mostly these Mets are simply finding ways to win, but it all starts with their pitching. The bullpen got the job done again, even though Robert Gsellman wasn’t sharp, but perhaps more importantly, Noah Syndergaard offered reason to believe there is a lot more dominance to come from him.

He struck out 11 hitters, including eight straight in the middle innings, with a fastball-change-up combination that had the Brewers hitters muttering to themselves.

The Mets will once again avoid facing Max Scherzer.

The Mets will once again avoid facing Max Scherzer.

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“Good luck,” Travis Shaw told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel when asked about hitting against Syndergaard. “Freakin’ wiffle balls at 98 mph. His change-up’s disgusting.”

Still, the Brewers did make Syndergaard work hard, especially in the early innings, and he lasted only 5 1/3 innings because Mickey Callaway didn’t want to push him past 101 pitches on a frigid day.

Afterward Syndergaard was pleased, and yet still a tad frustrated that he hasn’t been able to go deeper into games, unable to pitch into the seventh inning yet this season.

As he said afterward, “Today I caught a glimpse of what I’m capable of. But I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.”

Syndergaard didn’t want to come out of Sunday’s game, saying afterward, “I felt like I was just hitting my stride. I definitely wasn’t gassed.”

On a warmer day deeper into the season, perhaps Callaway would have let him go longer, as he has said he wants to push both Syndergaard and deGrom deep into games this season.

Despite only lasting 5 1/3 innings, Noah Syndergaard looked sharp Sunday.

Despite only lasting 5 1/3 innings, Noah Syndergaard looked sharp Sunday.

(Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

On this day, however, the manager said the combination of 101 pitches in only 5 1/3 innings, plus the cold weather, made it an easy decision to pull him, and never mind that the Brewers wound up scoring two runs in the inning, partly because of a walk by Gsellman and an error on a tough play by Amed Rosario.

“I think we pushed him enough” was the way Callway put it.

It’s hard to second-guess him on that, as Job One for him is keeping the starters healthy, as long he can juggle the workload in the bullpen enough not to burn out his key relievers.

So far he’s had the golden touch, obviously. Even when a rather strange decision to pinch-hit Jay Bruce for catcher Tomas Nido, knowing the Brewers would walk Bruce, left him with Syndergaard making the final out of the fifth inning with the bases loaded, could have come back to haunt him, it didn’t.

Right now it’s all coming up Mickey for the Mets. A few more days of this and the Nationals could have a long, long climb to catch them.

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