Mets, Yankees bullpens equally bad lately
Yankees fans were mostly spared this for a couple of decades — but even they know the unique pain of a bullpen blowup. As good as Mariano Rivera was as a closer — and he was better than anyone else who ever has done the job — he had more than a few moments when he reminded the world he was human, not infallible.
It’s what bullpens are, after all. They are fun houses, minus the fun. They can be roller-coaster rides without the brakes. Just think of what we’ve seen from the Mets’ and Yankees’ bullpens in the past two weeks alone, and it’s enough to make you want to start popping antacid tablets like peanut butter M&Ms.
Two weeks ago, within hours of each other, the teams exchanged bullpen disaster stories that had to be seen to be believed. First up, on July 11: the Mets, up 5-0 six batters into the game. Now, that was the most audibly displeasing of all modern inventions — a “bullpen game” — so it began with a relief pitcher (Aaron Loup) pitching well and a series of relievers for the relievers — Jerad Eickhoff, Miguel Castro, Jeurys Familia, Edwin Diaz — bleeding the lead away until it ended Pirates 6, Mets 5.
Then, the Yankees screamed: “Hold our beer!”
In an even more horrifying sequence, the Bombers entered the ninth inning in Houston with a comfy 7-2 lead before the Astros went single/double/double/double/single/lineout off Domingo German and Chad Green before Jose Altuve ended a perfectly miserable day by blasting one near the train tracks at Minute Maid Park to complete Astros 8, Yankees 7.
This past week, the dueling disasters didn’t occur on the same day, but they did offer up a philosophical question: What’s worse: Losing a game you once led 6-0 on a walk-off grand slam (as the Mets did in Pittsburgh last Saturday), or losing a game you led 3-1 with one out to go when a relief pitcher, an inning later, ties a major league record with four — four! — wild pitches?
(Answer: It’s a push.)
Mets fans are probably better acquainted with the headache- and ulcer-inducing aspects of bullpen life than Yankees fans. That probably goes back to Sept. 11, 1987, when normally reliable Roger McDowell offered up a two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying home run to the Cardinals’ Terry Pendleton in a game the Mets desperately needed as they stalked St. Louis.
From there is a fun montage of Armando Benitez highlights, with a few John Franco highlights tossed in there, and maybe the bookend images of Familia offering up a quick-pitch home run to Kansas City’s Alex Gordon in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series and a wild-card-game-losing three-run jack to the Giants’ Conor Gillaspie a year later, and then the ever-popular collection of Diaz’s Greatest Hits.
But the Yankees aren’t immune, of course. Ralph Terry served up Bill Mazeroski’s homer that clinched the 1960 World Series, which is a memory that still haunts Yankees fans of a certain age, as does the three-run homer by George Brett off Goose Gossage that all but ended the 1980 ALCS. And of course the Yankees’ past two seasons have ended thanks to home runs served up by Aroldis Chapman to Altuve (2019) and Tampa Bay’s Mike Brousseau.
But even when they enjoyed the daily and yearly brilliance of Rivera, there are a series of snapshots that linger. There is Sandy Alomar in Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS, and Luis Gonzalez in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and the back-to-back blemishes of Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS, at Fenway.
Of course, if you have as many chances as Rivera did through the years, every now and again someone is going to figure you out. Law of averages. Law of percentages, and probability, all of that. None of which makes anyone feel any better. Bullpens, man.
I honestly can’t recall when a TV show has made me feel quite as good as “Ted Lasso” does. Every. Single. Episode.
The Yankees and Mets bullpens do understand that relief pitchers are called “firemen” because they put out fires, right?
Me: It has been a joy and privilege to write about Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout these NBA playoffs. My fingers: It will be a relief to take time off from actually having to type “Antetokounmpo” quite so often.
A cool aspect of next week’s Mets Hall of Fame ceremonies at Citi (which will honor Ron Darling, Jon Matlack and Edgardo Alfonzo): Darling gives much credit to the late Al Jackson, the Original Met who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award that day: “The history of the Mets is incomplete if it does not include Al’s contributions as a pitcher and his commitment to the development of a generation of young arms.”
Whack Back at Vac
Carlo A. Trimboli: I have seen it all in my 68 years, and just once before I go I want to see it again in the way you described, one of our teams led by a homegrown star. Yeah, just once more and I don’t care which team, Daniel Jones, RJ Barrett, the hockey kids, one more Mantle/Jeter/Taylor/Eli/Leetch/Clyde/Dollar Bill. Then I can die in Peace.
Vac: For your sake, Carlo, I will root for the over. No need to aim so low!
Peter Dowd: Question: Since when has throwing 5 ²/₃ innings of no-run baseball become a gem (as you recently described a Jacob deGrom start)? That wasn’t even a complete game when I played in Little League (1963-65). Just saying.
Vac: I must admit, Peter: I think you have forced me to reevaluate my word choices as they pertain to modern baseball.
@BartBusterna: Why is contending Tampa Bay giving away pitching depth for nothing?
@MikeVacc: I must admit up front I like the Mets getting Rich Hill. But when a sharp team like the Rays agrees to part with a player … it does make you want to check the expiration date twice.
Alex Burton: Thanks for reminding everyone again about Bernie Williams’ beyond-essential contributions. I am saddened and, frankly, stunned at his frequent (unintentional/absent-minded?) exclusion whenever the Core Four are cited as the homegrown heart of the ’90s Yankees dynasty. They don’t win those trophies without him.
Vac: Sadly, unlike the others, Bernie cut his teeth toiling a few years on some awful Yankees teams. Too bad he couldn’t trade those in at the back end.