NEW YORK -- This was hardly a new situation for AJ Ramos -- ninth inning with a lead, three outs to go. Ninety-two times before, Ramos had navigated quandaries like this with the Marlins, closing out a win.
But this was Ramos' first save attempt since joining the Mets just prior to last month's non-waiver Trade Deadline. With the pressure of impressing his new bosses heaped atop of the regular weight of an end-game situation, Ramos worked around a two-out homer Tuesday to record Mets save No. 1 in a 5-4 win over the Rangers at Citi Field.
"Your first one with a different team, it's a little more pressure I guess," Ramos said. "But then once you go out there and throw the first pitch, you realize it's just baseball. I've still got to get three outs. I've still got to get the save. I was definitely excited to get the first one out of the way."
As has become his custom in recent seasons, Ramos leaned heavily on his offspeed repertoire, throwing just three fastballs in 15 pitches. Robinson Chirinos hit one of them over the left-field fence to make it a one-run game, but Ramos quickly induced a groundout from Drew Robinson to end things. The longtime Marlin hit 95 mph with his fastball, while his changeup dipped as low as 83.
"This is the best I've seen him pitch," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Maybe it's just the fact that it was a save situation. He hasn't had many of them."
Ultimately, Ramos' tenure in the closer's role may be brief. Although the Mets have kept mostly quiet regarding Jeurys Familia's return from the disabled list, general manager Sandy Alderson said recently that Familia is roughly on the same rehab track as starting pitcher Matt Harvey, who is close to beginning a rehab assignment. Familia, Alderson said, could return at some point in August.
At that time, the Mets will hand the closer's job back to one of its foremost practitioners, Familia, who is recovering from arterial surgery. But don't count Ramos out of the ninth inning completely. An experienced closer in his own right with 93 saves the past three seasons, Ramos is in line to be Familia's primary setup man next season, replacing Addison Reed. By default, that makes Ramos the Mets' second closer option behind Familia.
"When we get Familia back, you've got to have another piece down there," Collins said. "You've got to. We were very, very lucky a few years ago. We had, with Addison and Tyler Clippard, guys who had saved games in the past besides Jeurys. When we get him back, you're going to need somebody else down there."
When asked about a potential shift to the eighth inning, Ramos toed the company line, saying he must record outs regardless of the situation. Yet it is worth noting that throughout his career, Ramos owns a 2.92 ERA in non-save situations and an 0.88 mark in games he's saved.
"For some reason, my numbers aren't as good in a non-save situation, even though I try to treat every situation the same way, there's just a different element to the game that you can't explain," said Ramos. "There's a certain pressure on you that your team is winning and you have to lock it down, it's a close game. I don't know what it is. I wish I could pitch like that all the time with that same mentality."