NEW YORK -- Edwin Díaz was last in line, pumping his fists in celebration as he let out a celebratory yell, but he was hardly the only part of the pitching parade. Before Díaz’s final high-octane slider ended the Mets’ 1-0 win over the Braves in Game 2 of a doubleheader on Monday, five other Mets relievers had made their appearances.
It’s a group that still ranks in the top half of the Majors in ERA despite heavy usage throughout the first four months of this season. And it’s a group that the Mets will continue to rely on extensively as they roll out their unheralded ace, “TBA,” to start games multiple times per week.
“We got huge outs in big situations,” said Anthony Banda, who performed the heaviest Game 2 lifting with a pair of shutout innings. “It’s a huge round of applause for everybody.”
Because the bullpen kept on putting up zeros at Citi Field, the Mets were able to make Jeff McNeil’s RBI double in the fifth inning stand tall as the game-winning run. That allowed the Mets to salvage a doubleheader split after dropping the first game, 2-0.
“They did an amazing job,” manager Luis Rojas said. “This is what you need at this time of the season, right? Guys, they’re going to throw back-to-back days, three days in a row, things like that. Sometimes, that can expose you.”
For the Mets, however, increased bullpen reliance hasn’t changed a thing. Aaron Loup is Exhibit A, as the Mets’ most consistent reliever all season. For the second time this year, the Mets asked Loup to start a game, and he responded with a perfect first inning. Loup has allowed just five earned runs all year -- and only one of those in his last 21 appearances.
Next up was Jeurys Familia, whom Rojas singled out postgame for his three-strikeout performance. Familia certainly could have caved after Pete Alonso lost a leadoff popup in the twilight sky, and the next batter singled on a slow bouncer. Instead, he struck out the ensuing three batters.
Next was Banda, then Trevor May, then Seth Lugo, all of whom completed their jobs without major issue. Then it was Díaz, the most scrutinized member of this bunch who recently blew three consecutive saves to rekindle talk about his job security. All he’s done since is record seven consecutive outs via strikeout, including all three Monday on a series of sliders. Díaz also hit 101.4 mph on the radar gun in converting his 22nd save in 26 chances.
“He made the adjustment,” Rojas said. “And that’s why he’s pitching this good right now. The stuff has always been there.”
Because this group has been so effective, it’s unlikely the Mets will make a major bullpen splash -- see: Craig Kimbrel -- before Friday’s Trade Deadline. New York’s need for pitching may be universal, regardless of role, but there is nonetheless a clear order of importance in the pursuit. Rotation help is paramount. Bullpen help would be a luxury, but one the Mets don’t need quite as badly.
That’s not to say the Mets are averse to acquiring both. But with only so much prospect capital to deal away, the Mets are more interested in spending it on starting pitching -- a clearer area of need.
If that happens, they will continue to rely heavily on Loup, Familia, Díaz et al, just as they have all season long. And that group is fine with it. Following Monday’s doubleheader, Loup and Banda entered the Mets’ press conference room with cans of beer of their choosing.
“Long day at work,” Banda said. “Men like to have beer. I’m on that.”
“I didn’t persuade him,” chimed in Loup, who began the tradition of press conference brews earlier this season. “I just told him to grab a beer. His flavor of choice.”