NEW YORK -- For the second time during the ninth inning Friday against the Nationals, the Mets' bullpen door swung open. As Jeurys Familia's hulking figure emerged through the frame, "Danza Kaduro" blared throughout Citi Field's speakers, like it does every time Familia enters a game.
There was added anticipation this time, though. Runners stood on the corners with two outs in a one-run ballgame, and Familia had not entered a game in a save situation since May, when he underwent arterial surgery to remove a blood clot in his right shoulder, a procedure that cost him more than three months of the season. But Familia struck out Nationals rookie Victor Robles -- the organization's No. 1 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com -- on a 2-2 pitch, and the Mets secured a 7-6 victory.
It was a long time coming for Familia, who has leased the closing duties to AJ Ramos during the second half of the season. Ramos blew his first save as a Met on Tuesday against his former team in Miami and retired only one batter -- while allowing a walk and a single -- on Friday before Mets manager Terry Collins pulled him.
"He's fought," Collins said of Familia. "He works unbelievably hard every day. To finally be back out there in a situation that he's made this team good -- pitching in the ninth inning -- it was nice to see him out there."
The road back to the ninth inning was a bumpy one. Familia struggled when working on back-to-back days, which dissuaded Collins from reinstating him to the closer's role, and the results overall were not representative of the Familia the Mets saw last season, when he set a franchise record for saves in a season, with 51.
Those inconsistencies, Familia said after Friday's game, were just as much of a milestone as recording his first save since May 5.
"Even those bad games I had, even those were milestones for me, because it just meant I was back here and pitching," Familia said through an interpreter. "After having a surgery this year, you couldn't take that for granted, so it meant a lot."
Since those struggles, Familia has tossed 3 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, with five strikeouts -- and now, a save. All indications are that Familia will assume the closer role in 2018, but when asked whether he needed to pitch a complete ninth inning to help his confidence heading into next season, Familia said that decision would not lie with him.
"That's really up to [Collins]," Familia said. "I don't care if they put me in the ninth inning, in the eighth inning. Whenever they need me, I'll be ready to go. I'm always going to give 100 percent of myself."