NEW YORK -- The first batter Seth Lugo faced in Saturday’s 5-3 Mets win over the Rockies fell victim to a vintage Lugo performance. After falling behind 2-0, Lugo worked the count even, then spun a picture-book curveball through the bottom edge of the strike zone. Trevor Story swung right over it.
The next batter, David Dahl, stared at a middle-in curve, and Lugo was on his way. In the seventh and eighth innings at Citi Field, Lugo retired all six batters he faced, striking out three. He took a close game against the Rockies' offense and, in 21 pitches, stymied any thought of a comeback, providing the exact type of effort the Mets missed when he was on the injured list late last month.
“It’s not often that you see a reliever come in the game with four really good pitches,” said winning pitcher Steven Matz, who struck out 10 in a quality start. “He’s just been electric, and we definitely have a lot of confidence in him coming in behind us.”
At times this season, the bridge between the Mets’ vaunted rotation and their elite closer, Edwin Diaz, has been rickety. At times, it has been nonexistent. When Lugo was sidelined due to a bout of shoulder tendinitis in May, manager Mickey Callaway shuffled through plenty of other options for the seventh and eighth innings -- Robert Gsellman, Drew Gagnon, Jeurys Familia and others. None of them could come close to matching Lugo, who lowered his ERA to a staff-best 2.59 on Saturday.
While Lugo has continually expressed a desire to join the Mets’ rotation, the team has kept him in the bullpen for exactly these reasons. They can use him at any point from the fifth through ninth innings, and for as many as three frames at a time. They can use him to close. They can use him for long relief. They can use him in the game’s highest-leverage spots, in ways that they’re reticent to use Diaz.
“He’s going to save the game for you in those innings,” Callaway said. “And he did tonight.”
While the Mets received a fine performance from Matz, the left-hander needed 120 pitches to complete six innings. By that point, the Mets held a one-run lead thanks to Carlos Gomez’s two-run homer, Todd Frazier’s RBI single and a run-scoring double play, all against Rockies starter Jon Gray. Pete Alonso later added to the margin with a towering solo shot against Jake McGee.
Given that backing, the Mets needed two innings of pitching before they could turn to Diaz, coming off a game in which they used four of their seven relievers.
Callaway understood that deploying Lugo for six outs would make his best setup man unavailable Sunday, but the manager is learning to deal with those swings. The value Lugo provides in multi-inning stints has become simply too great for the Mets to ignore.
“When you’re trying to win a game, you understand what the situation is,” Callaway said. “He’s so good at what he does that you accept that. It would be hard to do with multiple guys, having to treat multiple guys that way. But he’s valuable with what he does. And tonight, he wins us a game.”