WASHINGTON -- Most days after Seth Lugo plays catch, he and Mickey Callaway have a brief conversation. The manager asks whether Lugo is available for that game. Lugo answers yes or no. Then the Mets proceed, either with or without their most potent bullpen weapon.
Typically after recording more than three outs the previous game, Lugo is unavailable, which is why Callaway’s decision in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s walk-off loss to the Nationals was an obvious one. After the Mets took a six-run lead, Callaway knew it was more valuable to remove Lugo from the game and have him available Wednesday than to extend him for three more outs and have to navigate potentially higher-leverage situations in the series finale without him.
The Mets lost on Tuesday, of course, but Lugo’s availability Wednesday proved to be a notable solace. He pitched two shutout innings in the Mets’ 8-4 victory, providing stability after their bullpen gave them another scare at Nationals Park.
“We all knew how tough last night was, but with the group we’ve got in here, we knew that wasn’t going to get to us,” Lugo said. “We needed to come out with a fresh game today and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”
For the Mets, the day began with a team meeting in which Callaway implored them to keep “battling” over the season’s final three and a half weeks. Tuesday’s loss had taken another bite out of their playoff aspirations, but the Mets also knew they weren’t eliminated quite yet. They needed to rebound, and they began doing so when Zack Wheeler recovered from two shaky innings to retire nine of the final 10 batters he faced.
By the middle of the sixth, the Mets were leading by six runs thanks to homers by Juan Lagares, Robinson Cano and Pete Alonso. Forgive anyone who flashed back at that point to the ninth inning Tuesday, when three relievers -- after Lugo departed, with the lead seemingly safe -- coughed up seven runs in a walk-off loss.
The Mets have no better insurance policy than Lugo, a 29-year-old former starter who entered the day with a 2.78 ERA over the past two seasons. New York has been careful with his usage in part because of the partially torn UCL in his right elbow. But when Lugo pitches, he’s typically brilliant.
So it was Wednesday, when Lugo faced eight batters, retired six of them and added no undue stress to the Mets’ victory.
“It helps, obviously,” Callaway said. “He’s been our next guy.”
Twenty-six and done
The most dramatic moment of Wednesday’s win may have unfolded in the ninth inning, when catcher Wilson Ramos came to the plate with his 26-game hit streak -- the longest in the Major Leagues this season -- on the line. Quickly falling into a 1-2 hole against Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, Ramos fouled off five pitches before grounding a 94-mph fastball back up the middle.
Second baseman Howie Kendrick, who had entered the game only half an inning earlier, ranged over, dove, spun and fired a throw on one hop to first base. It beat Ramos, one of the league’s slowest runners, to the bag by fractions of a second.
“Everybody knows he needs a scooter to get to first base,” Cano said, laughing.
For Ramos, the end of the streak was a matter of both disappointment and pride. Beginning with a four-hit game on Aug. 3, Ramos hit .430 over the life of it, extending the streak four times in games that he did not start. Twice, Ramos hit pinch-hit singles in his only at-bat of a game.
“I’m very proud of what I did,” Ramos said. “I’m very happy and my family is happy, too. There’s nothing better than feeling like that. Especially my family, they’re really proud of what I did. My family in Venezuela, too. It was a bad day for me today, but we won, and that’s what I wanted, too.”