Diaz stunned on 'worst day of my career'

May 30th, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- For nine pitches, Joc Pederson battled , fouling off fastball after fastball near the outer edge of the strike zone. Pederson worked the count full, then pounced on Diaz’s slider for a leadoff homer in the ninth inning on Wednesday.

As he returned to the dugout with the Dodgers still trailing by two, Pederson mentioned to teammate Matt Beaty that Diaz’s “fastball didn’t have as much life” as it did the night before.

“So I think everybody was excited to get up there and do something good,” Beaty said.

Less than 15 minutes later, the Dodgers were done feasting. Diaz gave up another home run, to Max Muncy, then consecutive doubles, an intentional walk and an infield hit. On his 30th and final pitch, Diaz served up a walk-off sacrifice fly to Alex Verdugo and the Mets were saddled with a 9-8 loss at Dodger Stadium.

“Today was easily the worst day of my career, the worst game of my career, the worst game of the season for me,” Diaz said through an interpreter. “I thought I threw excellent pitches. They were strikes. I was throwing the ball where I wanted to, and they just got me.”

In a game in which Noah Syndergaard hit 100 mph multiple times but allowed three runs, and in which setup men Robert Gsellman and Jeurys Familia allowed runs, Diaz was not the only Mets pitcher to bemoan the potency of the National League’s top offense. His struggles, though, were most jarring. Entering the night with a 1.64 ERA, Diaz had not allowed more than one run in an outing this season, nor more than two since last May 29. He had not blown a three-run lead in a save opportunity since 2017.

Since that time, Diaz has developed into one of baseball’s best closers -- a commodity so valuable that Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was willing to part with two blue-chip prospects to acquire him and Robinson Cano from the Mariners this winter, even absorbing a significant portion of Cano’s salary as part of the deal.

For a time, Diaz proved as advertised, converting 12 consecutive saves before blowing his first on Saturday against the Tigers. Now, he has blown two of his last three.

“They just hit him, plain and simple,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “They hit his fastball. The one slider he throws, they hit it out of the park. They just went up there and put good swings on him and hit him around.”

Diaz offered more puzzlement than explanation at the Dodgers’ ability to hit his pitches. But while Callaway said he felt that Diaz’s stuff looked as sharp as ever, the Dodgers seemed to disagree.

There’s an explanation for that, at least: Wednesday’s game was Diaz’s fourth in five days, and his eighth in 12 days. So taxed was the Mets’ bullpen that Callaway asked Syndergaard to hit for himself in the top of the sixth inning, needing to squeeze three more outs out of a starter who was already at 103 pitches.

The formula nearly worked. Syndergaard obliged with three quick outs, and the Mets, thanks to two home runs from Pete Alonso and back-to-back shots by Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, carried a three-run lead into the ninth. They handed that to their lockdown closer, who simply could not complete the task.

“It’s very frustrating when you're out there because you can save the game,” Diaz said. “We had an opportunity to save that game. Today was a bad day, but tomorrow hopefully is a better one.