Script has changed, and Mets have no choice but to figure it out

March 16th, 2023

It was late Wednesday night and Edwin Díaz had already been wheeled off the field in Miami after the Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic game, wheeled off that field and effectively into next season after he’d injured his right knee in a postgame celebration. Already manager Buck Showalter knew that the bad news wasn’t likely to get better the next day, or any of the days he has left in Spring Training.

“The teleprompter just broke,” is the way Showalter put it.

He meant that just like that, the script had changed for him and for Díaz and for the 2023 Mets, because of an injury to a star closer coming off as dominant a season as any baseball closer has ever had, one with a soundtrack of blaring trumpets. There is one thing that never changes in sports, and that is the next moment is the one when everything can change. Now it has changed for Showalter’s Mets.

Immediately, Showalter was both realistic and resolute, already turning the page. He is who he is.

“This is what we do,” he said, already looking ahead to getting to the ballpark and getting to work in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in seven hours or so. “This is what I do, this is what our coaches do.”

Then he quoted his father, because Buck does that a lot, in both good times and bad.

“My dad always told me,” Buck said, “that the easy jobs don’t pay very well.”

Then he was immediately talking about how the Mets had won 101 games last season with Jacob deGrom only making 11 starts, and Max Scherzer missing that many because of a left oblique injury. He talked about how when something bad happens to your team and other teams start to think that things just got easier for them, it becomes the new mission to find a different way to make things hard.

“I’ll feel sorry tomorrow for Edwin,” Showalter said, “but not for the Mets.”

He was reminded of a story his dear friend Bill Parcells liked to tell about when his dear friend Bob Knight was a young head coach at the United States Military Academy. Knight’s star was an Olympian named Mike Silliman. But in January of his senior year, Silliman injured his knee and was lost for the season, and had just lost the rest of his college career.

One of Bob Knight’s mentors was Clair Bee, who was not just a famous coach, but also the author of the Chip Hilton series of books for young readers. After Silliman went down, one of Knight’s first calls was to him.

“What am I going to do without Silliman?” Knight asked.

And Clair Bee answered this way:

“Who’s Silliman?”

What he was telling Knight was that the Silliman-led team was another Army team. Just not the one Knight would be coaching going forward.

It is the same way with the Mets now: There was the team and the bullpen Showalter and his general manager, Billy Eppler, thought they were going to have with Edwin Díaz, who truly was a rock star last season, dazzling the way he did in the late innings. Now there is the team without him. Maybe David Robertson, who closed for the Yankees as a younger man, can be the closer. Maybe it will be someone else. Maybe it will be someone not currently on the Eppler/Showalter roster.

Just not Díaz.

Can the Mets figure it out? Of course they can, even if the story has changed now in sports, where the truth is there is no script, not really. My old boss at ESPN, Steve Bornstein, once said that the real essence of sports is that you can’t rent tonight’s game. We keep finding that out, in all sorts of different ways. We found it out in Miami on Wednesday night when triumph turned to disaster for Edwin Díaz in a postgame celebration after he’d done what he does so brilliantly, which means he’d gotten the last three outs.

They will figure it out because they have to figure it out. Eppler was the assistant general manager with the New York Yankees back in 2012 when the great Mariano Rivera tore up his knee chasing a pregame fly ball in the outfield (the joke around Mo and the Yankees in those days was that he wasn’t just a Hall of Fame closer, he was their best center fielder, too). It happened in May. Just like that, it was Rivera who was lost for the season.

You know what the Yankees did that season? They figured it out. Rafael Soriano became their closer, replacing Rivera about as well as any mere mortal could have been expected to do. Soriano finished that season with 42 saves and the Yankees won 95 regular-season games, winning the American League East in the process.

Now it has happened to the Mets. Now it has happened to a closer who pitched like Rivera last season. Edwin Díaz’s season has ended; the Mets’ season has changed. It all happened in the instant it took for Díaz to land wrong on his knee. Can’t rent tonight’s game.