'Nastiest pitcher in the world,' Familia on a roll
Mets closer gets high praise from Red Sox, hasn't allowed run in last 16 innings
NEW YORK -- Rarely does Jeurys Familia allow emotion to escape him. One of the National League's most effective closers also tends to be one of the quietest.
But something stirred within Familia after he unleashed the final pitch of Sunday's 5-4 win over the Red Sox, a 100-mph fastball that fled past Mookie Betts, zoomed through the upper third of the strike zone and popped into Anthony Recker's mitt. Familia pumped his fist and unleashed a whoop, slapping Recker's hand with a force that could have knocked him to the ground. After Recker walked past him, Familia sought his catcher out again for a second, equally thunderous high-five.
"Every time I go out there, it doesn't matter the score, I go to enjoy it," Familia said. "For me, it's the same. I'm just trying to go out there and make my pitches and get hitters out."
It was not so long ago that Familia was struggling to do that, giving up six runs and blowing three consecutive saves in his first five games back from the All-Star break. That slump coincided with the Mets' acquisition of established closer Tyler Clippard, calling into question Familia's ninth-inning future.
Since that time, he has ripped off 16 consecutive scoreless innings, converting all eight of his save opportunities and going unscored upon in August. That streak seemed in jeopardy when Familia gave up two consecutive singles to open the ninth inning Sunday, one of them on an infield single. But he came back with a five-pitch whiff of Alejandro De Aza, reaching triple digits on two of the fastballs, then a groundout of Travis Shaw and the strikeout of Betts. He threw five 100-mph pitches in total, also forking his index and middle fingers to create mid-90s splitting action with his sinker.
"Familia, man, blowing a split at 95 mph?" Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz said after the game. "Are you crazy?"
Elsewhere in the visiting clubhouse, Shaw was conducting an interview about Familia with the Providence Journal when Brock Holt walked by and muttered, "Nastiest pitcher in the world."
"He's one of the best in the game," Mets manager Terry Collins added. "He's learning on the job and he listens. He's really, really good."
For Familia, whose 35 saves now have him threatening Armando Benitez's franchise record of 43 set in 2001, that learning curve has recently orbited around his split-fingered fastball. Not a true split, Familia's pitch is actually a modified sinker that he has toyed with in the bullpen for the better part of two years. Only this month did he begin trusting it in games, relying on it Sunday in addition to a four-seam fastball and his slider.
The results were plain to see. And for a first-place Mets team still wondering about the overall state of its bullpen, such results have been critical. The Mets recently added two former closers to their relief corps in Clippard and Addison Reed, in hopes of deploying the same type of back-end trio that has proven successful for the Royals, Giants, Cardinals and others in recent postseasons.
But everything continues to hinge on Familia.
"It's important because we're in first place," Familia said. "It's very important to keep playing the game like that."