CHICAGO -- Jeurys Familia began talking to himself on the mound, quietly in his head, drowning out all the noise that 41,456 fans in a 102-year-old stadium can make. Familia had walked the first two batters in the ninth inning of a one-run game, putting his 11-month save streak in
CHICAGO -- Jeurys Familia began talking to himself on the mound, quietly in his head, drowning out all the noise that 41,456 fans in a 102-year-old stadium can make. Familia had walked the first two batters in the ninth inning of a one-run game, putting his 11-month save streak in jeopardy. I can do it, he said to himself. I can throw a strike. I can get this hitter.
It is Familia's ability to keep such promises that has allowed him to become one of the game's elite closers. In working around a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the Mets' 2-1 win over the Cubs on Tuesday, Familia converted his 49th consecutive regular-season save opportunity dating back to last August. That is tied for the fourth-longest streak in Major League history, on this night delivering the Mets a win they badly needed.
"I just always try to calm down when I have a situation like that," Familia said, "and believe in myself."
It helps that Familia can throw his two-seam fastball with wicked movement at 98 mph, bedeviling hitters that know what's coming. And there's little question the Cubs knew what was coming after two walks and Javier Báez's bunt single loaded the bases with no outs. Familia fed the next hitter, Matt Szczur, five consecutive fastballs, with the last pitch, an 87-mph slider, resulting in a fielder's choice groundout. He then fired three more two-seamers at Kris Bryant, who thumped a 97-mph offering into the ground for a game-ending double play.
"I believe in my sinker and all my pitches," Familia said. "But in a situation like that, I believe more in my sinker 100 percent."
It was reminiscent of a June 30 win at Citi Field -- also against the Cubs -- in which Familia loaded the bases with one out before escaping the jam.
"He's become really good at it," manager Terry Collins said. "I mean, he's become really focused. He knows what he has to do to get out of big innings in tough situations."
The world-class sinker certainly helps, but Familia also possesses a confidence he didn't always have. Even in the tightest of jams, Familia swears, he never considers the possibility that he might not succeed. Though he blew three saves in the World Series last year, largely due to subpar defense behind him, Familia has bounced back to convert all 33 of his opportunities this year. He owns a 2.44 ERA to punctuate that stat line, in addition to 43 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings.
"I just think that he's confident in what he does," Collins said, referring to Familia as the game's best closer. "There's a reason why he's got all the saves."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.