NEW YORK -- Before the Mets ran away from the Indians late in Tuesday’s 9-2 victory at Citi Field, New York held a slim two-run lead in the top of the seventh inning when starter Steven Matz, who had been tossing four-hit ball with only one earned run, allowed two runners to reach base with one out.
With Cleveland threatening, manager Mickey Callaway decided to pull Matz from the game and bring in reinforcements from the bullpen. The last time Callaway did that, in Matz's most recent outing against the Braves, the usually-reliable Seth Lugo imploded, allowing five runs and gifting Atlanta a 6-4 comeback win.
But Tuesday, Callaway called on left-hander Justin Wilson, who ensured there wouldn’t be a repeat scenario of a faltering bullpen. It took Wilson all of seven pitches to bring that threat to an abrupt end, striking out both Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado to preserve the win for Matz, who improved his record to 8-7.
Of those seven pitches, five were Wilson’s trademark cutter. Before Wednesday’s second game of the series, Callaway elaborated on why that particular pitch packed the perfect punch for the Mets.
“Specifically to those two hitters, that’s what you have to do. You have to bury fastballs, run ‘em in, cut ‘em in, and pound those guys inside,” Callaway said. “The thing that makes it so good for him is he’s got a lively fastball, and you have to make a decision pretty early. And that cutter looks a lot like his fastball -- coming off the same plane, he tunnels it well, and at the last second it comes in like it’s a middle fastball and it gets in on your hands.
“So it’s a very effective pitch for him, and it gives us a lot of confidence and him a lot of confidence that he can go out there and get righties out just as well as lefties.”
After Wilson, Callaway brought in fellow left-hander Luis Avilan, who needed just 10 pitches to retire the Indians in a scoreless eighth. The duo of relievers spent two months on the injured list with left elbow soreness early in the season, and they have been a source of stability for New York’s bullpen since their respective returns in the first week of July.
Through Tuesday, Avilan has not allowed a run over 12 1/3 innings in his last 17 outings, while Wilson has a miniscule 1.13 ERA since coming off the IL on July 2. In Callaway’s mind, it’s no accident that their returns have coincided with the Mets’ surge back into contention since the All-Star break.
“I think Justin coming back normalized our bullpen a little bit, took some pressure off some guys -- Avilan as well,” Callaway said after Tuesday’s victory. “Avilan has thrown some big innings and gotten a lot of key outs for us, and he continues to throw the ball well whether it’s a righty, lefty, whatever. I feel like he’s gonna go up there, execute some pitches, throw strikes and give [us] a chance.
“Those two guys getting added into our bullpen is when that turnaround really happened, and that’s the reason why.