Coming to bat with the bases loaded in the sixth inning on Tuesday, Wilson Ramos had a chance to erase a night’s worth of Mets frustrations. Moments earlier, Phillies starter Jake Arrieta had loaded the bases and limped off the mound. The tying runs were on base. All momentum belonged to the Mets.
Then Ramos beat the first pitch he saw into the ground, was slow getting out of the batter’s box and sluggish up the line, giving the Phillies plenty of time to turn an inning-ending double play.
Just like that, the Mets’ best chance to tie the game evaporated in a 4-1 loss to the Phillies, as the team was left questioning an uncertain future -- both short- and long-term -- at catcher.
“Right now,” Ramos said, “I’m overthinking every night.”
Neither Arrieta nor Rick Porcello was particularly sharp in a matchup of former Cy Young Award winners, but Porcello fell victim to an Adam Haseley two-run single in the fourth inning and a Didi Gregorius two-run homer in the fifth to put the Mets in a 4-1 hole.
The Mets battled back in the sixth, however, loading the bases with one out as Arrieta departed due to a hamstring strain. Next up was the .233-hitting Ramos, in a situation that could have called for a pinch-hitter. But Mets manager Luis Rojas -- reticent to remove his catcher from the middle innings of games all season -- stuck with Ramos, who turned JoJo Romero’s first pitch into a 6-4-3 double play.
Thus continued a difficult year both on and off the field for Ramos, a native Venezuelan who left his wife and children behind in Florida in July to guard them against the pandemic. That has affected Ramos emotionally throughout the summer, particularly as he has struggled to hit.
“It’s hard to not think about this situation that’s happening right now in the world,” Ramos said. “We have family. I have family I want to be with. Like I said the other day, it’s hard to go after the game, bad day, go back to the hotel, and just think in the bedroom. It’s different when sometimes you have your family with you, you come back after a bad game, you see your kids and you forget about that day, just turn the page.”
Two offseasons ago, the Mets signed Ramos to a $19 million contract to provide stability behind the plate. At the time, he was coming off an All-Star season, hitting .306 with an .845 OPS for the Rays and Phillies. The Mets, meanwhile, were trying to move past years of frustrations with Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, a pair of former top prospects who struggled in the big leagues.
The Mets did tender d’Arnaud a $3.5 million contract that winter, only to designate him for assignment when he opened the 2019 season in a 2-for-23 funk. He has since become a standout catcher, first for the Rays and now the Braves, leading all National League backstops with an .899 OPS this season.
Contrast that with Ramos, who produced an average offensive 2019 and a below-average one behind the plate, finishing with -11 Defensive Runs Saved. He worked over the winter on improving his pitch framing, but refinements there have not overshadowed his offensive regression. Before backup Tomás Nido landed on the injured list in late July, Nido was threatening to take significant playing time away from Ramos. When Nido departed, the Mets grew worried enough about their catching situation that they traded for Robinson Chirinos prior to the Trade Deadline.
Chirinos immediately began cutting into Ramos’ playing time, which Ramos said has hindered his efforts to grow consistent at the plate. But a few strong games last week did earn Ramos additional chances, which is how he found himself back in the lineup on Tuesday, catching Porcello in something approximating a must-win game.
“We trust everyone on the roster,” Rojas said, explaining that he liked the matchup of Ramos against Romero in the sixth. (Rojas later pinch-hit for Ramos to lead off the ninth.)
Although Ramos has a $10 million team option on his contract for 2021, it is unlikely that the Mets will exercise it, making it possible the team could DFA Ramos if Nido is able to return down the stretch. Even if Ramos stays put through September, the Mets will need to find catching help this winter.
An obvious solution spent Tuesday’s game in the opposite dugout at Citizens Bank Park: two-time All-Star J.T. Realmuto, who is set to become a free agent after this season. Two years ago, the Mets discussed Realmuto in trade talks before they acquired Ramos, and they could pursue him again this winter -- with the caveat that everything depends upon how aggressively incoming owner Steve Cohen operates if he is approved to take control of the team.
“A lot of times, players are really gifted, but J.T. is really gifted and the preparation is outstanding,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said, knowing as well as anyone that the balance of power in the NL East could shift depending upon where Realmuto lands.