WASHINGTON -- Summoned to protect a four-run lead Saturday in what was technically a save situation, Seth Lugo stepped onto the mound, threw one pitch and immediately started walking back to the dugout, convinced he had jammed Matt Adams enough to prevent a game-tying grand slam. He did, barely, as
WASHINGTON -- Summoned to protect a four-run lead Saturday in what was technically a save situation, Seth Lugo stepped onto the mound, threw one pitch and immediately started walking back to the dugout, convinced he had jammed Matt Adams enough to prevent a game-tying grand slam. He did, barely, as the baseball carried all the way to the right-center-field fence.
At the time, Lugo felt relief. But his afternoon turned ugly an inning later, when he could not nail down the final out of the Mets’ 11-8 win over the Nationals. Instead, Lugo allowed four runs -- zero earned -- before closer Edwin Diaz entered to end the game.
That Lugo even entered in the first place was the result of a somewhat unconventional decision by manager Mickey Callaway, who yanked setup man Jeurys Familia with the bases loaded and two outs -- both strikeouts -- in the eighth. Familia had walked a batter and allowed a single, but also induced a routine ground ball that J.D. Davis booted. Statistically, Familia allows home runs about one-third as often as Lugo.
Still, Callaway opted for the latter, sticking with Lugo in the ninth because he was out of commission for Sunday’s game, having warmed up twice on Saturday. The move backfired when Lugo walked two batters, hit another and allowed a three-run double to Ryan Zimmerman. (A Robinson Cano error ensured that all four runs were unearned.)
“I still had faith that he was only going to give up that one run,” Callaway said. “And then a save situation came up, and we had to get him out of there.”
Mets infielder Jeff McNeil, who bristled at times when teammates mentioned his nickname -- squirrel -- in interviews last season, seems to have taken to the moniker. Over the winter, McNeil had “flying squirrel” stitched onto the leather of one of his practice gloves.
It’s become a popular sobriquet in the Mets’ clubhouse. After McNeil went 4-for-5 in the Mets’ win, hitting coach Chili Davis quipped: “You can’t sneak cheese past the squirrel. You can’t sneak cheese past a rat.”
“Squirrel” is far from the only animal nickname in the room. Catcher Wilson Ramos is “buffalo.” Pitcher Noah Syndergaard, more commonly known as “Thor,” referred to himself as “a sneaky cat” after picking a runner off first base Saturday. Teammates have also taken to calling rookie first baseman Pete Alonso a “polar bear,” a nickname they credit to third-base coach Gary DiSarcina.
Said Alonso, laughing: “I’ll embrace it.”
On the black
Although Syndergaard’s no-decision left a bittersweet taste in his mouth, the Mets starter enjoyed several uplifting moments in the game. Perhaps most impressive was the 98-mph called third strike he threw to Anthony Rendon in the fifth inning, nicking the outer edge of the strike zone to strand a runner in scoring position.
“I didn’t even see where the pitch went,” Syndergaard said. “I just tried to throw it as hard as I could. I threw some good pitches, I threw some not-so-good pitches.”
All told, Syndergaard allowed four runs over six innings in his season debut, striking out seven.
The Taylor Hooton Foundation announced Saturday that Mets shortstop Amed Rosario has joined its advisory board of active Major League players. In that role, Rosario will serve “as a leader in the advocacy against the use of appearance and performance-enhancing substances by the youth of America,” according to a release. Rosario replaces Jay Bruce, who was the Mets’ representative on the foundation’s advisory board last season.
“We are truly honored to have Amed Rosario join an incredible group of Major League players who have stepped up to serve as positive role models,” foundation president Donald Hooton Jr. said in a statement.
Zack Wheeler aims to prove his second half of 2018 was no fluke when he makes his 2019 debut opposite Patrick Corbin in a 1:05 p.m. ET series finale Sunday at Nationals Park. Last year, Wheeler recovered from an inconsistent first half to go 10-1 with a 1.96 ERA over his final 12 starts.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.