Mickey Callaway referred to the rotation as the Mets strength yet again before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Giants, and he indicated how important it was for the starters to get on a roll of excellence to carry the team.
A few hours later, Noah Syndergaard was on an excellent roll and the Mets manager was removing him from the game, the latest evidence that even nearly 1 ¹/₂ years into the job, Callaway still has trouble making decisions under stress. You know who agrees with that assessment?
Because after what turned into a 9-3, 10-inning loss, Callaway first gathered his players to express in Syndergaard’s word “remorse” about the decision while taking responsibility for the loss and then publicly conceding, “I’d like to have that [decision] back.”
That might be true about the Wilpons and Brodie Van Wagenen when it comes to their choice to stick with Callaway as manager. Three days after removing Jacob deGrom over the ace’s objections and going to a sketchy bullpen that would end up blowing the game, Callaway did the same Tuesday with Syndergaard with the same results. This is the Robinson-Cano-not-running-out-balls-twice of managing. Once, you are not crazy about it, but the second time reaches inexcusable.
Callaway calls one part of his roster a strength and bemoans the ability of another part to do its job, yet abandons the strength for the weakness at critical junctures. This is arm wrestling with your weaker arm when the more powerful one is available.
The Mets had taken a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth on homers by Pete Alonso and Wilson Ramos. Syndergaard, after an uneven opening, had retired 10-of-12, and the only two base runners were because Alonso is a far better hitter than fielder.
There were two outs in the seventh, a runner on first and Syndergaard was at 103 pitches. And Callaway walked to home plate ump Vic Carapazza to make a double-switch. So whatever Callaway offered later, this was a sign that this was a firm decision because he was taking Syndergaard out of the game without consultation.
Syndergaard was stunned, then annoyed and muttered right through Callaway taking the ball. And why did Callaway take the ball?
He said Seth Lugo controls the running game better than Syndergaard, but that was Mike Yastrzemski at first, not Billy Hamilton. And Callaway cited Evan Longoria being a good low-ball hitter with strong numbers against Syndergaard. But those numbers were 3-for-12 with just one ball hit in the air plus five strikeouts. And this Evan Longoria is just not much of a hitter anymore.
With time to think about it later, Callaway conceded Syndergaard “deserved the benefit of the doubt there.” But why was that not his thought process in real time? Wasn’t Jim Riggleman hired as bench coach to help work the manager through these kinds of choices? Lugo gave up consecutive hits and the lead, fueled the Mets toward 28-32 and intensified the heat on Callaway.
Syndergaard, though, tried to lower the fire. He explained his on-field fury as in-the-moment competitiveness and that he respected Callaway for the mea culpa and described the decisions to remove deGrom on Saturday with a cramp and Syndergaard at 103 pitches as tough choices. But are they?
This is a reeling team and a manager clinging to the cliff by one finger. At moments like this you rely on your strengths — especially if you, the manager, are saying how important it is to do that in the hours before a game. The Mets, after all, are hoping that this is 1973 redux when no one in the NL East could break loose and the Mets eventually won behind the excellence of starting pitching.
No one would suggest the need for three guys at 242-plus innings like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. But with this bullpen more is needed.
“We’re all human,” Syndergaard said. “We all make mistakes, learn and move on.”
It is a nice sentiment. But is Callaway learning? Nearly a year-and-a-half on the job, is he better today than Day 1? Heck, he was a pitching coach showing no feel for the pitching in this situation — and certainly showing no feel for the magnitude of the moment for him and his team. That sounds like a harsh criticism.
Except the mea culpa means it was corroborated by Mickey Callaway’s worst enemy when it comes to managing a game — Mickey Callaway.
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