By Ernie Palladino
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People attached a lot of adjectives to the Mets’ chances before Saturday’s news.
Young. Eager. Resilient. Solid.
It’s amazing how the conversation changed so quickly. The words have taken a darker turn. And now, the best descriptive anyone can attach to disgraced closer Jennry Mejia is “old-school.”
None of the new hipster juice for him. When Mejia apparently decided to entangle himself in the PED game, he went with Stanozolol. That was so dumb on so many levels that one would think only a player for some hapless, directionless franchise would think of doing it.
For one thing, that anabolic steroid was thought to have gone out of style around the same time as bell bottoms and tie-dyed T-shirts. The steroid testers developed their early tests to detect exactly that drug, along with a gaggle of other golden oldies like Nandrolone, Androstenedione, and Oxandrolone. Given the advances in testing, it stands to reason that it remains one of the most easily detectable of banned substances.
The real puzzle is not that Mejia could be so stupid, or offer such a lame excuse as “I don’t know how it got in my body,” but that there seems to be a resurgence in Stanozolol usage. Minnesota’s Ervin Santana, Seattle’s Dave Rollins and Atlanta’s Arodys Vizcaino also tested positive.
All are pitchers, but Mejia is the only concern here. And it’s more out of pity for the Mets than sympathy for a player who may have just torpedoed a season.
This was starting off as a year of promise in Flushing, not to mention a make-or-break period for Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins. They adjusted well to the loss of Zack Wheeler to Tommy John surgery with a switch to Dillon Gee, his fifth-inning shellacking in Saturday’s loss to the Braves notwithstanding. But the bullpen seemed strong, especially with Mejia ready to continue his closer role.
He goes for 80 games now, and with him that sense of ninth-inning stability.
It was the one constant Alderson and Collins leaned on as they spent much of spring training trying to fix the rest of the bullpen. Alderson solved that dilemma with trades for lefties Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres. The Mets went into the season flush right through the ninth.
But Mejia, who would have come back April 20 from the mysteriously inflamed elbow that put him on the DL Tuesday, may have flushed that flushiness right down the toilet in one ridiculously mindless and selfish move.
And even if the Mets somehow do survive this and make the playoffs, MLB rendered Mejia ineligible to participate.
All they can hope for now is that Jeurys Familia, who picked up his first save Sunday, can keep Mejia’s potential damage to a minimum until Bobby Parnell gets back in May from his own Tommy John surgery. And even then, Parnell’s reappearance guarantees nothing.
No one ever confused him with Matt Harvey, after all.
Anyone who considers this a minor setback should think again. Better yet, ask Mejia’s teammates. In a sport where supporting one’s fellow union member means everything, captain David Wright traveled the road rarely taken and placed the blame — and his anger — squarely on Mejia’s steroid-enhanced shoulders.
“Not only do you cost yourself 80 games and not get paid,” Wright said of the $1.1 million Mejia will lose, “but you’re hurting everyone in here. You’re letting down your teammates, and that probably means just as much if not more than hurting yourself.”
If Familia and, later, Parnell can’t get the job done, Collins stands to lose his job. And don’t think that hasn’t crossed his mind in a year where his future employment depends on the Mets at least approaching respectability.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” Collins said. “We came into this whole thing in spring training with huge expectations and the back end of our bullpen being very strong. We’re all shocked and disappointed.”
Shocked, disappointed, and scrambling.
Starting pitchers getting hurt is one thing. Hitters failing in key situations? Yeah, it happens, as Mets fans have seen over the past eight years.
But when the closer shoots off his own big toe, with an outdated gun no less, that’s something else entirely.
At least Mejia gave Collins and Alderson one ready-made excuse if this season goes down the drain.
Not that it’ll do the manager, general manager, or the fans any good.