By Jason Keidel
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We should know better.
Every week we try to pluck the brightest gem from the Mets’ bejeweled pitching staff. For the first few months of the season, it seemed like Noah Syndergaard was living up to his handle, “Thor,” and was the presumed, perennial ace of the rotation.
Then he experienced elbow problems, and it looked like Jacob deGrom wrenched the reigns from Thor. But clearly it would be a battle between longhairs for the title of staff stud.
But is that really the case? Were we looking at the wrong part of the ‘pen?
Has Jeurys Familia — who had never been a closer until he was shoved into the role last season — become the club’s most valuable pitcher?
It’s hard to argue with Familia’s stats, or with perfection. Indeed, he has converted 49 consecutive save opportunities, which blows away team records, and blows the mind. Familia’s streak is now the fourth-longest since the save became a stat in 1969.
Who would have thought that when the Mets lost Jenrry Mejia — their resident closer/mascot — to three PED suspensions and a lifetime ban that his replacement would not only be quite competent but also way better?
The Mets’ season has been turbulent enough without drama in the bullpen. Between their litany of lineup changes, injuries and dents in the stellar rotation — led by Matt Harvey’s woeful season, which mercifully ended earlier this month — the Mets could ill afford to blow the leads they brought to the ninth inning.
Enter Familia, Flushing’s version of Sandman. No Yankees (or even Mets) fan would blaspheme the immortal Mariano Rivera by comparing him to the Mets newfound star closer. But it’s hard to ignore Familia’s late-game acrobatics.
The Mets lost their original ace, Harvey. Their best player, Yoenis Cespedes, has missed ample time. And Lucas Duda hasn’t played since the Civil War (or May 23). Then there’s Zack Wheeler, who still hasn’t taken the mound in 2016. The list goes on and on.
Yet there’s been one constant and consistently great player through the ornery months of summer baseball: Familia.
Maybe his style makes you reach for the Rolaids. But his bizarre pitching alchemy keeps working. Tuesday night was a microcosm of his maddening yet brilliant run as a closer, loading the bases with no outs before wiggling his way out with a ground ball and then a whiplash double play.
As a lovely bonus, the Mets not only beat the Chicago Cubs, one of the best teams in the National League, but also their otherworldly pitcher, Jake Arrieta, who took an eraser to the record books over the last year.
Adding to the improbability to the win, consider some numbers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Kris Bryant’s game-ending double play was only his second in 79 chances. Bryant was also 8-for-17 with a man on third and fewer than two outs.
It was the sixth time this season that the Cubs had the bases loaded and no outs. They had scored the prior five times.
The Cubs are 1-5 against the Mets. In their five losses, they failed to score more than three runs, while averaging 5.1 runs per game against everyone else.
Adding to his sense of theater, it was the sixth time this season that Familia saved a game with multiple men on base and a one-run lead. He had only two such situations last season.
And remember this is the second time Familia has flooded the bases with Cubs in the ninth inning and no outs and slithered away unscathed. (The other time was on June 30.)
Isn’t this the way the Mets do things? Even at their best, nothing comes easily. They’ve always been a blue-collar club when compared to their more refined crosstown cousins.
For over 15 years, the Yankees won with Rivera’s quiet, one-pitch mastery, a cutter that almost never missed its target. With Familia, you never know which pitch will be his best, or his last. But on 49 consecutive occasions, we’ve known who will win the game, and who will save it.
Maybe we can’t brand a closer an ace, but Familia is sure pitching like the king of closers.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel