It’s Just Cruel To Make Joey Gallo Face Edwin Díaz
12:56 PM EDT on July 27, 2022
Mets closer Edwin Díaz has spent the first half of this MLB season exploring new frontiers in the realm of making dudes with bats swing and miss at 100 mph baseballs, and in the eighth inning of Tuesday's win over the Yankees, he was gift-wrapped his most helpless victim yet when he was inserted into the game to face Joey Gallo, who has a knack for swinging and missing at baseballs of any speed.
All of Díaz's numbers this year are just astonishing. A dominant closer from the start of his career, the Mets snapped him up from Seattle in a massive trade ahead of the 2019 season. In his first year in New York, however, Díaz flopped, putting up an ERA of 5.59 after posting 1.96 back in the Pacific Northwest. He recovered with a strong 25.2 innings in the COVID-shortened 2020, and then last year at least re-established himself as an above-average shutdown man, with a WHIP of 1.053 in 62.2. innings.
But at age 28, Díaz has found a whole other level, better even than his peak with the M's. In 40.2 innings as the Mets' go-to weapon in the highest-leverage situations, Díaz's ERA sits at just 1.55, and his WHIP is a mere 0.934. Even more ridiculous are the strikeouts. Armed with a red-hot fastball that touches 100 and then a slider that keeps every hitter off-balance, Díaz has K-ed a whopping 81 of the 157 batters that he's faced in 2022. Without wasting any time or ever seeming to lose focus, Díaz just takes the mound and throws strike after strike after strike. The assassin's aura he projects, coupled with the results, have made his trumpet-accompanied entrance from the bullpen a highlight of any home game.
On this particular night Díaz was tasked with getting a four-out save, coming in with a runner on first and the Yankees down 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth. At the plate was, depending on your perspective, the best or worst possible dance partner for him in the form of Gallo. The Yankees outfielder, pinch-hitting on this particular night, is the ultimate all-or-nothing swinger, consistently near the top of the leaderboards for both strikeouts and home runs. (To his credit, he walks a lot, too.) This year, though, has seen far too much of the nothing, as 270 plate appearances have left Gallo with just a .161 average, a .285 on-base, and 103 strikeouts against 12 home runs. Only Cleveland's Franmil Reyes has struck out more regularly this season.
Mets manager Buck Showalter, in responding to Aaron Boone's substitution, diabolically created a situation in which contact with going to be highly improbable, and both players cooperated. Díaz blew the first one by Gallo, befuddled him with the slider to make it 0-2, and after wasting a couple low and away, he ended the inning with a sad swing and miss on another slider that dipped under Gallo's bat. Hello and goodbye.
The Mets almost got Metsy in the ninth, as Jose Trevino reached base on some weak contact to start the threat and, two batters later, a Díaz fielding bobble put runners on first and second. But nobody needed to worry, because the other Yankees could barely dream of putting bat on ball. On 11 pitches, Díaz disposed of DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, and Gleyber Torres, alternating between destroying them with his fastest stuff and infuriating them with off-speed variation. Presumably these hitters step into the box braced for the straightforward triple digits. When they don't get it, they're screwed, and when they do get it, there's still nothing they can do about it.
With this win, their 60th of the season, the Mets maintained a two-game lead over the Braves in the NL East and remained on pace for their best record since they won 100 games in 1988. Fans of the team seem to preemptively expect them to blow it, as even though they're far from the least successful franchise in MLB, their capricious old ownership, gross former employees, proximity to the Yankees dynasty, and just some frustrating weirdness over the years have earned them a rep as bad-luck losers who manifest a threatening cloud over every veteran they sign.
In the course of a season, that identity gets reinforced when a team loses a lot of games that it should win, which is easiest to do by blowing late leads. That's what Díaz did in 2019, but as he's re-emerged as the scariest closer in the sport, the Mets similarly have a winning feel about them. Time and again he's just enveloped batters in darkness, racking up those strikeouts and assuring fans a little bit more each day that, no, this isn't going to all fall apart. Since May 25, he has allowed exactly one run, and his recovery has led to, dare I say it, some real optimism around this occasional punchline of a club. With Díaz having found his form, the Mets are finally winning all the games that they're supposed to win.