In Saturday’s 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants, the Mets blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning, costing Mike Pelfrey a chance to get his first win of the season. Pelfrey pitched eight strong innings, allowing one run on six hits while throwing 102 pitches. Despite stifling the Giants’ bats all day, manager Terry Collins decided to pull Pelfrey from the game and go with Frank Francisco in the ninth inning, less than 24 hours after the Mets’ closer was defeated by the Giants in the team’s 4-3, 10-inning loss.
Maybe Mike Pelfrey couldn’t go much more than 100 pitches so early in the season. Maybe Frank Francisco was brought into the game to get on the right track after his poor performance the previous night. Maybe Fred Wilpon needed to sell more hot dogs so he called the dugout to get Collins to slow the game down as much as possible.
But no. Those weren’t the reasons why Pelfrey was removed from the game. According to Zach Berman in the New York Times, Collins would have sent Pelfrey to the mound in the ninth inning had there not been a save situation intact for Francisco. But with a three-run lead, Collins made up his mind to send his starter to the showers and his closer to get rained upon.
Francisco faced four batters, retiring one of them. He allowed a walk and two hits, with the second hit driving in a run. That was all for Francisco, who wasn’t in the dugout to watch the misplayed fly ball by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, which caused his ERA to balloon to 8.53. Although the Mets did rally to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, Terry Collins’ words still resonated many hours later. Let me repeat them.
He didn’t allow Pelfrey, a pitcher who had dominated the Giants all day, to pitch a complete game because the rulebook said it was a save situation. Therefore, he chose to send in his erratic closer, who was great in the season-opening sweep of Atlanta, but has since been quite hittable.
Over his last three appearances, Francisco has faced 16 batters, allowing nine of them to reach base. He also has an astronomical 23.14 ERA over those three appearances, earning a loss and a near-loss in the process.
In 2011, Terry Collins said that he didn’t care about Francisco Rodriguez’s 55-games-finished clause in his contract; he was going to use him every time a save could be had. Apparently, the same goes for Frank Francisco, even if his starter would be a much more viable option. Can you imagine what he’d do if a starting pitcher was one inning away from throwing the team’s first no-hitter, but had already surpassed 100 pitches and was in a one-run game? Wait, you don’t have to imagine that, as Collins was already quoted as saying he would have pulled Jonathon Niese from a game earlier this season in which Niese took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
There is such a thing as “going by the book”. But there is also such a thing as “going with your gut”. Terry Collins should have gone with his gut on Saturday. Instead, his decision-making almost cost the team a victory that seemed inevitable after Pelfrey came back to the dugout in the eighth inning. It looks like Terry Collins is going to have to return that book that he keeps going by before it becomes overdue, because once it does, both he and the team might be suffering the consequences of a long, lost season.