The highlight reel of Friday’s 1-0 Mets loss to the Nationals will show one thing more prominently than all else: Yan Gomes’ walk-off single against Edwin Díaz, which sent the Nats spilling out of their dugout in the ninth.
But the endgame leading up to that point was far more complex. Gomes’ single only occurred after several moves of the chess board and a questionable umpiring call, not to mention nine innings of silence from the Mets’ offense. In the end, Díaz took the blame. He probably shouldn’t have had to.
Joey Lucchesi gave the Mets plenty of chances early, pitching into the sixth inning and, for the first time this season, facing batters a third time through the order. As both sides continued to put up zeroes, the intrigue of the final two innings began to unfold.
Rojas’ original plan was for Seth Lugo, the Mets’ best multi-inning weapon, to pitch the ninth after striking out the only batter he faced in the eighth. But Lugo was still feeling the strain from his 37-pitch outing on Tuesday. Combine that with his rush to get hot in the bullpen on Friday and his cooldown in the dugout after a six-pitch battle in the eighth, and Lugo was feeling something less than his best. The Mets decided not to take a chance by pushing him.
That’s why Rojas pivoted to Díaz in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road — a situation in which many managers tend to avoid their closers.
But Rojas had another reason for going to Díaz, as well. Washington’s 3-4-5 hitters were due to bat, beginning with 22-year-old wunderkind Juan Soto. If the Mets were going to lose on a walk-off, they wanted to make sure they would go down with their best reliever, period.
“That’s probably the guy that you single out the most as far as not getting beat by him,” Rojas said of Soto. “So we bring what we think is our top reliever — the guy that can shut the door, shut them down and give us a chance.”