For an organization known for its pitching, it should come as no surprise that the Mets have had their fair share of good closers. What may come as a surprise is that Jeurys Familia might just become better than them all.
The Mets first notable closer was Tug McGraw. His contributions extend well past his coining the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe!” Up until the 80’s, in a time when managers began to pitch to the save rule, McGraw was the Mets all-time leader with 86 saves. He is also the only Mets to be a closer to for a team that won a World Series and a Pennant. In 1969, he shared closing duties with Ron Taylor. In 1973, he was not only the man, but in many ways, the vocal leader of the team. The only record McGraw has remaining in the record books is most innings pitched by a Mets reliever with 792.2 innings over his nine year Mets career.
The next Mets closer to appear in multiple postseasons was Jesse Orosco. When discussing Orosco, there are always three things you need to mention: (1) he was part of the return the Mets received when they traded Jerry Koosman to the Twins; (2) Keith Hernandez warned him not to throw a fastball to Kevin Bass (he didn’t); and (3) his glove has still not landed. After his eight year career was over, Orosco was both the Mets all-time leader in saves (107) and the Mets single season saves leader (31 in 1984). To this day, he remains the only Mets closer to save a World series clinching game.
Orosco would eventually be surpassed by John Franco on both the saves list and the Mets all-time saves list. Somewhat ironically, Franco’s entrance song was Johnny B. Goode as his ninth inning appearances were always a high wire act. Still, throughout all of it, Franco has more saves by any left-handed closer in history with 424, and when he retired he was third on the all-time list trailing only Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman. Franco recorded 276 of those saves with the Mets. His 276 saves are the Mets record by a fairly wide margin.
In fact, Franco leads Armando Benitez by 116 saves on the Mets all-time list. Coincidentally, Benitez is the man who replaced Franco as the Mets closer in 1999. With the Mets having made consecutive postseason appearances in 1999 and 2000, Benitez remains the only Mets closer to pitch in consecutive postseasons. While Mets fans loved to hate him, Benitez did show flashes of complete and utter dominance. As of right now, his 43 saves in 2001 still remains the Mets single season record.
However, that record is in jeopardy. Last year, Jeurys Familia, in his first season as the Mets closer, tied Benitez’s single season record. This year, he has tied it again en route to him most likely breaking the tie with Benitez. With Familia having saved 43 games for consecutive seasons, he has already set the mark for most saves by a Mets closer in consecutive seasons. Even with Familia only having been the Mets closer for one plus seasons, he now ranks fifth all-time with 92 saves as a Met. With 16 more saves, he will jump both Orosco and Billy Wagner to put him third all-time.
If the Mets current charge continues, he could join Benitez as the only Mets closer to appear in back-to-back postseasons. If the Mets get into the postseason, anything is possible including seeing Familia join Orosco as the only Mets pitcher to earn a save to close out the World Series.
That’s just the thing with Familia. He’s already a great closer, and he’s already writing his name all over the Mets record books. As long as he is the Mets closer, anything is possible. It’s also possible that we could be watching the best closer in Mets history.
On August 22, 1973, the Mets won their second game in a row to raise the Mets record to 57-67 leaving them 6.0 games out in the National League East behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals.
From that point forward, the Mets would be the hottest team in baseball going 25-12 carrying them to an unlikely division championship. The Mets rode the hot streak to beat the Big Red Machine 3-2 in a best of five NLCS, and they came within a win of disrupting the Oakland A’s dynasty.
The popular story was the Mets were spurred by Tug McGraw screaming “Ya Gotta Believe!” after a M.Donald Grant “pep talk” in July. However, the truth is that team just got healthy at the right time, and when the team was at 100%, they were among the best teams in baseball.
During that year, the team was hampered by injuries. Jerry Grote, John Milner, Bud Harrelson, and Cleon Jones all missed significant time. Rusty Staub player through injuries all year. On top of that phenom Jon Matlack was having a down year a year removed from winning the Rookie of the Year Award. He was joined by Jerry Koosman in having a surprising down year. Willie Mays looked to be every bit of his 42 years of age. Young fill-ins like Don Hahn just were not producing. The Mets were forced to do anything they could do to improve the team like releasing dead weight like Jim Fregosi. About all that went right that season for the Mets was Tom Seaver; that and the fact that no one ran away with the division allowing the Mets to enter the postseason with an 82-79 record.
Isn’t that what this Mets season has been. With Matt Harvey, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Adrubal Cabrera, and Yoenis Cespedes, we have seen this Mets team be hampered time and again by injuries. We have seen countless Mets play through injuries like Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz with their bone spurs. We’ve seen replacements like Eric Campbell, Ty Kelly, and Matt Reynolds not play up to snuff. Players like Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto had surprising down years. About the only thing that has gone right for the Mets this year is the fact that Jacob deGrom has continued to pitch like an ace, and the fact that no one has ran away with the second Wild Card spot.
Maybe, just maybe, this is 1973 all over again. That 1973 team was much further back in both the standings and more teams to leapfrog in the standings. All they needed to do was to get healthy and to get hot. Right now, with Cespedes back and hitting home runs for the Mets again, this team is healthy, and they are on the verge of getting hot. If that happens, the Mets can very well take that second Wild Card spot and get into the postseason.
As we saw in 1973 as well as last year, with great Mets pitching, the Mets can beat anyone in the postseason. They can shock the world. Anything is possible so long as they get hot and get into the postseason.
It’s a tough time for the Mets. They gave their all in Game 1, but they lost. They unravelled in Game 2. They’re halfway on their way to losing the World Series. It’s times like these you seemingly only have a hope and a prayer. It’s times like theses you need your guardian angel. The Mets are full in that department.
In the heavens, Nelson Doubleday sees his Mets suffering. This is the team he rescued from irrelevancy. He once took the helm and ushered in the greatest era of Mets baseball. He knows this team needs his help.
He knows he can’t do it alone, so he grabs the one man who he knows can gather together the right mix of angels to make this happen. Frank Cashen gives a nod to Mr. Doubleday, and he finds them. He sends them down to Citi Field to help and deliver a message.
You always start with a winner. It’s better to have someone who knows how to utilize a young pitching staff. How to bring them to new heights. How to lead them to a championship. He summons Gil Hodges, who under the din of Citi Field is Hodges reaching out to boost morale.
He summons Yogi Berra. Yogi can’t understand the despair, then again he knows better than anyone it gets late early in New York. The wind swirling into Citi Field reminds us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
For help, Yogi turns to his closer Tug McGraw. Tug is all fired up. He’s been here before with Gil and Yogi. With a loud bang in the concourse in Citi Field you can hear old Tug jumping up and down screaming, “Ya Gotta Believe.”
Cashen though knows he needs one more. Who better to turn to than the man he last turned to when he was trying to capture a World Series. Gary Carter knows what he’s there to do. You just don’t make the last out. With every crack of the bat, The Kid lets the Mets know they won’t make the last out.
With that Cashen’s work is done. He’s assembled a group of greats, a group of legends, a group of angels. They’ll be there tonight to guide the Mets to victory. They didn’t let the Mets lose without a fight before, and they won’t let it happen this time either. They’re watching over the Mets.
We all know what’s leading the Mets to victory tonight even if our human eyes will never see the hands that brought those Mets runs home.
Baseball mourns today with the passing of Yogi Berra. He was a Hall of Fame catcher, a three time MVP (most ever for a catcher), and he won 10 World Series as a player. The 10 rings he won was the most ever by a player making him the biggest winner the sport has ever seen. He was a winner for so much more than that.
He was a husband and a father. He was a member of our military, who was part of the D-Day invasion. He was married to his wife for 65 years before he became a widower. When his wife was ill, he moved with her from their home to an assisted living facility. Two of his sons played professional sports.
He left behind the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. It’s a place dedicated to teaching baseball and social values to children. It strived to promote the values of “social justice, respect, sportsmanship, and educational excellence.” Fittingly, Yogi said the hours were, “[w]e’re open ’til we close.”
It’s fitting because that’s what we remember about Yogi – the Yogisms. That’s how I became introduced to Yogi Berra. It was at my Nana’s house with my Dad and uncle (who’s a huge Yankee fan) talking trivia and spouting off the Yogisms laughing away. They made you smile, and much of them carried wisdom (some not):
- “It’s déjà vu all over again!”
- “You better cut the pizza in four slices because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.” (that’ll be my lunch order today)
- “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
- “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
- “Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I’m just not hitting.”
- “I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4.”
- “It gets late early out there.”
- “Never answer an anonymous letter.”
- “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”
- “Pair off in threes.”
- “You can observe a lot by watching.”
- “When you see a fork in the road, take it.”
- “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
Yogi said these while a Yankee. He’s one of the greatest Yankees ever. Scratch that. He’s one of the greatest baseball players ever. He was also an important part of the Mets history.
After the sudden, unexpected death of Gil Hodges in 1972, Yogi took over as the Mets manager. In 1973, he was the manager when the Mets made an improbable run. They were in last place on July 26th. They were 12 games under .500 on August 16th. We all remember that Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe!” It was their manager, Yogi, that said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
The 1973 Mets went on a tear winning the NL East with a 83-79 record. As Yogi would say, “We were overwhelming underdogs.” Those overwhelming underdogs beat the Big Red Machine in the NLCS, and they came within one game of beating an all-time Oakland A’s team to win the World Series.
Yogi has left behind a lasting memory for baseball fans. He was a great man on and off the field. He doesn’t belong to the Mets. He doesn’t belong to the Yankees. He now belongs to the angels. “May the souls of the faith departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
One last thing with Yogi, it’s still not over. He’s gone, but he won’t be forgotten. His life, playing career, and quotes will keep him alive in our minds and hearts. If you have an opportunity, please go to his funeral or memorial service because as Yogi would say, “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they won’t go to yours.”