Mets say Diaz ‘our closer’ after latest blown save

Sports

NEW YORK — The trumpets sounded just after 4 p.m. Saturday at Citi Field as Edwin Diaz emerged from the bullpen. Fans cheered and danced to the walk-out song popularized during the closer’s dominant 2022 season. They cheered again when he was introduced as the New York Mets‘ pitcher in the ninth inning with a one-run lead over the San Francisco Giants.

Diaz, after a weeklong role demotion, was closing a game again in Queens like old times. But these aren’t like old times for Diaz.

His recent disastrous stretch as closer continued Saturday with another blown save, this time on LaMonte Wade’s one-out RBI single that ultimately pushed the game to extra innings. The Giants the erupted for five runs in the 10th inning for their second straight comeback victory to open the series, this one a 7-2 decision.

Diaz has now squandered a lead in four straight ninth-inning appearances. He hasn’t successfully saved a game since May 6. He has four blown saves in nine chances this season.

“He’s our closer,” Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said after his team fell to 21-30 with the 7-2 loss. “In order for us to win games and get to where we want to get to, he’s got to pitch. And I felt like that was the right spot.”

The Mets have lost five straight games and 12 of their last 15. They’re 6-16 in May, and falling out of the postseason picture fast. Different departments have faltered over the stretch, but their $102-million closer’s struggles have been the most prominent.

“Yeah, I think so,” Diaz, 30, said when asked if he felt he was still the team’s closer. “I think I got to do my job better, obviously, but I feel like I’m the guy in the ninth inning like they always say. I feel like that. And I’m ready. When they give me the ball in the ninth, I will do my job.”

Saturday’s outing was Diaz’s first appearance in a ninth inning since he gave up four runs and recorded one out against the Miami Marlins last Saturday. After the game, Diaz, who had blown saves in his previous two outings, admitted his confidence was “low” and broke down in tears.

The stretch spurred the Mets to not have Diaz pitch in their three-game series against the Cleveland Guardians during the week. Instead, he threw bullpen sessions as the Mets got swept. He focused on commanding his glove-side fastball and slider, and pitching with conviction again.

Diaz returned to the mound Friday at Citi Field, tossed a scoreless seventh inning against the Giants in a lower-leverage situation designed to rebuild his confidence. Díaz emerged hopeful that he was back on track. Less than 24 hours later, he was on the mound again.

Wilmer Flores ambushed Díaz with a single through the right side on his first pitch. Moments later, pinch-runner Ryan McKenna stole second base. Then, with one out, Wade delivered the game-tying single to right field.

“The game is not lost in the last ninth inning,” Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “It seems like every day we’re losing games in one inning, but we have to look at the whole entire game. It’s just a little bit unfair that it falls on him, the closer.”

The results were different from Friday, but Diaz insisted he felt and executed better.

“I’m fine. I’m good. I think I threw really good pitches,” Diaz said. “That’s what I want to do. The results didn’t go my way, but how I performed on the mound, how I looked, how I felt, was way better than last week.”

Diaz was dominant in 2022, his best season as a major leaguer. He posted a 1.31 ERA, 297 ERA+, 0.90 FIP, and 0.839 WHIP in 61 appearances. He was an All-Star. He finished ninth in the Cy Young race and 16th in MVP voting. Then he suffered a season-ending patellar tendon tear in his right knee celebrating a win for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic last March. The freak injury marked the beginning of a disappointing 2023 season for the Mets.

The 2024 campaign is following a similar path but, this time, with Diaz healthy.

“He’s got to continue to pitch,” Mendoza said. “My job is to continue to find lanes for him and we’ve got to fight through it. You can’t hide him. He’s got to go, he’s got to pitch. He’s too good of a pitcher and we’re pretty confident that he’ll turn it around.”

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