July 5, 2022

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After grandfather's passing, Díaz steps up for Mets

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PHILADELPHIA — Edwin Díaz was in the visiting bullpen in Washington on Friday when he learned of his grandfather’s passing. The two were close. The loss was emotional. Díaz told members of the coaching staff that he was willing to pitch if a save situation arose; when it didn’t, he boarded the next available flight to Puerto Rico. 

In Díaz’s absence, the Mets saw their bullpen — a potential area of concern, if not yet a weakness — exposed in consecutive losses to the Nationals and Phillies. So it was with gratitude that they welcomed Díaz back on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, where he nailed down the final three outs in a 2-0 win over the Phillies

“Really happy for Edwin,” said outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who hit his first home run of the season to support another scoreless effort from starting pitcher Tylor Megill. “We’re really glad to see him back. Obviously wanted him to take all the time he needed, but extremely happy to see him back today. He came up huge in a clutch situation.”

So ended a frantic 96 hours for Díaz, who had flown to Puerto Rico on Saturday morning. Díaz and his brother spent time with their grandmother, offering comfort in a difficult moment. On Monday, Díaz flew back to Newark, N.J., landing late at night and taking a car the rest of the way to Philadelphia. He awoke on Tuesday ready to help the team.

To be certain, the Mets had missed their closer. Without Díaz on Sunday, manager Buck Showalter attempted unsuccessfully to extend Chasen Shreve in a two-run game; it backfired when a combination of Shreve, Trevor Williams and some shoddy infield defense permitted three runs to score in the eighth. A day later in Philadelphia, the Mets again tried to squeeze a little more out of a reliever unaccustomed to that sort of thing; this time it was Trevor May, who allowed a key run before departing due to injury. The Mets gave up five late runs in that one.

Given such context, no one was happier to see Díaz return than Showalter, who called the game “a lot easier [to manage] than it was last night.”

That’s not to say the outcome was preordained. After Díaz opened the ninth inning with a strikeout of Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto squirted a ground-ball single past a shifted infield to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Relying almost exclusively on his low-90s slider, Díaz rebounded to strike out Bryce Harper, who appeared geared up for a fastball that never arrived. But Nick Castellanos followed with another ground ball to another perfect spot. Two on, two outs. 

In danger, Díaz again turned to his breaking ball, throwing five consecutive sliders to whiff Rhys Hoskins. Then he pumped his fist and let out a yell, releasing some of the emotion of the previous four days. 

“It’s a little bit tough, but that’s my job,” Díaz said. “When I came to the game, I just let everything go away. I just kept my focus on the game.”

Díaz’s three outs made a winner of Megill, who encored his strong Opening Day performance with a similar line against a superior Phillies offense — 5 1/3 innings, no runs, five strikeouts. Shreve added three crucial outs and Drew Smith tacked on five, further entrenching himself within Showalter’s ring of trust. 

In the center of that circle is Díaz, who remains as valuable as any Mets reliever despite his uneven performances over the past three seasons. Capable of throwing 100-mph fastballs and wicked sliders, Díaz possesses some of the filthiest pure stuff in baseball. He showcased it Tuesday against a gaggle of the game’s best hitters. And he did so despite a heavy emotional toll, having lost a family member he described as “really close” to him. 

“Doing that job for a living, that’s why they’re so valuable,” Showalter said. “When you’re facing that part of the order, and to be able to come out of it unscathed? As I’ve watched him, he’s really evolved.”

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