BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Too often, we see athletes fall apart under the pressure of playing in New York.
Athletes such as Roberto Alomar, Bobby Bonilla, Ed Whitson, Kenny Rogers, Armando Benitez, Joey Gallo, Charles Smith, Theo Fleury, Neil O’Donnell, Stephon Marbury, Rick Nash, A.J. Burnett, Carl Pavano, Ken Phelps, Dave Brown, Javier Vazquez, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay and Brad Richards come to mind. I know there were lot more athletes that failed here.
New York fans take pride in running underperforming athletes out of town. It’s what they are known for.
In light of Gallo mentioning New York fans being on him for the awful performance that got him a ticket out of New York to Los Angeles, we want to point out an athlete that manages to deal with the fans’ expectations to perform.
His name is Edwin Diaz.
The Mets All-Star closer is having the best season of his career. He saved 26 games with a 1.39 ERA and an impressive 0.86 WHIP in 45 appearances. He allowed seven runs and 27 hits in 45.1 innings. He has a 2.4 WAR share, which is good for being a starter level, but with the season he has had, it does an injustice. He should get a 5.6 WAR Share that would mean superstar level since he is such a difference maker in a sense when he is out there in the ninth inning, it’s game over.
He has entered into the conversation of the Cy Young race as a result of the season he’s had. Right now, Marlins super ace Sandy Alcantara has to be the favorite for the season he’s currently having.
Who would’ve thought any Mets fan would say that after an underwhelming first season as a Met in 2019? Diaz posted a 2-7 record with 5.59 ERA and seven blown saves along with giving up 15 home runs. His control and command turned out to be out of whack.
No Mets fan can forget Diaz falling apart in a game at Philadelphia when he gave up two home-runs (game-tying two-run home run to Maikel Franco and game-winning three-run home run Jean Segura), two walks, three hits and five runs while recording one out to lose the game after being called on to get a save when the Mets took a 3-1 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies on June 27, 2019.
It was his lowest moment as a Met. This was the game where he lost Mets fans.
It took a long time for him to gain that trust back. No one knew it would ever happen. Yet somehow and someway, Diaz figured it out, and he has now become a fan favorite again.
It’s so rare to see a player go from pariah to fan favorite in New York. Sure players have good intentions to figure it out, but it never works out. Diaz turned out to be an exception to the rule. This makes it a good story.
Diaz has always been accountable after blowing leads. He never felt sorry for himself. He kept working on his mechanics throughout all his struggles. Now, everything has come together.
A manager’s support of his closer can go a long way. This is where Buck Showalter deserves credit for the job he has done as a manager. This is where managers matter when it comes to leadership. Even when Diaz blew a couple of saves this season, Showalter made sure to praise his closer for not letting the game get away from him and kept pitching through it. He praised his closer’s toughness to get out of a jam and keep it tied after blowing a lead.
Diaz appreciated it. That type of support could have given him the confidence he needed to do his job. It’s easy to blame a closer for a blown save. It’s hard to keep up a closer’s psyche when he is down. Showalter did such a good job working on Diaz’s psyche. Showalter’s endorsement of his closer after he blew the lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 22, a game the Mets eventually won 6-5 may have been the start of this great run.
From there, Diaz took off. He took his game to another level after he struck out Mike Trout in the eighth inning of the Mets game against the Los Angeles Angels, the final game of the West Coast trip. He pitched a five-out save to give the Mets a 4-1 victory to cap off the trip.
It just seems like Diaz gets better when he pitches in the eighth for a five or six-out save or when he is out there in a high leverage eighth inning like he was against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 5. Showalter’s confidence in him to pitch for a five or six-out save could also prove to be a catalyst to his success.
Diaz pitched a four-out save against the Yankees on July 27 in the Mets’ 6-3 victory over the Bronx Bombers. He struck out Joey Gallo to end the eighth, and he was able to get out of a jam in the ninth with runners on first and second by striking out Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres to earn a save.
He pitched a six-out save, his first of his career, against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night to start a five-game series. Showalter wanted to go for the kill in getting the win to start of the series. He only trusted his closer in that spot, especially against Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson and Austin Riley in the eighth inning. His closer got it done by retiring six of the seven batters he faced in the 28-pitch outing.
It just seems like Diaz gets better and better every time he closes.
It has become now an event when he is out there from the ninth inning. Talk about coming a long way after everyone dreaded his appearance in the ninth inning going back to last season. When his entrance song “Narco” blares through the speakers at Citi Field, fans get excited with the music and his entrance with Mr and Mrs. Met blaring the trumpet for his arrival. It’s so beautiful to see.
It’s gotten to the point now we don’t wonder if Diaz is going to implode. He is having such a great year that we don’t think it may happen. It could just one of those years for him.
Diaz is entering his walk year. He will get paid as an upcoming free agent. It’s a good bet the Mets will do everything possible to keep him since they know it’s hard to replace a closer as good as him. He will be a priority in the offseason.
He will be one to watch this postseason if the Mets participate in it, which seems likely at this point. His legend will continue to grow for every appearance and save out there.
If he can close out the game that gives the Mets a World Series championship this season, no one can ever get on him, even if he bombs the following years. The acquisition of the Mariners closer for Diaz would be the lone success on then-Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s ledger.
Diaz knows success can be futile. He lived it here, so he knows things change quickly.
He can also say he is one guy who got tougher as the fanbase got on him. He is one guy that can truly say he can handle New York after what he went through.
Diaz certainly made an impression through redemption.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6