More than anything, baseball is a game based on learning to cope with failure. The backend of the Mets season so far has been a colossal failure. How rookie manager, Mickey Callaway, deals with failing personally and with the team, will determine the fate of the Mets from here on in.
As a rookie manager, Mickey Callaway is given a long leash to make the mistakes any new manager is bound to make. Coming from the American League to the non-DH National League has meant making adjustments that require sacrifice bunts, more pinch-hitting, and double switches when making a pitching change.
So far, so good on all of those counts. Which makes the mistake Callaway made leading to the Mets batting out of order in the first inning against the Reds all the more glaring. But the incident proved something very telling about Callaway. He does not kick the can down the road, and he does not seek to find a scapegoat when things go wrong.
Callaway has spoken numerous times about requiring his players to be held accountable, with no exceptions. Owning up to his own mistake establishes personal accountability for what went wrong, even though he has two coaches assigned explicitly to ensuring the lineup card is right when it reaches the hands of the home plate umpire.
At first glance, the episode is dismissed as a small thing over the course of 162 games and six months. But drilling a bit deeper, it only goes to show the Mets are currently failing as a team that includes the manager, coaching staff, the players, and until just recently the front office, which recovered itself (finally) by bringing in a genuine major league catcher in Devin Mesoraco.
The Mets are scrambling right now, and Mickey Callaway is struggling right along with them, not ahead and not behind, but with them. He’s the man who has the job of rallying his players, teaching them how to cope with the failure of the past three weeks. And if Mickey Callaway can’t do the same himself, he will be of no use to this team.
So, Mickey Callaway continues to tinker and try new things. He saw an opportunity, and he took it by passing on Jason Vargas‘s next start, taking advantage of off-days on Monday and Thursday. Vargas, under the tutelage of pitching coach, Dave Eiland, and possibly Callaway himself will go through a simulated game on Tuesday, his regular turn in the rotation.
Vargas needs a blow, and the team needs a blow from him. Callaway also announced he would be tinkering with the batting practice routine, whatever that might mean. But the point is Mickey Callaway is active and thinking.
Mickey Callaway doesn’t seem to be beyond some risk-taking either. Yoenis Cespedes has balky legs again, but Callaway still sent Cespedes out there Friday night even though Callaway knew balls in the gap might prove to be a problem for Cespedes to get to. Although, I can’t seem to recall a time ever that Cespedes has been seen running full bore after balls hit in the gap.
The Mets have been forced to go to Plan B in other ways too, the most significant being the premature birth of both the Braves and Phillies as serious contenders in the NL East. Both teams are mimicking the early development of the Yankees last season, and this has caused a logjam in the standings among four teams, including the surging Nationals.
Predictions before the start of the season said this was going to be a race between the Nationals and Mets, and many gave the Mets the nod to beat out Washington for the division title. Now, it’s a race for the two Wild Card Spots (excepting the Division winner), which as of the start of play today shows a separation of only two games among the four teams.
It’s almost too bad the Mets got off to that 11-1 start to the season, if only because Mickey Callaway didn’t have a chance to walk before he had to run, and failure was nowhere in sight.
Now the test begins for Mickey Callaway and the 25 men sharing lockers in the Mets clubhouse. Suck it up and move on, or gulp it down and mail it in. Help from the outside meaning the frugal front office is not likely to come. Nor is there anyone on the horizon ready to step in from the minor leagues.
Which, in a way, should be a comfort to the team in knowing that as they look around the clubhouse, this is us! We sink or rise with what we have.
Mickey Callaway does not win or lose games for the Mets. He’s a maker and a shaker, and that’s all he can be. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have an opportunity to display what this team can be on the field to close out the series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The narrative of failing needs to change for the Mets, and this is as good as any place to start.