A Tale of Two Closers

The MLB Wild Card games were a tale of two closers.

Anthony Gruppuso—USA TODAY Sports
New York Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia (27) reacts during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants in the National League wild card playoff baseball game at Citi Field in New York City

NEW YORK — Two nights. Two superior closers. Two losses.And it was two very different stories as closers were the story of the 2016 wild-card round.No one is going second-guess New York Mets manager Terry Collins about using closer Jeurys Familia in a ninth-inning tie Wednesday night. It was the right thing to do even though the righty gave up the three-run homer to Conor Gillaspie that sent the San Francisco Giants to a 3-0 National League wild-card victory at Citi Field and to a meeting with the Chicago Cubs in the NL Division Series.Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter was second guessed all day after he didn’t use his biggest weapon — closer Zach Britton — in what became a 5-2, 11-inning loss to the Blue Jays in the American League wild-card game on Tuesday night in Toronto.Britton was the best closer in the American League, but Showalter didn’t want to use him until the Orioles had a lead, a lead they never got. Ubaldo Jimenez pitched the 11th and surrendered Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off, three-run shot.The feeling here is that Showalter made the wrong decision, though it was a tougher one because the Orioles were the visiting team. Still, right decision or wrong, it didn’t work out for either Showalter or Collins.Britton didn’t get his shot. Familia, likewise probably the best reliever in his league, got his shot and failed.In the final analysis, the staggering Giants ended up advancing because of another phenomenal postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner: a four-hit shutout. At 8-3 with one save and a 1.94 ERA in 15 playoff appearances (13 starts), the lefty is one of the game’s most impressive postseason pitchers.And the surging Mets? They got seven innings of brilliant two-hit shutout ball from Noah Syndergaard but are done after their top players all season — Familia, and also Yoenis Cespedes — didn’t come through.Cespedes was flagging late in the season. He finished with a .280 average, 30 homers and 86 RBIs. Over the final 18 games of the season, though, he hit .203 with one homer and eight RBIs.On Wednesday night, Cespedes was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Twice he came up with a runner on base but didn’t even advance him. With one on and one out in the fourth, he struck out on a Bumgarner pitch in the dirt. With one on and one out in the sixth, he fanned on a terrible swing at a pitch up and out of the strike zone.Collins took nothing away from Bumgarner, but said he was surprised Cespedes didn’t deliver.”[Cespedes is] a great talent — I thought we needed him tonight, that we needed him bad and that he was ready for it,” Collins said. “He was all fired up, and you know the old adage: good pitching beats good hitting. Tonight, [Bumgarner] was better.”For Familia, this is a second straight disappointing October ending after a great season. He saved 43 games in 2015 but blew three saves in the five-game World Series loss to the Royals. He set a franchise record with 51 saves this season and allowed only one home run, and then he gave up the home run that ended the Mets’ season.”For me, that was in the past. I was just trying to be like always,” Familia said of his World Series struggles. “I was trying to make quality pitches and trying to be too perfect. When [Gillaspie] hit that ball, it took my heart. That was it. That was the game.”Collins said he is going to “be careful” but will address the October shortcomings with Familia.”In any circumstances like that, the first thought is you let your teammates down when all you did all year long was pick them up,” Collins said. “But in the postseason, when you give it up and you lose, it can be really hard on you.”Collins might have made it even more difficult for Familia in this game by working him so hard during the regular season. The manager admitted as much, and it is the place where he could get second-guessed.Familia appeared in 78 games, more than any other closer in baseball. In the second half of September, he had an ERA that was a run higher than it was for the first 23 weeks of the season, and he converted just three of his final five saves. He had just three blown saves in his first 51 opportunities.”He was the guy I wanted out there in the ninth inning,” Collins said. “We’ll try to do a better job to make sure he’s a little more rested going into the postseason.”