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  • The Mickey Callaway-Jason Vargas fiasco was only the beginning of the Mets' road trip from hell.
By Jon Tayler
June 28, 2019

For most teams, it’s hard to imagine a lower point to a season than a manager and player cursing at and threatening to fight a reporter. (Then again, most teams never get to that point in the first place.) But for the Mets, such subterranean depths only give way to darker holes far below. Case in point: the four days following Mickey Callaway and Jason Vargas behaving like belligerent lunatics, in which New York threw away four separate leads over the Phillies and, by extension, effectively buried a 2019 season that’s more toxic than a Superfund site.

On Thursday, the Mets reached the final stage of their series collapse against Philadelphia. The Phillies came into this matchup amid a June spiral of their own after going 6–14 on the month and were fading fast in the NL East. The cure to all such woes, though, is a date with the Mets, who have never met a disaster they couldn’t outdo. Four games and four comebacks later, the Phillies are revitalized and New York is left dazed and done—eight games under .500 and 11 games out of first place in the division, with a chance for that malaise to worsen with an upcoming weekend series against the East-leading Braves.

But before the Mets can turn their blackened eyes to Atlanta, a refresher on their week—and road trip—from hell.

Sunday: Holding a 3–2 lead in the eighth inning against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Callaway lets reliever Seth Lugo—who needed 20 pitches to record a scoreless seventh—work his way into a two-on, one-out jam. In the bullpen is closer Edwin Diaz, who has pitched just twice in the last week. Callaway, though, sticks with Lugo against Javy Baez, who launches a three-run homer to give Chicago a lead it won’t relinquish.

Postgame comes le affaire Healey, in which Callaway and, for no apparent reason, Vargas go nuclear on Newsday reporter Tim Healey for the crime of saying, “See you tomorrow” to the skipper. Much digital ink has already been spilled on that mess, so onward I’ll go.

Monday: The Mets and Phillies trade body blows in the series opener at Citizens Bank Park, but New York emerges with a 6­–5 advantage in the fifth. Starter Steven Matz, though, surrenders a two-run homer to Maikel Franco—who entered this series hitting .204/.274/.369—in the bottom of the frame to give up the lead.

Off goes Matz, in comes Brooks Pounders, who entered the season with a career ERA of 8.92 and was plucked off the Indians’ Triple A squad to get high-leverage outs for a beleaguered Mets bullpen. He’s not up to the task in this one, surrendering a run in the fifth and four in the sixth, including a pinch-hit homer to ex-Met Jay Bruce, as Philadelphia wins running away, 13–7.

Tuesday: New York gets off to a good start, peppering Jake Arrieta for four runs in the first three innings, and heads into the sixth with a 5–2 lead. But fill-in starter Walker Lockett falters in his third time through the order, allowing a walk and a double before exiting. His replacement is Wilmer Font, who gives up an RBI groundout, an RBI single, a two-run homer to Franco and a solo homer to Brad Miller, who is on his third team of 2019. Philadelphia wins, 7–5.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Wednesday: Again, the Mets go out in front, taking a 4–0 lead into the sixth. Vargas—somehow now New York’s second-best starter—allows a run that inning on a Jean Segura homer, then emerges for the seventh with a three-run lead. But after a leadoff double to J.T. Realmuto and a deep flyout by Bruce, Callaway goes to Lugo, who gives up an RBI double, gets Franco to fly out and walks Miller. With two on and two out, Lugo is able to strike out Scott Kingery … only for the ball to get away from catcher Tomas Nido, allowing Kingery to reach and the inning to stay alive. The next batter is Segura, who pops a two-run single to center to tie the game.

Things stay knotted into the 10th, when Callaway calls on Stephen Nogosek, a 24-year-old rookie with all of three games of MLB experience to his name, to pitch the bottom of the inning. A walk, a single and a Bruce double later, the Phillies walk off with a 5–4 win.

Thursday: In a duel between Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, the Mets are unable to scratch any runs off the Phillies’ ace and trail 1–0 in the ninth. Against closer Hector Neris, though, Michael Conforto comes up with a one-out single and Todd Frazier smashes a two-run homer to give the Mets a 2–1 lead. Another run comes across before the frame ends, setting the stage for Diaz to pick up a routine save: three outs against the bottom of the order with a multi-run cushion.

You already know what happens. Diaz walks leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez and Franco follows up with a homer—his third of the series—to tie the game. Diaz strikes out Realmuto, but that’s the last positive he can muster. A walk and a single put two on for Segura, who sends a ball into the leftfield stands for another Phillies walk-off victory.

So, to sum it up: five games, five leads and five losses for the Mets. Diaz’s meltdown was the 20th blown save of the season for New York, the most in the majors; the Mets’ bullpen, meanwhile, has converted not even half its save opportunities. Its ERA for June was a horrendous 7.54, and that’s before the closer coughed up Thursday’s outing. And mind you, that’s a closer for whom the Mets gave up their top two prospects and agreed to take on the bulk of Robinson Cano’s onerous contract. Is this where I note that Cano has an OPS+ of 71 this season?

Few teams can so thoroughly wreck their seasons in the span of a week, but then again, few teams are the Mets. But maybe the most impressive—or, depending on your vantage point, concerning—thing is that this car-crash of a week may not even be the worst stretch of this season in Queens. Because when it comes to the Mets, you should never assume that there isn’t a new, seemingly impossible low they can’t reach.

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