NEW YORK -- When the Mets signed Aaron Loup to a one-year, $3 million deal in the offseason, they knew they were getting a solid veteran reliever, who was coming off an impressive bounce-back year with the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays in a shortened 2020 campaign.
Little did they know, that he would become the "most valuable reliever" in their bullpen throughout the 2021 season.
And on Tuesday night, Loup showcased his dominance once more, as he was called upon in a big spot to try to preserve a two-run lead against the Miami Marlins.
After starting pitcher Trevor Williams ran into trouble by allowing an RBI double to Jesus Aguilar, Loup came on in a second-and-third jam with only one out. But as he has shown all year, he was up for the challenge.
Despite walking the first batter in Jazz Chisholm, the left-hander induced a sharp come backer from the following hitter, which he somehow was able to field cleanly, firing to home plate to get the force, before his catcher Patrick Mazeika threw down to first for the second out.
This completed an impressive 1-2-3 inning-ending double play, and just like that, Loup got the Mets out of trouble, as he often does.
“To be honest with ya, I think I was pretty lucky," said a calm-and-collected Loup via zoom of his double play. "He hit it pretty good back at me, and I thought it hit off my glove and popped up, so I I looked for it, and then little did I know, it was sitting right in my glove and then it's just a matter of making a good throw to the plate after that."
Loup sat back in his postgame presser, looking like his usual chipper self. And of course, he had his typical drink of choice perched right next to him in camera-view, a can of Busch Lite, which he sips on after every appearance, as a reward for an honest day's, or in this case, night's work.
"Anytime you are in a big situation like that, where you can make a pitch and get out of a jam in a big spot in the game, it's always a big deal," Loup said.
It certainly was a big deal because if it were not for Loup's heroics, the Mets wouldn't have pulled out a 3-1 victory over the Marlins to sweep the doubleheader and notch their fourth win in a row.
It’s no secret that Loup has been stellar for the Mets this season, and his 1.20 ERA and 0.91 WHIP back that up.
But according to the southpaw, what his success this year truly boils down to, at age-33, is simpler than what you might expect.
"I think I've just embraced having fun and enjoying the game,” said Loup. “Especially with the group of guys we have here, it has been easy all year. To go out there, I think at times, as baseball players we kind of get caught up in riding the ups-and-downs and I try to stay as even-keel as possible and just go out there and enjoy the game ahead of me."
"I know it's kind of cliché, but in the past, I've kind of gotten into my own head, where I've almost hated coming to the ballpark. I've been injured in the past, in 2019. It kind of reset my mind and re-focused it and now I just kind of go out there and have fun with my teammates and just try to play the best I can."
And that injury in '19 he was referring to, was an elbow issue, which caused him to miss all but four appearances in his brief one-year stint with the San Diego Padres two seasons ago.
Although Loup bounced-back with the Rays last season, the left-hander was stuck looking for another new home, following his team's loss to the Dodgers in the World Series. And that's when both he and the Mets discovered they were a match made in heaven.
After spending the first 7.5 years of his big-league career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Loup bounced around to three different teams, before winding up in New York during his previous round of free agency in 2021.
Loup is now having a career-year after signing a one-year contract with the Mets last winter, which is now looking like one of the more underrated steals of the offseason.
"He has been great. Regardless, he is not a lefty specialist by any means," said manager Luis Rojas of Loup. "I know we've brought him in there for a lefty, and he got a walk and a double play, but he can get lefties and righties out. He has a lot of pitch ability."
"We saw him fielding his position tonight very well," said Rojas. "I don't know if he had an idea that the ball was in his glove, but he caught the ball and turned it into a 1-2-3 double play."
"He has just been outstanding and probably the most valuable reliever we've had with respect to the others and how good they've been as well. The second-half has been especially great, so we are fortunate to have him. He's a great pitcher who gives great balance to our bullpen and he is always ready to go, he always wants the ball. We are fortunate to have 'Loupy' here."
As Rojas alluded to, Loup has been lights out since the All-Star break, allowing just one-run on nine hits in 17 innings (0.53 ERA) during this span. This is hard to believe, given how effective Loup already was in the first act of the season, pitching to a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings.
Prior to the three-batter minimum rule being implemented by MLB, Loup likely would be used in a majority of lefty-on-lefty situations, as a specialist. However, this new rule pretty much eliminated what used to be a common usage of southpaw relievers.
But this hasn't stopped Loup from finding success. He actually has better earned-run results against right-handers this season, with a 1.14 ERA in 23.2 innings, as opposed to lefties, who he sports a still impressive 1.27 ERA against. Albeit, lefties have a worse batting average at .174, while righties are hitting .226 versus Loup. Again, those are still fantastic numbers when facing both sides.
If one thing is certain, it’s that whenever the Mets need to get a big out, if Loup is available, in all likelihood, he will be coming in and he will come through.
That’s just the way things have gone for Loup this season. And as long as he continues to be that anchor in the bullpen, the Mets will keep leaning on him in critical spots.
With Loup set to hit the open market again this offseason, the Mets should do every they can to retain him, as he has brought order to a once shaky bullpen in the past.