MINNEAPOLIS – The crowd of 28,712 at Target Field stood and screamed as Edwin Diaz readied for his 33rd pitch in the ninth inning.
The Mets led by one, but a Twins player occupied each base, and Nelson Cruz stood at the plate with a 3-2 count.
The Twins faithful hoped for yet another Mets’ bullpen meltdown while Diaz needed just one more out to finish a sensational showing by the relievers.
Diaz fired a 99-mph fastball inside to Cruz, who fouled it off toward the Mets dugout. The ball didn’t veer enough to make it to the seats, and Todd Frazier planted himself beneath it, catching the ball basket style for the final out.
Somehow, the Mets bullpen survived five innings against the AL Central leaders.
“To throw five scoreless innings against that group, that says a lot,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “You knew they weren’t going to make every inning on you.”
Diaz and five other relievers combined to limit the Twins to just three hits to preserve a 3-2 win on Tuesday night at Target Field, the third straight win by the Mets (43-51). The Mets’ pen produced their second-longest scoreless streak in a game to secure the team’s first three-game winning streak since May.
“The bullpen did a really good job today,” starter Steven Matz said. “Stepped up and shut them down. Really good win against a really good team.”
The Mets have not yet given up on a possible Wild Card push —at least publicly — but they have a huge hole to climb out of thanks to their flammable bullpen.
The unit entered the night leading MLB with 21 blown saves, and a 5.58 ERA, the third-highest mark in the majors. The relievers led MLB with a 7.53 ERA in June.
Diaz, the prized offseason acquisition, has been a bust through 94 games. Jeurys Familia, the $30-million reliever, has been one of the worst relievers in the majors.
Justin Wilson has been injured for stretches, and Robert Gsellman has been inconsistent for most of the year. Only Seth Lugo has been steady.
It’s tricky to attempt to quantify how many games the bullpen has cost the Mets, but it’s fair to say they’d be contending for a Wild Card spot if the bullpen was simply average. The bullpen has been that abysmal.
The relievers will have to start delivering if the Mets want to play in meaningful September games, but the second half is off to a good start with the bullpen posting a 1.93 ERA spanning 14 innings.
Wilson’s return has helped solidify the bridge innings.
“You can mix and match (in the earlier innings) and not worry about, well, I got to get through the seventh as well,” Callaway said.
Tuesday night marked one of the Mets’ bullpen’s most impressive outings since it managed to hold off one of MLB’s strongest lineups.
Michael Conforto’s 59-mph RBI single with two outs in the fifth off Michael Pineda gave the Mets a 3-2 lead, and the team need 15 outs since starter Steven Matz, who allowed two runs in four innings, entered the night with a pitch count of 75.
He needed 67 to complete four frames with Conforto, who finished 4 for 4, helping him with a diving catch that robbed Cruz on an RBI in the third.
“I felt good,” Matz said. “Wasn’t as sharp as I’d like to be but I felt comfortable.”
Gsellman, Luis Avilan and Jeurys Familia worked around three walks to complete the fifth and sixth innings before Wilson posted a perfect seventh.
The Twins only finally registered their first hit in the eighth against Lugo.
Diaz entered for the ninth, and like most of his saves recently, it didn’t come easy.
The righty has yet to post a clean inning this month in five outings, and his night changed when Luis Arraez replaced Jonathan Schoop mid at-bat with one out and none on. Arraez inherited an 0-2 count since Schoop left with an injury, and he worked an 11-pitch walk. Diaz just could not put away the rookie.
“I was surprised,” Diaz said through a translator of the switch. “That was a tremendous at-bat he had. I tip my hat to him.”
Mitch Garver then singled, and with two outs, Marwin Gonzalez beat out an infield single to loaded the bases for Cruz, a feared slugger.
Diaz’s seventh and final pitch to Cruz would have been a ball, but it was close enough that Diaz induced weak contact for his 21st save. Both Diaz and Callaway thought Diaz threw well despite loading the bases.
“(Cruz) came in with his strength which is his power, and I came in with my strength, my fastball,” Diaz said. “All I wanted to do was elevate.”
The Mets are going to need the bullpen to continue to perform like this to have any shot of getting back to .500, and it won’t be easy if they are going to have to use six relievers in any close games. That’s not a sustainable model.
Then again, after their first half that likely torpedoed this team’s playoff chances, the bullpen does have some making up to do.
“Great team win,” Conforto said. “Everybody did great for us. We’re looking to build on that.”