New York Mets

Edwin Diaz Shines In Spring Debut

“Every year, just when I start to think life is totally meaningless, baseball starts again.”

Above is a quote without an author because it is the feeling of every die-hard Mets fan. I died a little bit last year when Edwin Diaz went down in a heap of jubilant players. I felt I knew how devastating that depression at the back end of the pen would be, so much so I’ve got published proof. But I didn’t think the scene of Diaz being carried off the field would define the entire Mets season.

“We are a family inside the clubhouse; we are really close,” Diaz said to SNY’s Michelle Margaux during the Monday evening broadcast. ”I think that’s one of the big things I missed, spending time with them.”

I’ll speak for all Mets fans when I say, “We missed spending time awaiting the trumpets.” SNY showed fans lined up on the ledge above the bullpen, watching Diaz warmup. Like at the height of the 2022 season, commercials were put on hold and the camera focused on the bullpen doors. Like many of the lucky hundreds attending Clover Park, I, too, turned my telephone towards the man starting his trot to the mound. Diaz said his kids love the song and play it all around his home. Still, it means something different to a generation of Mets faithful who associate that sound with the smile it naturally generates after another win.

It wasn’t 50,000 cheering at Citi Field, but those in attendance danced around their seats and cheered with delight. This is the secret sauce for 2024 that will close the door in the end: turning what POBO David Stearns crafted into the best bullpen in the league simply because it ends with Sugar. That means everyone else finds their place, and you’re not asking Brooks Raley for a couple of outs in the 9th. He can come in to hold for Adam Ottavino in the eighth, who got two outs but gave up a single and is now facing a lefty.

Jake Diekman, Jorge Lopez, and others are able to assist starters and provide a sturdier bridge to the back end. It’s a small thing that makes a so-so start into the sixth inning a win because the other team doesn’t score again. 

That’s the true foundation for this year’s success. A top-flight pen and Pete Alonso having a monster walk-year season will force Steve Cohen to load up the dump truck like Krusty The Clown. That’s what Diaz did in 2022, finishing with a 1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and striking out 118 in 62 innings. For that, he earned the largest contract for a relief pitcher. It was a signing that never reached the pitching mounds at Port St. Lucie, so it was understandable for the level of tension to be a bit high.

”I tried to block everything out because I was a little nervous,” said Diaz. “Once I threw my first pitch, everything calmed down, and I made my pitches.”

He threw 14 pitches but had to pause after the first one. His 97 MPH fastball to Jesus Sanchez was fouled back into home plate umpire CB Bucknor. It created a slight delay, one that Diaz used to his advantage.

The next three pitchers were all sliders, the last one returning to form as Sanchez swung over a ball, diving towards his feet. With the count 2-2, Diaz threw his fastball up and away almost as a showpiece since he followed with another unhittable slider swung on and missed for strike three. It was only six pitches, but it was apparent to those not laughing maniacally because of his return. 

”My fastball command wasn’t really good,” said Diaz. “(But) my slider command was good.”

Maybe some of you have forgotten this was generally the formula. The fastball is an elite 97 MHP, effortlessly flowing from his hand. He throws a 91 MPH slider from that same arm angle that runs away from an opponent’s bat at the last minute. He started Avisail Garcia with a slider, who swung and missed for strike one.

The next pitch was 98 MHP and nowhere near the plate, but that’s half the point because now, the batter has no idea what’s coming next. The following two pitches - a fastball and a slider - were out of the strike zone but too close to leave the bat on your shoulder. Instead, Garcia walked back as the crowd noise grew at Clover Park and in homes throughout the Tri-State area.

“I was making (my) pitches,” said Diaz, “and got the three strikeouts.”

The third strikeout was against Jon Berti, a career Mets killer, but at this point, it didn’t matter. With Diaz at his best, the batter is still facing two premium pitches, starting with a fastball you better decide quickly on. Maybe that’s why Bucknor generously called a 96 MPH fastball off the plate for strike one. Once he did, Berti was done for. Diaz backed him off the plate with an inside fastball, followed up with two sliders that Berti swung at and missed for the end of the inning. An ending Diaz waited months for, an ending that every Met fan wanted, and that’s the truth.

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