Coming into the Mets' series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the pitching strategy was a bit of a question mark. The starter was expected to go six innings. Familia was there to pitch the ninth. The seventh and the eighth were the problem.
Terry Collins's solution in Thursday's Game 5 win? Leave them on the sidelines.
After Jacob deGrom battled through six gritty innings—leaving with a 3-2 lead—Collins eschewed setup men Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard. Instead, Collins called on fireballer Noah Syndergaard, who struck out two in a seventh inning blemished only by a walk to Adrian Gonzalez.
Collins had reservations about calling on Syndergaard, who had seemingly been warming all game, to get big outs in a tight game in relief. But pitching coach Dan Warthen insisted that the Mets needed a fireballer to power through the middle of the Dodgers order. The move paid off when Syndergaard blew a 99 MPH fastball by Corey Seager and made Justin Turner wave wildly at an 82 MPH slider.
"Right man in the right place," Warthen told reporters after the game. "He had movement on the fastball. I thought it was a perfect match."
Syndergaard said that he was helped by his bullpen comrades. "I got up four different times and I talked to a lot of the guys in the bullpen, some of the veteran guys to learn how to handle that. They gave me some very valuable advice."
Having thrown 17 pitches, Syndergaard gave way to closer Jeurys Familia, who was called on for a six-out save for the first time in his career.
"We've got, in my opinion, if he's not the best closer in the National League, he's one of the best closers in all of baseball," Collins told reporters "You've got to go to him. You can't—you'd be kicking yourself if they scored a run off somebody else when that guy should be in the game in a game like tonight that means everything."
As general manager Sandy Alderson wryly put it, "He’s gotten four-out saves and five-out saves. Why not six?"
Familia didn't allow a baserunner in two perfect innings, despite one breath-holding moment when Chase Utley lined a first-pitch slider, which hung up just enough for Curtis Granderson to get over and make the catch.
"When I got here, I talked to [the staff] and they tell me, ‘If we’re there, you’re going in,’ so I prepared myself for that," Familia said after the game. "I had my mind ready to do it for two innings. TC asked me before the game and I told him anything you need."
"I was so excited. I don't have the words to say how special I feel right now. My teammates, they trust me. That’s why my confidence is growing. My teammates trust me."