Friday night's game against the Marlins was a game the Mets were supposed to win. With their best pitcher on the mound, against one of the worst teams in baseball, the game seemed like a foregone conclusion. Instead, it went back and forth, eventually going into extra innings until Eric O'Flaherty gave up a two-out RBI double to Martin Prado.
The Mets have seen enough extra-inning games this season to know the kind of toll they can take on a bullpen. Without any sense of when the game might end, managers might have to make a one-inning pitcher go three innings. This was surely part of Terry Collins's logic when he kept O'Flaherty in to face Prado.
But managers also have to be careful not to lose the game. O'Flaherty's numbers against right-handed pitchers are atrocious, there was a man on base, and Prado was having a 4-for-5 night. Collins should have brought in a right-handed pitcher, and that pitcher could have been Jeurys Familia.
The Mets have strictly used Familia to finish games this season, which is pretty much standard practice in baseball today. Nationals manager Matt Williams has taken criticism at various points for losing long games while never using Drew Storen or Jonathan Papelbon. On Friday night, he used both of them and won, while the Mets used one of their weakest relievers instead of their strongest one and lost.
The model of the closer as the team's best reliever is a piece of baseball tradition as much as anything else. It makes sense when it comes to not wasting a strong reliever on a blowout and keeping him for close games. But when someone like Familia doesn't even pitch while Eric O'Flaherty faces the number-three hitter in a potential walk-off situation, the manager is going to have a hard time justifying his decision.