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Position players pitching through Mets history

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From Bill Pecota to Jose Reyes, here’s how the position players fared on the mound

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When Jose Reyes took the mound for the Mets in their 25-4 loss on Tuesday night, he became the ninth position player in franchise history to pitch. His stint on the mound was the eleventh all together, as some of those players pitched twice.

The first position player in Mets history to pitch was a utility infielder by the name of Bill Pecota. On September 26, 1992, the Mets were facing the eventual National League East Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and much like Tuesday night, things got ugly in a hurry. At the end of the first inning, the Mets were down 6-0, and by the time the fourth inning was over, they were down 16-0. Compared to Reyes, Pecota didn’t do terribly. After giving up a homer to Andy Van Slyke to start things off, he retired the next three batters in order to get out of the inning. The Mets went on to lose that game 19-2.

It was almost seven years before another Met had his day on the mound, and that man was Matt Franco. On July 2, 1999, the Mets were getting shellacked 12-0 by the Atlanta Braves going into the ninth inning, and John Franco came on to hopefully get the Mets out of the inning. In typical Mets fashion, things did not work out as anticipated. After allowing a hit and walking two, Franco left the game with a strained middle finger. The it was the other Franco’s time to shine.

Matt Franco, who had pitched for two innings in the minors, came into the game with two on and two out, hoping to get the Mets out of the inning cleanly. But as he was throwing 84 right down Broadway, Gerald Williams connected on his third pitch for a three-run home run to left field. Otis Nixon followed that up with a triple two pitches later. Franco did have a moment of success in this appearance, striking out young phenom Andruw Jones swinging to end the inning. The Mets lost that game 16-0 in the most lopsided shutout in team history at the time.

After waiting nearly seven years for the second Met position player to pitch, the team didn’t even wait seven weeks for the third instance. On August 8, 1999, Matt Franco got a second chance, this time against the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the Mets, this game started bad and somehow got worse as things went on. Just like last time, a finger injury cost the Mets one of their pitchers and they had to make ends meet with what they had. After starting pitcher Rick Reed exited in the second inning, Masato Yoshii, Pat Mahomes, and Chuck McElroy combined to allow ten runs to cross the plate through eight innings. Joking that the fans wanted to see Franco close the game, manager Bobby Valentine gave them their wish and sent McElroy into the outfield and brought in Matt Franco to put an end to the game. Only throwing 78 this time, things didn’t go as nicely for Franco as they did the first time. He allowed one hit in the inning to future Met Paul Lo Duca and walked three guys on his way to walking in a run. But he left the bases loaded and escaped the jam, only allowing one run to cross the plate.

A little over a year later, the Mets sent another outfielder to the mound. This time, it was veteran outfielder Derek Bell taking one for the team. On a mild San Diego afternoon on August 22, 2000, the Mets were getting thrashed by the Padres by the score of 11-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Again, needing the bullpen to cover a game in which the starter got hurt, things could’ve gone better for the eventual National League Champions. Mixing up his pitches between 47 and 79 miles per hour, Bell wasn’t as successful as those who came before him. The inning started with a walk to Joe Vitiello and just got worse from there. Three hits, two walks, one error, and five runs later, Bell was able to escape the inning with a 36.00 ERA. The final score was 16-1 in favor of San Diego.

What came on May 17, 2001, is what many consider to be the best position player pitching performance in team history. Looking to save his bullpen in another lopsided beating by San Diego, this time by the score of 15-3, Bobby Valentine brought Desi Relaford into the game to pitch the ninth. Relaford, who pitched in high school, had an impressive arsenal of pitches including a 91 mile-per-hour fastball and a “tailing changeup.” One could argue that Relaford was the Mets’ best pitcher on the night as he got through his one inning of work cleanly, even striking out the first batter he faced on three pitches. After the game, Relaford told reporters “I got a punch-out, a little zero on my E.R.A. on my baseball card, a bright spot to a miserable night.’’

After Relaford’s impressive inning, over three years passed before the next Met got his day on the mound. On July 26, 2004, in the eighth inning of a 14-8 slugfest against the Expos, Todd Zeile got his chance to take the bump. Zeile, who had pitched before, broke out a knuckleball in hopes of shutting down his opponents, but he wasn’t as successful. Before recording an out, Zeile allowed three men to reach base and one to score on an RBI single. When it was all said and done, Zeile had allowed five runs to score on four hits and two walks en route to the Mets’ 19-10 loss. After the game, Zeile spoke to reporters about his time on the mound saying: “Not a lot of fun, I just hoped they’d be laughing at me and laughing at the knuckleball and hit it at somebody.”

It was almost a decade until another Met position player took the mound after Zeile’s disastrous performance north of the border. Interestingly, it also took place in Canada, this time in Toronto. On May 18, 2012, backup catcher Rob Johnson was tasked with getting the Mets out of the ninth inning with the score at 14-5, and he did surprisingly well. Throwing in the 80s, Johnson had what was probably the best pitching appearance of the night. Throwing only ten pitches, Johnson was able to induce two pop outs before getting Eric Thames to strike out swinging to end the inning.

After that, it was June 30, 2013, a day that Met fans were supposed to treasure and look fondly upon in the future. That day was Zack Wheeler’s first start at Citi Field—against the Washington Nationals. Needless to say, things didn’t work out as nicely as some had hoped. To make a long story short, rough showings by Wheeler and Brandon Lyon put the Mets in an 11-0 hole going into the ninth inning. Just like last time, the backup catcher came in to save the bullpen, but this time, it wasn’t as clean. Anthony Recker came into the game to send the fans home (un)happy. The first batter, Jayson Werth, reached on a walk and Ian Desmond quickly followed with a home run to make the score 13-0. But Recker was not disheartened and quickly dispatched the next three batters on fly balls to end the inning.

The next two appearances were also by a backup catcher: Kevin Plawecki. His first time on the mound was during the infamous 23-5 game on April 30, 2017, in Washington in which Noah Syndergaard tore his lat and basically ended his season. Down 19-5 in the eighth, Plawecki came in and was brutalized by the red-hot Nationals lineup. The first four batters he faced connected for three home runs and a single, putting four runs on the board before Plawecki could get an out. Mercifully, the next three batters went down 1-2-3- to get the Mets out of that nightmare.

Later that year, Plawecki joined Matt Franco in the exclusive club of position players to pitch twice in one season for the Mets. On August 29, 2017, while getting stomped 11-3 by Cincinnati in the eighth inning, Plawecki entered the game with the bases loaded, needing to get three outs to escape the jam. He managed to get the first batter he faced to ground into a double play, but that was followed up by a double and an error, which put men back on first and third. Somehow, Plawecki was able to get National League MVP runner-up Joey Votto to dribble a ball to first base and end the inning with the Mets trailing 14-3.

And that brings us to Jose Reyes, who pitched during last night’s 25-4 bludgeoning at the hands of Washington. Flinging 87 mile-per-hour fastballs towards the dish, Reyes did little to stop the Nats’ surging offense. In total, he gave up six runs on five hits, including two home runs, along with two walks and a hit batsman.

When it comes to Mets position players pitching, there’s a little good, a bunch of bad, and a ton of ugly. But one thing is guaranteed with each outing, no matter who it is: Position players pitching gives us a reason to sit back, laugh, and enjoy the absurdity of the moment and the sport rather than lament the fact that the Mets are a very bad team getting beaten beyond belief.