As this article is being written, Lee Mazzilli is giving his reaction to Aaron Heliman’s disaster of an inning in tonight’s 5-3 loss to the Nationals. Everything I had planned to speak of in this article was addressed by Mazzilli. It’s good to know there’s a baseball mind out there that realizes the ridiculous moves made by Willie Randolph tonight.
First and foremost, I think it is appropriate to explain the circumstances under which Aaron Heilman was brought into the game. Claudio Vargas had been cruising for six solid innings, giving up two hits and one run. That one run came on one bad pitch.
In the seventh inning, Vargas had struck out the first batter of the inning. He ended up walking the next batter, and Willie immediately comes out of the dugout. Heilman had been warming up between innings, and Willie signals that Vargas is finished for the night. It was at this point that I became quite confused.
There was no reason to believe Vargas had been losing his command or control of his pitches. With one out in the seventh and a runner on first base, this was no real scoring threat. This is especially the case as the Nationals had hit into two double plays already earlier in the game.
As Heilman makes his way to the mound, I’m nearly positive I heard the collective booing of every Mets fan all the way from my apartment in Philadelphia. I knew at that moment Heilman was going to blow this game. And he didn’t disappoint.
But at this point I don’t blame Heilman anymore. While he gets two strikes on every hitter, he then proceeds to throw his signature changeup in the dirt. All great pitches on which to strike out a batter, but it seems as though every hitter in the National League has learned that this is his out pitch. They continue to sit on these change-ups until they get to a fastball count and then proceed to smack hits left and right.
Now, there are many bigger issues I have concerning Willie's decision to bring Heliman into this game. First of all, Heilman has proved time after time this year that he cannot be trusted in close games. He pitched poorly in the first game of the doubleheader this past Saturday, but ironically proceeded to throw a scoreless inning in the second game when the Mets were losing anyway. You never know what you are getting with him.
Secondly, Willie must realize Heilman’s inability to keep inherited runners from scoring. The SNY crew had a stat during the game stating that Heilman had stranded only two of eight inherited runners this year, an absolutely dreadful statistic. Heilman cannot be the pitcher to enter this tied game, with the Mets struggling once again to score a run. Joe Smith had pitched only two innings in the last eight days, a much better option in my opinion.
Next, as Lee Mazzilli also pointed out, there must be someone else warming up alongside Heilman when he is set to come in. Heilman managed to get one out, but after giving up the inevitable go-ahead run, Heilman walked the next batter.
Willie must get Heilman out of there immediately. He has shown he cannot limit the damage this year. If Joe Smith had been warming up earlier, this would have been the best time to bring him in to get the last out. I did mention that this all happened with two out, right?
What makes it even better is that after Smith comes in, he strikes out Zimmerman on three pitches. The next inning, he threw what seemed like three pitches in a hitless inning.
I just don’t know when Willie is going to learn. It’s good to know he still has confidence in Heilman, but you cannot be sacrificing wins to help his confidence. The last time I checked, these games count and these “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow” statements from Willie after the game have got to end.
I can just see the Mets behind the Phillies by one game on the last day of the season. Then we will all look back to these early games, and wonder what could have been if the Mets would have won one or two of these games. Because, Willie, on that last day of the season, there won’t be a tomorrow to “get them.” Just like last year.