NEW YORK -- Deep inhale. Exhale. Repeat as needed.
But this is how it’s going to be for a team without its best hitter (Yoenis Cespedes), its best pitcher (Noah Syndergaard) and its closer (Jeurys Familia) due to injury. GM Sandy Alderson wouldn’t even venture a guess as to when Steven Matz, Seth Lugo or Travis d’Arnaud would return when asked about their statuses before the game.
As such, the Mets are carried by their two hottest hitters -- Michael Conforto (11 homers, one shy of his career-high) and, yes, Rene Rivera (he of the 11-game hitting streak) -- and one consistent starting pitcher, Jacob deGrom, who survived both a bases-loaded, no-outs situation and a ring-finger blister to keep the Angels off the board and allow the Mets to post their first shutout since Opening Day.
They’re asking players such as Jose Reyes, whose best defensive days are behind them, to make juggling catches, like the one he made in that bases-loaded threat. And they’re looking to get big outs from the likes of cerebral rookie reliever Paul Sewald, who entered in the eighth inning and, after yielding a bunt single to Andrelton Simmons, struck out C.J. Cron with the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning.
DeGrom had no severe blips like the ones he’s had the last three times out, when mid-to-late inning struggles bumped his ERA over 4. He was the first Mets pitcher to have a scoreless seven-inning start this season. DeGrom was successfully able to maneuver through a lineup that, other than Mike Trout, had little punch. Trout had a single, a strikeout and an intentional walk on a 3-2 pitch after which deGrom got Luis Valbuena out to end another troublesome spot.
“That’s what we’re looking to do, get our starting pitchers to really carry us,” said Terry Collins, who on Saturday will become the longest-tenured manager by games in Mets history. “Jake did a tremendous job tonight. He reached back when he needed to and made big pitches. That’s what we’ve come to expect from those guys.”
Conforto added another home run, his third against a left-handed pitcher this season. He was 5-for-48 against lefties last season. He’s 5-for-18 with three home runs this season. Conforto continues to spray the ball all around the ballpark. He has three home runs to left field and three more to left-center.
“He’s getting pitches out over the plate and he’s driving them,” Collins said.
DeGrom’s escape, Reyes’ catch and Conforto’s home run were the headline-making plays, but the most interesting late-game moment was Collins’ decision to hook lefty Jerry Blevins for Sewald, who had only entered with a lead once in his previous eight big-league appearances, with a man on and two outs in the eighth inning.
Simmons bunted for a hit, bringing up Cron and beginning a thought process that has carried Sewald to the major leagues, despite his fastball averaging only 91 mph.
Collins said the choice to bring in Sewald rather than heavily worked Fernando Salas or Hansel Robles was because Sewald has shown himself to be a strike thrower. In this case, he went right to work. He hit the outside edge with his first fastball and the bottom edge with his second. Then he threw a slider that broke to the left-handed batter’s box to finish off Cron. In his last 10 appearances, Sewald has 14 strikeouts and no walks.
“For me, it was about just trying to attack him right away,” Sewald said. “But nothing right over the middle. He had already swung at the first pitch twice earlier today. So I got ahead, and I think the [pickoff fake to second] made him think I was shaking to something. Rene called the slider. It had some depth to it, and we got the strikeout.
“If I can win a mental battle with anyone, it gives me an advantage. If I can make them overanalyze, just enough to throw them off and make a good pitch, then I can have some success.”
Watch Sewald on the mound and you’ll notice that he’s a deep breather as he prepares to make a pitch. It’s a relaxation technique, one he’s used for most of his life. Sewald, Craig Kimbrel and Evan Longoria are on the short list of the deepest breathers in baseball.
After the strikeout, there was a sign that this one meant a little something extra to Sewald, in the form of a mini-fist pump. He could inhale and exhale a bit more easily as he came off the mound.
“It was good to get the exhale [for the strikeout],” Sewald said with a smile.
For him and everyone else in the clubhouse.