There is no more unforgiving position in baseball, especially in October all the more so in a wild-card game. One mistake by the closer often means death to a ballclub and a long winter of soul-searching.
Jeurys Familia knows the feeling.
A year ago the Mets’ closer had one of the most dominant postseasons ever: he appeared in 12 of his team’s 14 games, posted a 0.61 ERA and a sublime 0.477 WHIP, allowing just five hits and no walks in 14.2 innings.
In addition, Familia would have bailed out both Matt Harvey and Terry Collins in the ninth inning of World Series Game 5, keeping that inherited runner from scoring if Lucas Duda had made even a semi-decent throw to the plate to nail Eric Hosmer.
Yet the one mistake, the sinker that didn’t sink to Alex Gordon in the ninth inning of Game 1, turned into a game-tying home run that may well have changed everything in the World Series with the Royals.
Familia had to shake off that thought at the time, with the rest of the series in front of him, but he admits it wasn’t as easy to shake when the season was over.
“It was hard,” he said Sunday in Philadelphia, before the Mets’ final game. “Because if we win that game, no one knows what’s going to happen. Maybe we become champion, maybe not.
“But everybody makes mistake. You have to move forward. That’s what I kept telling myself because that was the hardest thing for me to learn to become a closer.
“Now, I’m excited for another chance in the postseason. I learned from being there last year. I know how to deal with the pressure. I know myself better now too.”
In 2016 Familia has backed up his first-year success as a closer with another outstanding season, leading the majors with 51 saves, the most ever for a reliever from the Dominican Republic, breaking the record of 49 held by Francisco Cordero and Jose Valverde.
Familia beams at the mention of that record. He said he received a text of congratulations from Cordero, as well as other Dominican pitchers.
“It means a lot to me,” he said.
He is proud of his heritage, proud to have made it here after growing up poor in his home country, and prouder still to be able to make life better for his family in the Dominican Republic, where he had a house built for his parents.
“Family is everything to me,” he said. “Family and baseball.”
Familia is as likeable a guy as there is in the Mets’ clubhouse, so nice, in fact, that he had to learn to project intensity as a closer, because “I want everyone to think I’m mean.”
The Mets converted him from a starter in the minors because he had trouble developing a third pitch beyond his fastball and slider. Relieving clicked for him yet Familia says he never really envisioned himself as a closer.
“In the minors my command was bad, I walked a lot of guys,” he said. “I know as a closer you can’t do that. And most important you need a strong mind. In the minors I didn’t have that. Anytime I had a bad game, I’d get mad and I had trouble putting it behind me.
“I had to learn from veterans like Bartolo (Colon). When you see him or other veterans, maybe they give up three or four runs, they don’t throw stuff around in the clubhouse. They think about what they have to do the next time.
“Some young guys, they can’t control their emotions. I wasn’t someone who threw stuff but I’d get mad. I had to learn, and now I understand. If I give up a home run, tomorrow is always a new day.”
Though Familia had a couple of rough patches during the season, he said being forced to pitch out of trouble made him more equipped for the postseason.
“I learned from this year,” he said. “I had situations with the bases loaded, no outs, and I trusted my stuff and got out of it.’’
Overall his numbers were similar to 2015: 77.2 innings, compared to 78 last year, the walks were up 31 vs. 19 but perhaps more importantly, he allowed one home run all season, compared to six in 2015.
“The walks scare me a little because he did lose the plate at times,” an NL scout said Tuesday. “But he got out of jams because his stuff is so good. As long as he throws strikes, he’s about as good as there is at the end of a game.
“And if you’re the Mets you feel good that he throws such a heavy ball, with hard sink, and doesn’t give up home runs. I still go back to that Gordon pitch last year and say if he didn’t try to quick-pitch him, he probably makes a better pitch and doesn’t give up the home run. I think he probably learned from that.”
Familia smiles at the mention of the quick-pitch. He insists it wasn’t a factor in the location to Gordon, and continued to use it this season though the scout said he didn’t notice it as much in 2016.
“I didn’t change anything,” Familia maintained.
In any case, a week from turning 27, he said he has learned to welcome the spotlight that comes with closing in October.
More than ever, meanwhile, postseason success seems to come down to the performance of bullpens, so the Mets need him to be great. Last year Familia was a victim of some awful defense that cost him two of his three blown saves in the World Series, yet when all was and done, there was no getting around how costly the mistake-pitch was to Gordon. It can’t happen again if the Mets are going to make a run this month, starting with the wild-card game Wednesday night.
“I’m ready,” Familia said, smiling again. “We’re all ready. We had all the injuries this year and we’re still here. It’s unbelievable. I got a feeling we’re going back to the World Series, and I want to be there on the mound to get the last out. No doubt.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News