The New York Mets and manager Mickey Callaway had their 13th win of the season in the bag on Monday night.
Starting pitcher Jacob deGrom cruised into the eighth inning with a 6-1 lead after the Mets scored a combined four runs in the sixth and seventh. With just 84 pitches, there were talks of a complete game in the cards for New York's ace as he put up his most dominant start of the season, striking out 11 batters during the first seven frames.
But he ran into trouble in the eighth as singles by Moises Sierra and Trea Turner sandwiched a Michael Taylor strikeout, deGrom's 12th of the night. It cost him 19 pitches, putting him at 103 for the night, which was enough for Callaway to trot out of the dugout and pull the starter.
Then the wheels came off.
Seth Lugo walked Howie Kendrick to load the bases before Jerry Blevins gave up a single to Bryce Harper, plating two runs. AJ Ramos couldn't help much, allowing a single to Pedro Severino and walking Matt Reynolds to force in another run.
Desperate and up by two, Callaway called on closer Jeurys Familia, who made an even bigger mess of things. Wilmer Difo singled to tie the game before Familia hit Sierra and walked Michael Taylor to force in the go-ahead run to complete an unexpected an ugly collapse.
After all, the Mets bullpen led the majors with a 1.51 ERA entering Monday night.
But Howie Kendrick would homer off Hansel Robles in the top of the ninth to give the Nationals an 8-6 lead they wouldn't relinquish, dropping the Mets to 12-3 on the season and delivering easily their most painful loss of the season.
It all could have been avoidable, though.
Instead of pushing his starter a little more to see if he could get out of trouble himself, Callaway was quick to pull the trigger and get to his bullpen. Granted, this all boils down to which school of thought you identify more with. Some believe pitchers should be able to experience somewhat higher pitch counts to preserve their own wins. Others believe that 100 pitches should be a hard limit that should never be eclipsed.
I belong to the former. Especially because Callaway has been far too dependent on his bullpen early on, which made a night like this an inevitability.
While Lugo had only worked once since Apr. 9, Blevins and Ramos pitched in three of the last four days while Familia appeared in three of the previous five.
It's an unnecessarily early strain to put on your relievers, especially when Callaway might be presented with the option of a temporary six-man rotation when Jason Vargas returns. If pitch counts that range from 120-to-130 pitches are that worrisome, then the pitcher in question could have his start pushed back a day or have his start skipped in its entirety to preserve the arm.
Only two Mets starters have pitched into the seventh inning, Zack Wheeler being the first before deGrom's outing against the Nationals. New York's starting pitching staff is averaging just 5.3 innings per outing.
Despite the best start in franchise history, it's creating a precariously dangerous situation as right now, Familia, Blevins and Ramos are all on an early pace to appear in 108 games this season. Robles and Robert Gsellman are on pace to appear in 86.
It's only going to make nights like Monday more common unless Callaway trusts his starters or other bullpen arms more.