Tuesday night's Mets win over the Cleveland Indians illustrated one of the key reasons why they improved to 25-10 since the All-Star Break and are in the thick of the pennant race.
When Mets starter Steven Matz had to leave in the seventh inning with two runners on and one out and the Mets up 4-2, Manager Mickey Callaway turned to lefty Justin Wilson out of the bullpen.
Wilson struck out the top two hitters in Cleveland's order, Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado, to get out of trouble.
This continued a run of dominance for Wilson since he was activated off the injured list on July 2, as he has allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings, giving him a 1.13 ERA, in 20 games since then.
The Mets then scored four in the bottom of the seventh before another key lefty reliever, Luis Avilan, retired Cleveland in order in the eighth as the Mets went on to win 9-2.
Avilan, who was also activated on July 2 from the IL, extended his scoreless streak to 13 innings, the third-longest current streak in the Major Leagues. The streak dates back to May 3 just prior to going on the IL, and since he was activated, he has not allowed a run over 12 1/3 innings in 17 outings, and surrendered just eight hits and four walks, with 10 strikeouts.
It is not purely a coincidence that the Mets' surge began just about when they got Wilson and Avilan back into the fold as weapons in their bullpen.
"That's a great point," Callaway said when told of this after Tuesday night's win. "I think that Justin coming back normalized our bullpen a little bit, took some pressure off of some guys. (Luis) Avilan, as well. Avilan's thrown some big innings and got a lot of key outs for us, and continues to throw the ball well, whether it's a righty, lefty, whatever, I feel like he's going to go out there and execute some pitches, throw strikes, and give ourselves a chance.
"Those two guys getting added into our bullpen. is when that turnaround really happened, and that's the reason why."
Wilson used the cutter to strikeout Lindor and Mercado. On Wednesday afternoon, Callaway said of how effective that pitch is for him, "Specifically, to those two hitters, that's what you have to do. You have to bury fastballs, run 'em in, cut 'em in, and kind of pound those guys inside. So, going into it was like, Wilson will be a great matchup because he can just cut those guys in. But the thing that makes it so good for him is he's got a lively fastball, and you have to make a decision pretty early, and that cutter looks a lot like his fastball coming off the same plane. He tunnels it well, and at the last second, it comes in like it's a middle fastball and it gets in on your hands. Very effective pitch for him, and it gives us a lot of confidence - and him a lot of confidence - he can go out there and get righties out just as well as lefties."
Overall, Wilson is 3-1 with a 2.49 ERA, as he has allowed seven earned runs in 25 1/3 innings, with 23 hits and 11 walks, with 26 strikeouts. Avilan is 3-0 with a 4.30 ERA, allowing 11 earned runs in 23 innings on 12 hits and nine walks, with 21 strikeouts.
Wilson and Avilan are both two low-risk signings by General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen this past offseason that have paid off.
Wilson was signed to a two-year, $10 million deal after a tough 2018 season with the Cubs, in which he pitched to a 3.46 ERA in 71 appearances (21 earned runs over 54 2/3 innings). He started his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, and then a fter a few years there, made his mark with the Yankees in 2015 when he racked up more than a strikeout per inning (66 K's in 61 innings) before being trade to the Detroit Tigers that offseason. Detrot then traded him to the Cubs halfway through the 2017 season.
Avilan also came up in 2012 with the Atlanta Braves, where he pitched for a few years until he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers halfway through the 2015 season. He stayed with the Dodgers until 2017. Last season, in 70 combined appearances with the with the White Sox and Phillies, he had a 3.77 ERA (19 earned runs in 45 1/3 innings) , with 51 strikeouts. His best season was 2013, when he had a 1.52 ERA (11 earned runs in 65 innings) in 75 appearances.