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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Astros: What are the options for their option B?

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New York Mets’ Bryce Harper tags out Texas Rangers’ Jurickson Profar at first base as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner reaches out for the tag in the sixth inning of Game 1 of baseball’s World Series in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A Mound Visit, a Quick Read and a Lifeline for the Astros

You can look at these situations several ways. The New York Mets probably would have brought in the bullpen late Wednesday night with the Astros holding a six-run lead in Game 2 of the World Series if they had played the way they did in the ninth inning of Game 1. They could be far less satisfied with their current predicament because unlike Houston, they do not have the luxury of pitching Aaron Judge to help keep the game close as the clock winds down. No, for the Mets, the perfect answer is bringing on pitching in desperation; or, for the Astros, it might be to have more time off during the postseason for starters Lance McCullers Jr. and Dallas Keuchel. But if those pitchers were to begin to falter, perhaps the Astros could afford to bring in a guy who can do a lot of things — right now, right now, that guy would be Mark Melancon.

You might know him best as “Slightest Amped Up.” His sole major league appearance this season was supposed to be the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series with a three-run lead on the Houston Astros. That had happened once before in a similar scenario, but not in a Series game. On Wednesday night, Melancon looked out of sorts in a game Houston already led by six. But his teammates didn’t know that at first.

Before his one-pitch stint, Melancon was warming up and going through his usual routines, Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. It was around the ninth inning that — without warning — Brad Ausmus, the Astros’ bench coach, asked Ausmus if the Dodgers might want to ask the Mets whether they had any players available to swing the bat for the bottom of the ninth inning. Callaway wasn’t sure what Melancon had done to upset Astros manager A.J. Hinch, and he didn’t know Ausmus had seen the Astros trade Wade Davis before the game. Ausmus told Callaway that whatever it was happened to Hinch earlier in the day, when Davis, one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, was traded to Cleveland. A.J. Hinch didn’t allow the conversation to go further. He just told Ausmus that if the Mets wanted to have their third pitcher available for the bottom of the ninth, he’d let them. Ausmus, though, was assured a blank sheet of paper.

Melancon immediately got to work, and after things went wrong, went right back to them. He had a perfect outing, recording two outs and striking out the side. He’s become a pillar of stability in the Astros’ bullpen, and if he returns for Game 5 (no guarantee) as Houston could desperately use a plug, he would be exactly the kind of player for the struggling Houston bullpen that it desperately needs.

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