A Familia Face

Most people don’t remember that Jeurys Familia was never supposed to be our closer. Back in 2015, It was supposed to be Jenrry Mejia, but he was hurt on Opening Day so Buddy Carlyle did the job, and nailed down his first career save at age 36. Then, a few days later, just when Mejia was supposed to come back and get into his mound-stomping rhythm, he got suspended for PEDs, and three going-on-four years later, he still hasn’t kicked the habit. So Familia took over, strictly out of necessity.

The thing is, I’d always thought that Familia was the better pitcher. Familia had a 2.21 ERA in 2014, which was far better than Mejia’s — even limited to only his appearances in relief, Mejia’s ERA was 2.72 — and Familia, I thought, deserved the job. Sure, everyone loved Mejia’s wild stomping motions when he nailed down a save, but far more difficult to stomach were his constant nail-biting saves, the inning where he’d enter up three runs, give up a run and put runners on second and third before retiring the side. And then he’d stomp in triumph, as if he’d always had the whole thing under control.

So Familia took over, and the rest, for the most part, is history: Familia, in 2015, had what has to be the best right-handed relief season in Mets history. 43 saves, 1.85 ERA…he was unhittable. Blew some saves in the postseason, sure, but more than one of those involved grounders sneaking past Daniel Murphy that had no business being hits. Came back with another stellar season in 2016, even though yes, that home run to Connor Gillaspie was a pain to behold, if entirely predictable. They were the Giants, for goodness’ sake; we were never going to beat them.

The crux of this, of course, is that Familia is back, as of 2:20 in the morning, Eastern Standard Time, when Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that Familia had agreed to a new contract with the Mets. Subsequent reports say that the deal is for three years, somewhere around $30 million; I’m not too fussed about the particulars, if I’m honest. Familia’s back. And I’m satisfied.

Not satisfied that our work is done: no, we have a long way to go, even with Díaz and Familia and Lugo and Gsellman in the bullpen (along with, hopefully, my newest no-name heroes, Drew Smith and Daniel Zamora, but that’s another story). No, my satisfaction is twofold. For one, we’ve continued to make moves. That’s simple enough: we traded for Cano and Díaz, and now we’ve proven that the trade wasn’t a one-off. Hopefully, our two deals so far aren’t a two-off either. We’ve got to do more. The satisfaction comes from the fact that finally, it seems like we actually might.

But also — it’s Familia. A Met. A familiar — pardon the pun — face. The guy pitched for us in the World Series, for goodness’ sake. He’s been around. We’ve seen his face around Citi Field since before Conforto and Nimmo and Amed and McNeil made their appearances. In fact, Familia, I have to think without doing the requisite research to confirm my suspicions — because let’s face it, it’s three in the morning here; these Winter Meeting time differences really make things difficult when news breaks — will assume the mantle of longest non-continuously tenured active Met. Assuming that Reyes is not back and David Wright can’t play anymore, Familia first appeared as a Met in 2012. The next most recent Met was Juan Lagares in 2013. Familia, a prospect not so long ago, will return as an elder. At least he’s not quite old enough to embody the description yet: in baseball, elders are much better when they’re not too old.

In the book I’m working on — I’ve buried the lede again — I remember watching Familia in 2015, when he was as good as things got, the pitcher you came to the ballpark to see:

“I couldn’t get enough of Familia in 2015: sometimes — and I’m not sure I should admit this — if we were way ahead, I would root for our opponents to score a few runs, just to make the game close enough that Familia could come in and I could feel the stadium buzz and roar with excitement as the music blared and Familia warmed up. Alex Anthony, the Mets’ PA announcer at the time, even developed a special way of announcing Familia’s entrance.

‘Your attention please,’ he would say deliberately, ending each word on a downbeat. ‘Now pitching for the Mets. Number 27. Jeurys. Familia!’ In the stands, that sounded like a done deal. No pitcher fearsome enough to be introduced like that could possibly be beaten.”

And now Brodie Van Wagenen, gotta love him, has brought him back. He’s not what he was in 2015, sure — but the memories are still there. And he can still pitch. It’s a yes from me on both counts. Brodie — do your thing. Not too much, of course: don’t trade Noah or Amed for peanuts, and for goodness’ sake, hang on to Brandon Nimmo. But by now, you’ve earned some modicum of trust. Familia is back, and I love it. Now go out there and build us a championship team around him.

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