WASHINGTON — The manager, he had a premonition. He had a feeling, a sense, and he was armed with some handy factoids to back it all up.
This was around 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, and someone had asked Mickey Callaway about his catcher, Wilson Ramos, who at the time was hitting a softer-than-soft .235 with a .586 OPS that should’ve come with a surgeon general’s warning.
“When Ramos catches, we’re 17-11, right?” Callaway said. “That’s six games above .500. I don’t know if you can ask for much more than that. I would be interested to see if any starting catcher in baseball has a better winning percentage than that.”
(If this managing thing doesn’t work out for Callaway — and the next two weeks may well go a long way toward determining that — he can maybe find work at SABR or Elias Sports Bureau, since off the cuff he invented a brand-new statistic. Go ahead and Google “catcher’s winning percentage.” Three items pop up — well, four when this column is published — all since 4 o’clock Tuesday.)
It was an offbeat way to defend his catcher, in whom the Mets invested two years and $19 million after their offseason pursuit of J.T. Realmuto stalled and their $60 million wooing of Yasmani Gandal was rebuffed. Ramos is a guy who feasted on the Mets when he played them, with a slash line of .302/.330/.491 against them, driving in 27 runs in 43 games as an opponent at Citi Field.
He had some clutch hits early in the season, but even those were mostly seeing-eye specials. His defense has been suspect. And he might well be the single-slowest human being to ever earn a dollar playing professional sports.
But that’s not what Callaway has seen.
“We’re a pretty good team when he’s out there,” he insisted.
And then Ramos did one of the nicest things a baseball player can do for his manager: He made Mickey look like the smartest guy in the room, banging a grand slam in the first inning, staking Noah Syndergaard to a four-run lead he never came close to relinquishing in a 6-2 victory for the Mets, their third win in a row.
And, yes, their 18th in 29 games Ramos catches.
(And, yes, we looked it up. Callaway’s calculations were correct. Draw your own conclusions about the dear departed Travis d’Arnaud and the defensive specialist Tomas Nido, who have combined to go 2-9 as Ramos’ caddies.)
“It made me feel very happy,” Ramos said, referring to his home run, not his manager’s staunch defense, though that surely made him happy, too. “I’ve been working hard in the cage, trying to get my timing back. Working to see the ball travel more, go the other way.”
The Mets can live with Ramos being a secondary offensive threat, as long as Michael Conforto keeps hitting as he’s lately been hitting, as long as Jeff McNeil continues to get 10 hits a week, as long as Pete Alonso regularly launches rockets into the clouds, as long as Amed Rosario keeps improving at the plate and Robinson Cano figures out how to get himself well there.
But if Ramos can be for them what he’s always been against them?
Now you’re talking about this lineup being over the long haul what it looked like for irregular spasms in the season’s first six weeks.
“The power is a bonus for him,” Callaway said when the game was over, when he proved he’s a better man than you and me and most all of us, for that matter, by refusing to lead with, “I told you so.”
“It’s not just him hitting homers, he won’t hit 30, but it’s the threat, the intimidation factor, if the other teams now have to plan for Ramos, too. That lengthens the lineup.”
The Mets got some discouraging news Tuesday when they learned that Jed Lowrie, the bulk of whose career has been a continuous “what-if?” due to an impossible pile of injuries, will miss some more time now that his bum knee has become a bum hamstring. More Lowrie would mean less Todd Frazier, and right now that would be another thing to broaden that batting order.
Stepping on the Nats’ necks wasn’t a bad way to cope with the bad news, though. Especially when you consider who it was that applied the jumper cables to the Mets’ offense.