New York Mets manager Terry Collins could have leaned on any number of reasons to remove Frank Francisco as the closer, the most obvious being the two blown saves last weekend against the Miami Marlins. Instead, Collins did what any manager who is trying to build confidence in his players would do: he gave his closer a vote of confidence.
Despite Francisco’s inconsistent performance – 22 hits, 14 earned runs, three losses, blow leads, blown saves and a 8.59 ERA in 17 appearances – Collins told the media before Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, if the game is close, late, Francisco gets the ball. Not Bobby Parnell. Not Tim Byrdak. Not Jon Rauch. Frank Francisco is the Mets closer — period.
A few hours later, the Mets held a 3-0 lead going to the ninth and, as promised, Francisco marched through the bullpen doors at Citi Field and took the mound. He was booed by fans, of course. The boos were more thunderous after he allowed an RBI single to Corey Hart, cutting the Mets lead to 3-1. Francisco responded by walking Taylor Green. Suddenly, the Brewers were one swing away from stealing the lead – and the game. The boos multiplied.
Collins glanced toward the Citi Field bullpen in right field where Rauch was ready and waiting. After the game Collins admitted, if the next batter reached base, he would have rescued his closer from any further embarrasssment. But, before Collins had a chance seriously consider the move, Francisco recorded the final two outs for a 3-1 Mets win.
The Mets manager showed unwavering confidence in his closer. How often have you read, or heard, a pitcher or manager discuss the value of confidence? All the talent in the world can’t replace confidence, yet confidence can propel even the most mediocre pitchers to success. Terry Collins knows this and he knew Francisco — and the entire Mets roster — would be watching what the manager would say and do after the pair of frustrating losses on the road.
Ike Davis is struggling. Lucas Duda is struggling. Jason Bay struggled. Collins responded by sticking them back in the lineup, allowing them to take their lumps and work through the slumps and funks. In the end, when they come out of it, they are better players. More confident; more consistent; greater character.
When Ike Davis went 0-for-a series, Collins kept sticking him in the lineup, “grinding” through it, allowing his players to make, but learn and grow, from their mistakes. He could have benched Davis — or shipped him to Buffalo — but Collins knows those moves are short-sighted for a team focused on long-term success and player development. Jerking players in and out of the lineup creates a sense of pressure to perform, or else. For younger, talented players (i.e. Davis, Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Josh Thole, Ruben Tejada) consistency is a result of confidence; confidence develops from trust and breeds success.
Collins could have used Sunday’s meltdown as an opportunity to make a change, but he didn’t. He used the opportunity to reassure his team, win or lose, he would have their backs. Despite the heat from the media and fans, Collins held his ground and his closer paid back his manager, wobbling across the finish line, saved Monday’s game, delivering a renewed sense of confidence.