There was a pitcher keeping a good offense in check on Saturday night at Citi Field, flummoxing a fearsome lineup. And no, it wasn’t Jake Arrieta.
It was Bartolo Colon, the most underappreciated starter in the Mets’ fearsome rotation (heck, maybe in all of baseball), and a player who, in another year, just might be on the cusp of All-Star consideration.
Colon isn’t San Diego-bound this year, not with the likes of Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner and Jose Fernandez leading an overwhelmingly deep collection of National League starters. But the old man on the Mets staff has been quietly impressive (again), continuing a solid three-year run that’s seen him be the perfect fifth starter for a staff full of young guns.
Guess who’s led or tied for the Mets lead in innings and wins in each of the last two seasons?
Yup, Bartolo Colon. And he showed why on Saturday, when he outdueled Arrieta in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs, and really making just one mistake pitch through six innings of understated dominance.
“Sometimes, he escapes words,” Terry Collins said of Colon. “He just never ceases to amaze you, how he just handles the situations, whatever it is.”
“I think there’s a lot of talk about how old he is and the size, but the good thing is in this sport, as long as you’re healthy and have the ability to do it, you can,” added outfielder Curtis Granderson.
Really, every team should have a starter like Colon, a wily veteran who doesn’t take the game too seriously (teammates say he jokes around even on days he starts), but knows how to produce. Saturday’s win marked Colon’s seventh straight start of allowing two runs or less (excluding an abbreviated start against the Royals that he left after being hit in the hand by a line drive).
Colon has a 2.87 ERA and seven victories, tied for second on the team with Steven Matz. He’s walked just 17 batters, not quite Kershaw-good but fourth-best in baseball. Colon is 4-1 in his last eight starts, with a 1.96 ERA.
And on Saturday, he faced maybe his greatest challenge all year. The 43-year-old had to contain the powerful Cubs order, headed by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, had to find a way to beat the great Arrieta. Oh, and he had to do it while continuing to nurse a left leg injury that has nagged him since his mid-June start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a left leg injury that hadn’t been spoken of until Saturday.
Not that this injury is anything to worry about in a season in which Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matz have all had more publicized injuries.
“For now it hasn’t been bothering me too much,” Colon said. “The only thing is once I land, it bothers me a little.”
Nothing seems to bother Colon, and nothing bothered him Saturday. He didn’t allow a hit through the first two innings, didn’t allow a run until the fourth, when his 1-0 offering to Rizzo went out of the park, a two-run shot that tied the game, 2-2. The Cubs never threatened Colon again, and he left after six innings, having staked the Mets to a 4-2 lead and having frustrated Chicago’s batters, many of whom seemed lost on how to beat the pitcher with the 86 mph “heat.”
“The key is just throw strikes,” Colon said of his game plan against Chicago. “A team like the Cubs who are aggressive at home plate, you have to try and get after the batters.”
It’s an approach that got the Mets to 43-37, with a chance to sweep the Cubs on Sunday afternoon. What more could you ask from your fifth starter? To beat out that infield grounder he hit in the fourth inning maybe?
Because that’s the one thing Bartolo couldn’t do.
“No,” he joked. “Never.”