NEW YORK — After the New York Mets won the final game of their season with a walk-off home run in extra innings Sunday, manager Mickey Callaway quickly transitioned to lamenting the fact that his team would again have to watch the playoffs instead of competing in them.
“The next month will suck,” Callaway said after the Mets missed the postseason for the third straight season.
It got worse for him on Thursday. The Mets fired Callaway, who finished his two-year tenure with a 163-161 overall record.
“We want to thank Mickey for his consistent work ethic and dedication over the last two seasons and I’m certain these characteristics will serve him well in his next opportunity,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said in a statement. “A decision like this is never easy, however, we believe it is in the best interest of the franchise at this time.”
The Mets (86-76 this season) were not eliminated from the playoff race until the last week of the season. They finished third in the National League East despite the fact that rookie Pete Alonso led the majors in homers and pitcher Jacob deGrom challenged for a second consecutive Cy Young Award.
Callaway was not the first casualty of the team’s failure to meet heightened expectations under Van Wagenen, who was hired ahead of this season. Pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez were dismissed in June as the Mets struggled early, ultimately falling 11 games under .500 in mid-July.
The team rebounded in the second half of the season and won 15 of 16 games during one stretch when the bullpen improved and timely hits came. But Van Wagenen and the team’s owners saw the overall performance under Callaway as unsatisfactory.
Hired to replace Terry Collins after five seasons as the Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach, Callaway, 44, did not make it to the final season of his three-year contract with the Mets. This was his first managing job in the majors, and he quickly faced an embarrassing episode: The Mets batted out of order against the Reds in May 2018 and were penalized an out. At the time, Callaway allowed that the mistake “probably cost us the game.”
After the Mets were 77-85 last season, Callaway knew he needed to show marked improvement. But his star pitchers struggled to get going, the defense was often deficient and the bats were slow to produce enough runs. Callaway’s frustrations reached a visible peak in June when he shouted at a reporter in the clubhouse after a close loss against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The team lost the next six games to finish 10-18 in June.
Plenty has changed since Callaway took the job. Sandy Alderson, the general manager who hired him, took a leave of absence from the team in the summer of 2018 to address a recurrence of cancer. After Alderson decided not to return, the Mets replaced him last fall with Van Wagenen, a player agent who had no experience in a team’s front office. Van Wagenen told all who would listen that the Mets were in a win-now mode.
Billed as a pitching guru, Callaway got little support from his hurlers early in his second season. DeGrom, who had a 1.70 ERA in 2018, struggled to find his command before closing out the season with 23 consecutive scoreless innings. Noah Syndergaard finished the season with a career-high 4.28 ERA. Closer Edwin Diaz, whom Van Wagenen acquired in a trade shortly after moving into his Citi Field office, posted a 5.59 ERA and blew seven saves.
Now, as he tries to live up to those win-now promises, Van Wagenen will search for his own manager.