The banged-up Mets grind out another win and the White Sox have a Tony La Russa problem

The Mets started backup players in the five through nine spots in the order and used only relief pitchers on the mound Tuesday night, but they still came away with a 4-3 victory over Atlanta, their second in a row. What a win. The Braves got a solid performance from rookie southpaw Tucker Davidson and came from behind to overcome a 3-1 deficit, but the Mets refused to go away and they pulled ahead for good on Tomas Nido’s ninth-inning solo shot off of Will Smith.

Momentum was headed in the wrong direction after Marcell Ozuna dunked a two-out RBI single into right field during the bottom of the eighth, but Nido’s blast reversed all of that and allowed Edwin Diaz to close the door with three straight outs in the ninth. The Braves could have scored more in the eighth, but Francisco Lindor made a terrific defensive play on a ground ball by Freddie Freeman into the shift after the first two Braves reached base.

With the shift taking the force at second off the table, Lindor had to tag the speedy Ronald Acuna and still throw over to first to get the double play. Given the situation, it was the best play he’s made for the Mets so far on offense or defense.

The clutch plays by Nido and Lindor might not matter without a great performance by the Mets’ bullpen. It wobbled a little bit when Robert Gsellman and Trevor May allowed solo home runs to Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman, respectively, but three runs let up in nine innings is a good job by any group when the team is stuck without a starting pitcher.

Probably the happiest guy at the end of the day was Tommy Hunter, who not only threw a couple of scoreless frames, but also picked up his first big league hit after pitching in the majors for more than a decade. And if you thought that getting a knock in the bigs wasn’t a big deal for relief pitchers, you should probably check out Hunter’s postgame reaction.

Imagine wanting to implement the designated hitter rule in both leagues and ensuring that no one gets to feel that kind of joy again. If you like the DH, you hate sunshine and ponies, it’s as simple as that.

Meanwhile, in Chicago the White Sox are stuck with a manager who has never experienced sunshine. That would be Tony La Russa, and while his squad is in the process of burying the rival Twins, he’s hung up on whether or not the most surprising star of the baseball season, Yermin Mercedes, is swinging at 3-0 pitches.

You see, on Monday night, Mercedes came to bat with two outs in the top of the ninth and his Sox already ahead 15-4. On the mound was Twins CATCHER Willians Astudillo, who had just gotten the first two outs of the inning by getting soft contact on his 45-mph lollypops.

So Astudillo falls behind 3-0 and than Mercedes absolutely CRANKS one out for a home run to center field. The unwritten rules say not to swing at 3-0 pitches when you’re ahead by double digits, and La Russa made clear after the game that he wasn’t happy about what Mercedes did.

“I took several steps from the dugout onto the field, yelling, ‘Take, take, take!’” La Russa said. “I know the Twins knew that I was upset. (Third base coach) Joe (McEwing) had given the take sign. (Mercedes) was locked in and (thinking), ‘I’ve got to get him, I’ve got to get him.’ But he missed a 3-0 (take) sign with that kind of lead. That’s just sportsmanship and respect for the game and respect for your opponent. He made a mistake.

“So there’ll be a consequence that he has to endure here within our family. But it won’t happen again. Because Joe will be on the lookout, and I will be, too, and we’ll go running in front of the pitcher if we have to. He’s not going to do that again.”

That’s part one of the controversy. I get where La Russa is coming from, but I’m all for Mercedes padding his stats. First of all, he’s not even hurting the pitcher’s stats because the pitcher isn’t even a pitcher. Second, Mercedes is a 28-year-old rookie making the league minimum. Any home run he hits is going to be factored into future contracts and that means more bread for him and his family. It’s one thing if Francisco Lindor and his $341 million guaranteed are teeing off on a 3-0 pitch. His great grandchildren are already set for life. For Mercedes, telling him not to swing is reaching into his wallet, and that’s a big “no” for me.

Part two happened on Tuesday night when Tyler Duffey threw at Mercedes. The intention was obvious enough to earn ejections for both Duffey and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli.

And here’s where my big problem with La Russa comes in. After the Twins threw at his guy, he comes out and says “Meh, I don’t really have a problem with it.”

It’s one thing for La Russa to not like Mercedes swinging at 3-0 pitches in a blowout. He can talk to the player and handle the disagreement in house. However, the skipper still has to have his guy’s back on the field. If I’m on the White Sox, I’m ready to throw down after that “pitch” by Duffey. I don’t want to hear my manager be so indifferent and not want to defend his player. You can not like what Mercedes did and STILL be ready to defend him if the other team tries to throw at him. This is YOUR team and you deal with those issues. You don’t need the Twins offering their brand of discipline.

La Russa is always going to be an old-school guy and that’s okay. What’s not okay for a baseball team is when a manager doesn’t have his players’ backs and that’s something that the White Sox front office needs to look into as we get deeper into the season.

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