Earlier in the day Jeurys Familia was presented with the 2015 NL Closer of the Year Award by the Latino Sports Writers & Broadcasters Association. Wednesday night at Citi Field, Familia was not perfect as he failed to save a game for the first time this season which led to the St. Louis Cardinals defeating the New York Mets 5-4.
There was Familia in the chair waiting to meet and greet at Cafe Rubio a few miles away from where he goes to work at Citi Field.
“Thank God to be where I am and to all the people who are here,” he said. The award is an honor for a Latino athlete, something that was initiated by Latino Sports founder Julio Pabon because for years many deserving ballplayers of Latino descent were bypassed in voting by writers who determined the numerous honors of CY Young and Most Valuable Player recognition.
Familia, speaks English in a baseball community that is now dominated by many from various cultures. He is comfortable and appreciates the support and recognition. It was no different after a rare blown save and loss Wednesday night, and he would not put the blame on a long day before going to the ballpark to keep the streak going.
“I think I left it a little bit in the middle, and he made a good swing,” Familia said about the double to left center from Yadier Molina, a first pitch sinker off of Familia in the ninth inning tied the score at 4-4, ending the streak of 52 consecutive converted save opportunities in the regular season dating back to August 1, 2015, the third longest in Major League history.
They are all special in what they have accomplished on the field. The awards and honors for athletes in general have become a natural part of being where they are as role models in society, and Familia, the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic native can appreciate where he is now.
More so, last season when the Mets came up short to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, Familia had that early learning experience of success and the unexpected as his team was not expected to make that marvelous run in the postseason. The 26-year old, who signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Mets in 2007, appreciates every day of his stay in New York.
“I always working hard,” Familia said as best he could in English. When he first came to New York the Mets had expectations for him. There was very limited understanding of how difficult it is to make it as a ballplayer in New York City, and the language barrier was difficult.
Now he speaks English the best he can.
And Familia has become one of the elite closers in Major League Baseball. His 36 saves were tops in baseball before Wednesday, and he was perfect. In between the streak, Familia would give up a hit or two, and like a magician was able to get out of trouble that preserved a Mets win. He answered the questions, after what was described as the most devastating loss for the Mets this season.
“What I’ve done so far, I never in my life thought I was going to do that in the big leagues,” he said.
Perhaps it was the long day that caused the blown save. Perhaps it was not being at the ballpark for his normal routine before a night game, after all baseball players are creatures of habit, but Familia, is proud to be where he is today. He wanted to keep the commitment and accept a distinguished award that also represents all the ballplayers of Latino descent and for those, like himself, from the Dominican Republic who struggled and made it to the big leagues.
“Last year we played in the World Series and the Playoffs,” he said. “That helped me and my teammates to get better. This year they know how to control the emotions. They know how to make adjustments. That kind of team helps me a lot this year doing what I do so far.”
There are supposed adjustments in the plan when the Mets take the field again Thursday afternoon at Citi Field for four games against the Colorado Rockies.
“No pressure,” he said about the team not winning with high expectations. “We are going to have a bad week. Like TC,(Terry Collins- the manager) say, going to have games we can’t believe we lost. In this game it strengthens you forward.”
Collins said, Familia would not be available again until Friday. His closer threw 26 pitches/ 14 for strikes. There was nothing different. It was just the breaks of the game and Familia will get this one behind him and come back to start another streak.
“This one was a tough one to take,” Collins said about the loss. “But we will bounce back. This is something that hasn’t happened,” he said about the blown save.
Earlier, in the seventh inning Yoenis Cespedes hit his 22nd home run of the season for two runs that gave the Mets the lead. It was up to the bullpen that had tossed nine straight scoreless innings dating back to Saturday against the Marlins . Addison Reed pitched a scoreless eighth and the Familia streak was over.
“It’s baseball and until the 27th out you don’t know any result,” said Yoenis Cespedes through an interpreter. We have a lot of faith in Familia but unfortunately things didn’t not work out.”
And for Familia, who enjoys every moment of being in New York, pressure of being a closer is just part of his job. Over the last year and because he has the role of being that closer, the fastball got stronger. He has developed a good sinker and the slider had made it difficult for opposing hitters to get on base.
Across town, the Yankees have Dellin Betances who will receive the American League Latino MVP honor next month at Yankee Stadium. Then there is the legacy of Mariano Rivera who became the all-time saves leader in baseball during his tenure with the Yankees.
Familia, though not saying so, but to many, has that chance to soon be placed in that category of an all-time great closer and with the distinction of doing it with a New York team.
He said about that distinction with a smile: “I feel great because when I got to the big leagues I just want to help the team and move forward and get better and I like to compete.”
Ray Negron, a longtime assistant to the owner of the Yankees said, “We are blessed to have Jeurys Familia in New York and he is a credit to the Latino community” That got applause and a team of Dominican players from Passaic New Jersey were the first to meet and greet the Mets closer.
Coming out of the bullpen gate when the Mets have a huge lead, or need someone to do mop up work, Familia is ready. Last year, he finished third in baseball with 43 saves and tied a club single season save record on the final day of the season in a 1-0 Mets win over the Nationals.
“I mean, I follow a lot of good pitchers in the major leagues,” he said, mentioning fellow Dominican and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez as one. “Think I’m hard working everyday. Don’t care if you had a bad day, bad game. Just try to move forward and stay positive and enjoy the game.”
Familia will not forget where he came from. And playing in New York makes it more special, as he enjoys contributing and interacting with the huge Latino and Dominican community.
“Love Latino community in New York,” he said. “Everything in my country I came from I see here. Kids don’t have no father or mother, no money to eat. I help them because I am a father now and I know how it feels.”
And Mets fans, as well as the Latino community are blessed to have him. Even a blown save from time to time will not change their attitude.