Lovers of Mets history will recall then-GM Frank Cashen declaring, “those who contribute the least spray the most champagne” after being doused by reliever Randy Niemann in the celebratory wake of the Amazins’ marathon victory in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS. Remarkably, bullpen coach Niemann found himself in the middle of a far more relevant firestorm Sunday evening, allegedly participating in a shoving match with closer Francisco Rodriguez in the bullpen prior to the 9th inning conclusion against the Yankees. From the New York Times’ David Waldstein :
Afterward, Rodriguez said the tussle in the bullpen was just an instance of Mets relievers engaging in some roughhousing.
“We were just fooling around, he said. “We were just kidding with each other.”
But two people in the Mets organization confirmed that the confrontation between Rodriguez and Niemann was indeed a heated one and might have escalated if other pitchers had not intervened. A third member of the organization said that Rodriguez and Niemann met after the game and apparently patched things up.
At the heart of Sunday night’s incident is the Mets’ heavy reliance on Rodriguez to bail them out of one dangerous situation after another. With his own job on the line, Jerry Manuel has felt pressure to win every game he possibly can, even it means stretching Rodriguez’s normal limitations. He has had Rodriguez warm up more than once in the same game in case he is needed before the ninth inning; he has had Rodriguez come into the games where the Mets are still comfortably ahead.
On the night of the confrontation between John Maine and Manuel, for example, Rodriguez was summoned to pitch the ninth inning even though the Mets had a 10-6 lead and it was a nonsave situation. But just as in the 20-inning game against St. Louis in April, when Rodriguez warmed up 10 times before finally entering in the 19th inning, the Mets, and particularly Manuel, were in desperate need of a victory.