Remember the New York Met: Designated closer Frank Francisco

New York Mets Frank Francisco

In 2012, Frank Francisco closed games for the New York Mets, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t much of a closer.

If you’re ever in a rough patch and can’t find any way to escape, here’s a fool-proof strategy for feeling better instantly: remember that no matter how bad you have it, your favorite baseball team never went out of its way to announce that Frank Francisco would be the closer.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this plan is 100% effective unless you’re a New York Mets fan.

Yes, this happened. It was before the 2012 season, and Sandy Alderson went on a spending frenzy (in a post-Madoff world). He signed Francisco and Jon Rauch. He also traded Ángel Pagán for Ramón Ramírez and Andrés Torres. The Mets additionally possessed Bobby Parnell in the bullpen. Needless to say, they had options.

But they shut down any closer competition. Francisco was the closer, and that was that.

It seems like a bonehead move that only the Mets could make, but the strange truth is, it happens regularly. The Nationals did it with Koda Glover, who retired in December at age 26. The Tigers more-or-less did it with Bruce Rondon, who posted a 5.73 ERA in five MLB seasons. Every so often, teams simply appoint players to positions as if that settles any issues.

The Mets had done the same thing in 2011 at a different position. They named Brad Emaus their second baseman. It was almost like the Mets thought they could speak a new reality into existence by making that decision. That they could somehow erase the fact that Emaus wasn’t good enough at the time to be any team’s starting second baseman.

So the Mets marched into the 2012 season with Francisco as their closer. For a moment, things looked good. On Opening Day, Johan Santana made his triumphant return and pitched five scoreless innings. David Wright drove in the only run of the game. Francisco pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning and struck out Jason Heyward to end it.

The Mets won the next two games of the series with Francisco saving both. Three games in, New York had a sweep and Francisco pitched three scoreless innings.

But through the rest of April, Francisco allowed nine runs (eight earned) across seven appearances. Opening Day — a day he’d taken the mound amidst hope and delivered an easy save — felt like ten years ago.

Francisco was Sisyphus and inconsistency was his boulder. Right when it seemed like he’d put things together, he would fall mightily back to earth in a spectacular series of blown saves.

He started May with four consecutive scoreless appearances, including three saves. But in his next three appearances, he allowed six runs. Then he pitched scoreless baseball for the rest of the month.

He was actually solid in June. He lowered his ERA from 5.82 to 4.97 and earned four saves. Of course, only the Mets could celebrate a closer lowering his ERA to 4.97, but it’s at least something. On June 23, he hit the disabled list and wouldn’t return until August.

The Mets have employed plenty of mediocre relievers, and Francisco hardly stands out among them. In fact, his 5.53 ERA in 2012 was better than Edwin Díaz’s 5.59 mark in 2019. But while Díaz faded into the background of the 2019 Mets, Francisco remains strangely emblematic of the 2012 team and the aura surrounding it.

Few bad Mets relievers drifted from the mind as forgettably as Francisco did. Someone could tell me tomorrow that Francisco never really existed and I’d have to think about it for a second. Francisco’s WAR in 2012 was -0.6. He was worse than statistical noise — but not even worse enough to be memorable.

That’s how the 2012 Mets were. It’s shocking what the team looked like, only three years before a World Series run that seems like just the other day. Francisco, Kelly Shoppach, Vinny Rottino, Elvin Ramirez, Justin Hampson…was this really a major league team in the year 2012 that millions of people supported?

Of course it was. I was one of said supporters. So were you. They were six games above .500 at the All-Star Break, and Francisco was their closer.

Francisco was on the disabled list with elbow discomfort to start 2013, and after various setbacks, didn’t return until September. Closing Day 2013 was warm and sunny, and in the ninth inning, with the Mets leading the Brewers by a run, Terry Collins called on Francisco to end it.

Carlos Gomez popped out for the first out before Francisco fanned Yuniesky Betancourt for the second. Then, he struck out Aramis Ramirez looking to end the game and earn his first save of the year.

The season was over, but suddenly, it felt like Opening Day 2012 again.

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