PHILADELPHIA — Jason Vargas called it a distraction. Mickey Callaway called it a misunderstanding. A day after a tense confrontation involving a reporter in the team’s clubhouse on Sunday, both the pitcher and the manager projected more defiance than regret on Monday, with neither issuing a public apology — at least not the first time around.
The two were making their first comments since the episode in Chicago in which Callaway lashed out at a reporter, Tim Healey of Newsday, after a 5-3 loss to the Cubs and then Vargas threatened Healey. Both Callaway and Vargas were fined an undisclosed amount by the team on Monday before the start of a four-game road series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It was a misunderstanding, obviously,” Callaway said in his initial session with reporters on Monday. “For things like that to happen, it’s always a misunderstanding. I’m sure there was no mal-intent by either; it was just something that happened and it’s time to move forward.”
Two hours later, Callaway called the reporters back down to the clubhouse — a highly unusual occurrence. He said he had “received some feedback” and wanted to make another statement.
“It’s something that I’m not proud of,” Callaway said the second time around. “I’m not proud of what I did to Tim. For that, I am definitely sorry.”
Vargas made just one statement, which did not include an apology. He spoke for 20 seconds and did not take questions.
“I think everybody is aware of the situation that happened yesterday,” Vargas said. “I think it’s unfortunate for all parties, an unfortunate distraction. But tonight we have the Phillies to play. The team addressed the situation, the organization made a statement and that’s really all there is to it.”
On Sunday, during the postgame news conference at Wrigley Field, reporters questioned Callaway’s decision to keep reliever Seth Lugo in the game for the eighth inning instead of using closer Edwin Diaz. Lugo surrendered a three-run home run, and Diaz did not appear despite having pitched only once in the previous eight games.
After the tense questioning wrapped up, the reporters headed to the main part of the clubhouse to wait for players. Callaway came out of his office dressed in street clothes, on his way to the other side of the clubhouse for food. As he passed by, Healey said, “See you tomorrow,” and the manager turned and responded with an obscenity as he left the room, only to return in a few minutes to direct another expletive at Healey.
Vargas, who was changing at his locker nearby, stared at Healey before threatening to “knock you out right here” and taking a few steps toward the reporter. Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Gomez and a member of the Mets’ media relations staff moved between the two to stop the confrontation.
General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen said on Monday that Callaway and Vargas “understand where their behavior could have and should have been different.”
The Mets issued a statement on Sunday night saying that they “regret the incident” and “do not condone this type of behavior from any employee.” In an article by a Newsday colleague, Healey said that Jeff Wilpon, the team’s chief operating officer, had called him to apologize. Healey was among the reporters in Philadelphia covering Monday’s series opener.
The confrontation was a clear boiling-over of tensions for a team frustrated by middling results during a season in which it expected to compete for a division title. Sunday’s defeat was the Mets’ seventh loss in their last 11 games, and they entered Monday’s matchup at 37-41, nine games behind the Atlanta Braves, the National League East leaders.
Callaway has prided himself on being able to control his emotions throughout his career, but frustration overcame him on Sunday.
“I’m a tough competitor,” he said on Monday. “I don’t like losing, that’s the bottom line. Nobody in that room likes losing.”
The episode renewed speculation about Callaway’s job security, but Van Wagenen offered a measure of support on Monday.
“I think he understands that from a leadership perspective, we can’t lose control, and that is not something that should happen and certainly not something that will happen again,” said Van Wagenen, who said after a 1-5 road trip in May that Callaway would lead the team for the “foreseeable future.”
“My confidence remains the same in Mickey’s ability to do the job,” Van Wagenen said on Monday.
The team also held a meeting to discuss the situation, and pitcher Jacob deGrom said the main focus had been on moving forward.
“Sometimes tensions run high, and we understand that we have a job to do as long as the media has a job to do,” he said, adding, “We don’t anticipate it happening again.”
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