NEW YORK — The Red Sox had the day off Monday and Matt Barnes spent part of it at his home in Connecticut happily seated on a lawnmower.
Barnes makes his living as a closer, a high-pressure job in which one mistake can lose the game. He finds his zen cutting the grass.
“When I’m home I like to do it. It’s peaceful for me,” Barnes said Tuesday before the Red Sox beat the Mets, 2-1, at Citi Field. “I like taking care of the yard. I enjoy doing it, I really do.
“All my neighbors compliment me on the lawn. They’re like, ‘Man, it looks so good.’ I’m trying to make the lines like Fenway. I’ve always wanted a really nice yard.”
Barnes has even consulted with Fenway Park senior director of grounds Dave Mellor about his grass.
“I talk to him about it all the time,” Barnes said. “You see how good Fenway looks. I want to make my yard look like that.”
There’s a line — in the grass you could say — from Barnes chilling on his mower to the work he’s doing on the mound this season.
The righthander needed only 10 pitches to record three quick outs for his fifth save, striking out J.D. Davis with a curveball for the final out to secure a well-earned victory for Garrett Richards.
With the Sox facing Jake deGrom on Wednesday, it was a perfect start to a six-day road trip. The 15-9 Sox have won 15 of 21.
Barnes has appeared in 12 of those 24 games, giving up only four runs on five hits over 13 innings while striking out 23 and walking three.
The righthander has thrown 72 percent of pitches for strikes, up from 62 percent in 2020 and 61 percent in 2019.
He’s done it by relying on his fastball to get ahead of hitters while working at a quick pace, two seemingly basic principles he fought for years.
In spring training, the Red Sox explained to Barnes that he’d get good results 92 percent of the time with a first-pitch fastball in the strike zone.
“If you tell me 92 percent of the time I can be successful at something, I’m going to take those odds all day every day,” Barnes said.
It led to him converting every save chance and becoming a closer manager Alex Cora can trust. The rest of the bullpen has fallen into roles behind him.
Barnes also made the conscious decision to trust his catchers and not shake off signs as often. That, too, was slowing him down.
As Barnes noted, the catcher already has a feel for the hitters coming up and made observations he couldn’t see watching from afar seated in the bullpen.
Christian Vázquez has caught Barnes for 12 seasons dating back to their minor league days. If he can’t trust Vázquez, is there anybody he can trust?
“That allows me to work more efficiently,” Barnes said. “When pitchers are working quick it kind of puts the hitters a little bit on the defensive. They don’t have time to think as well. They can’t replay the entire at-bat.
“Not to mention the fielders behind me love it. Nobody wants a slow pitcher. I’ve taken all that to heart.”
It’s not just the fielders. It’s the players in the dugout, the fans, the broadcasters and everybody watching or listening. Nothing brings the game to a crawl more than a pitcher who turns every pitch into its own drama.
Now Barnes even throws an occasional quick pitch, something he used against Pete Alonso on Tuesday that earned him a glare.
Then Barnes struck out Alonso on the next pitch.
Barnes also overcompensated at times. Pitchers have been taught to negate the uppercut swings so many hitters use with high fastballs and low breaking balls.
But his fastballs were 2 feet above the strike zone and his curveballs bouncing a foot in front of the plate. His waste pitches were trash. Not even terrible hitters would chase them.
“I was very notorious for the high fastball up at the neck that was completely uncompetitive,” Barnes said. “I think we can all probably agree on that. It really does nobody any good.”
By making the game less complicated, Barnes has found a consistent path to success.
“He’s a pleasure to catch,” Vázquez said. “This is the best fastball he’s had, and the curveball is still a good one. You feel good when he comes in the game.”