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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Mistakes Were Made

So much sorrow at Citizens Bank Park Monday, implicit and otherwise. Mickey Callaway was sorry after he wasn’t. Jason Vargas was sorry there was a distraction to the very fine people on both sides. Brodie Van Wagenen was sorry if anybody was under the impression that he’s telecommuting to the dugout. The rest of the Mets saved their sorry for the field. The final score — Philadelphia 13 New York 7 — had remorsefulness written all over it.

As Oscar and Felix once told each other in rapid succession on The Odd Couple, you can stuff your sorries in a sack, Metsies.

We could be sorry we’ve watched the Mets year by year, game by game, but the onion determining why we continue to remain true to the orange and blue is wrapped in far too many layers for quick and easy analysis. We are only fleetingly sorry we do this. We are Mets fans. We don’t give up even after we give up.

Which differs from how Callaway ordered his expression of regrets to the public through the media pertaining to his incident with Tim Healey of Newsday. I won’t call it an altercation, because based on everything I’ve been able to glean, Healey of “see you tomorrow, Mickey” ironic infamy (and who may be sorry he’s no longer covering the Marlins for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel), didn’t do let alone hint at any altercating. The most sympathetic interpretation I can rustle up on the manager’s behalf is that Mickey was in a dark mood from the grim loss on Sunday and the determined interrogation he barely withstood regarding his decision to keep Edwin Diaz under lock and key until 23rd outs are recorded, never mind that the 23rd out Sunday was growing and eventually grew lethally elusive.

Long seasons. Close quarters. Myriad frustrations. Process a bland sentiment in a volatile moment and blow up at an innocent party. Let’s say this sort of thing can happen. Let’s say the manager then takes a deep breath, takes the reporter aside and either asks “what’s up?” or cuts straight to “my bad”. If that’s how it goes, it’s over and the story reverts to lousy bullpen management (not to mention construction) instead of the manager losing his mind and one of his starting pitchers corrosively stepping in with a notion toward elevating the abuse from verbal to physical.

And that’s the sympathetic interpretation. The Mets tend to lose sympathy like they lose ballgames: often. Despite the presumably sincere statement of regret the Mets issued — and despite nature’s nobleman Jeff Wilpon calling Healey Sunday night to unruffle feathers — Callaway couldn’t spit out the idea on Monday afternoon that he was at fault. Again, a public “my bad” from the public figure who brought the story upon himself files this maelstrom away into our mental archives before it’s 36 hours old. It would be pulled out as the latest example of “oh my god” the next time the Mets got all Mets, but we’d be on to the next on-field adventure/misadventure as soon as possible. Damage control is supposed to control damage.

Mickey extended it instead, making his Monday presser about what a “tough competitor” he is and how, you know, “Billy Martin punched a reporter one time, it’s just part of this game.” No, I don’t think so, Mick. Billy was an outlier. Billy did his punching in bars that he frequented regularly as a rule. Billy was considered a very troubled man. Also, Billy won a lot, for what that’s worth.

You know who else did some winning as a manager in New York? Gil Hodges, fifty years ago, an occasion the Mets are celebrating this weekend. Gil Hodges, as tough a competitor as big league baseball has ever known, got his messages across quietly and firmly. He remains revered to this day by everyone who came into contact with him, players and writers included. So if you want to model your behavior on someone who proceeded you in your chosen profession, sir, try No. 14. Nobody expects anybody to be Gil Hodges, but we could all do worse than to try to be at least a little like Gil Hodges.

Gil believed in second chances and so, in his way, does Callaway, because a couple of hours after dancing around the presumed talking point of the day, he gathered the beat reporters around him a second time (something that essentially never happens) and rolled out a little more detectable contrition. While preparing the Mets for their 13-7 defeat to the Phillies, the manager “got some feedback” from sources that got his attention and let it be known that for cursing out the guy who told him he’d see him tomorrow, “I’m definitely sorry.”

Reporters have to be thick-skinned no matter where they do their reporting. A baseball clubhouse probably builds the skin that much thicker. These writers have to write accurately about a team that loses more than it wins, delineating further the failures and successes that their readers already understand happened. Then they have to face the players whose miscues they’ve detailed. There is a dance therein that everybody accepts. If the reporter is fair, the team members should be decent in return. The manager twice acting as if that wasn’t of particular import — first in cursing out Healey and then in not clearly admitting that’s not the way he or anybody in his shoes should conduct interpersonal relations — was rightly an issue. Mickey took a third swing and connected.

Vargas isn’t likely to jump into the box again where this contretemps is concerned. Why he decided to inject himself in the midst of Callaway v. Guy Who Said He’d See Him Tomorrow is unclear. Anybody who covered the Mets accurately in 2018 had to have written that Vargas was not a good pitcher, so maybe he’s preternaturally wary of anybody brandishing a microphone or notebook. If he is, he’s hidden it well from the rest of us. I’ve watched Vargas take questions after immensely awful starts and admired that he stood there and participated calmly and coolly when every question was basically, “Why were you so bad?”

It should be pointed out here that, as with repeated inquiries delving into bullpen misuse, these questions get asked over and over in order to divine answers that fully communicate a portrait of the game that’s just been played and the team that’s played it. We, the fans, are the consumers for this news. I watch the postgame scrums that surround the manager and the players and sometimes I roll my eyes a bit at the fourth iteration of the same line of inquiry, but I also understand why it’s done. I understand that if you don’t get an answer capable of scratching the surface, you have to try to get the your subject to scratch a little deeper. Once more, this is the dance. If nobody was interested in why Callaway made that move or why Vargas threw that pitch, nobody would be hired to find out and relate it.

Vargas didn’t pitch on Sunday, but he decided, for whatever reason, to make a preliminary move on Healey. Benefit of the doubt would lean on the long season/tough loss/cramped clubhouse equation described above. That’s harder to do with Vargas because, outside of the band-of-brothers notion that an attack on one is an attack on all (though Healey didn’t attack anybody, not even with words), it wasn’t his…I was gonna say “fight,” but it wasn’t a fight, not until Vargas feinted toward making it into one.

It would be nice to report that Vargas, as one of the senior men on the roster, offered a thoughtful second-day mea culpa. Nothing fancy, just something along the lines of “I overreacted in the heat of the moment, I shouldn’t have done that, I should know better, I’m sorry about that.” If he’s really harboring a grudge about something somebody wrote (which I don’t know is the case), he can take it up with the party of the other part one-on-one.

The pitcher’s chosen response to his threatening Healey that he might “knock you the fuck out, bro,” turned out to be that the entire episode was “an unfortunate distraction” and that was “really all there is to it”. That and a $10,000 fine, same as levied by the Mets against Callaway. Perhaps that was apologia enough for Vargas’s tastes.

Distraction dissipated, the clearheaded Mets hit the field and the field, like the Phillies lineup, hit back. Dismal defense, even by those defenders playing their actual positions, was in abundance. Steven Matz and his successors withdrew from the resistance. The Mets hit four solo homers and they lost by six, anyway. Edwin Diaz was not needed. Robinson Cano, who joined him in the same trade engineered by the new and ambitious general manager, went hitless.

What could have helped the Mets? Probably not that less new but still ambitious general manager issuing instructions to the manager while the game was in progress, since there’s no evidence Brodie Van Wagenen harbors tangibly more strategic baseball expertise than Mickey Callaway. Also, by regulation, general managers don’t tell managers what to do during games. Most teams understand this.

Ah, but the Mets, we were reminded during the course of Monday night, march to the beat of their own drummer. Mike Puma reported in the Post that not being in uniform doesn’t necessarily stop Van Wagenen from making moves with the lineup card. Remember that game a few weeks back in Arizona, the one Jacob deGrom was removed from after a hip spasm but before it seemed there was an indisputable reason to take him out? And deGrom was obviously annoyed by Callaway’s call?

That wasn’t Callaway’s call, according to Puma (and other reporters who confirmed the story). That was Brodie finding channels to go through from home — because you can’t directly text or phone uniformed personnel — and telling Mickey to take Jake out ASAP thus taking the collaborative nature of the organization to a whole other level. Jake was taken out ASAP. Callaway fell on the decision grenade that night, but what else was he gonna do? A manager has to seem in control. Even this manager. Even in the age we live in where we shake our head during our umpteenth viewing of Moneyball at Philip Seymour Hoffman not heeding Brad Pitt’s analytically sound direction to play Hatteberg over Peña. You can meet all you want before and after the game. You can trade Peña to the Tigers. You can dismiss the manager. But as long as the manager is there, you gotta let the manager manage the game.

Van Wagenen reportedly didn’t. Presented with this latest 2019 Mets twist, Mickey denied anything was awry that night in Phoenix and Brodie sidestepped questions about it after Monday’s game, but this does feel like what happens with the New York Mets…which we know about because there are reporters looking into it because there are fans who want to know.

We also want to know that the 37-42 Mets are winning or, barring that statistical unlikelihood, have a chance to soon begin winning. It’s hard, however, to find any accurate reporting that would confirm that desire can be met.

Regrets, We’ve Had a Few

The New York Mets have issued the following statement.

The Mets sincerely regret the incident that took place with one of our beat writers following today’s game in the clubhouse.

The Mets also sincerely regret the incident that took place with one of our relievers during today’s game on the mound.

The Mets further regret the incident that continues to take place with most of our players during this season’s schedule.

The Mets totally regret that we’ve stayed under .500, been stuck in fourth place and generally reverted to an all-too-familiar form after an offseason of desperately trying to deliver the impression that we knew what we were doing.

The Mets regret that we don’t seem to know what we’re doing.

The Mets…well, this might be easier if we express what we, the Mets, don’t regret.

We don’t regret Pete Alonso hitting his 27th home run, thereby setting our franchise rookie record in our 78th game. We’d be making a bigger deal of this milestone — he surpassed Darryl Strawberry, for goodness sake — but we’ve had some incidents.

We don’t regret Jacob deGrom pitching six solid innings against the Cubs and putting us in line for a road series win for the first time since earliest April.

We regret that you’ve already probably forgotten we won two games in a row, including a really nice win on Saturday.

We don’t regret making sure we’d have Jacob deGrom for the next several years, though we wonder if deep down he regrets deciding to be with us that long.

We don’t regret the ongoing success produced by Jeff McNeil, even though you think we might have some regrets concerning McNeil considering we didn’t start him and his extraordinary hot streak on Sunday.

We don’t regret Seth Lugo being the antithesis of our Mets bullpen despite being a part of it. We don’t know where we’d be in the late innings without Seth. Seriously, we don’t know. Wasn’t that obvious Sunday when Seth was having a tough go of it and Mickey Callaway stayed with him to the club’s overall detriment because Mickey’s options, like his imagination, is limited?

We regret the rest of our bullpen, if we can be said to have one.

We regret much of the rest of our team.

We regret Mickey Callaway.

We regret Mickey Callaway’s limited aptitude for managing, Mickey Callaway’s tortured explanations of his managing and, this is a new one, Mickey Callaway cursing out a reporter after we lost Sunday’s game at Wrigley Field, 5-3.

We regret that Mickey took the anodyne words spoken by Tim Healey of Newsday — “see you tomorrow, Mickey” — and interpreted them as some sort of insult.

We regret that Mickey’s response to “see you tomorrow” was not “yeah, see ya, Tim,” but rather “don’t be a smartass, motherfucker.”

We regret that “see you tomorrow” would trigger Mickey, though we sort of understand it given that Mickey’s status as manager is day-to-day and therefore might not include a tomorrow.

We regret that Jason Vargas proceeded to stare down Tim Healey and threatened to “knock you the fuck out, bro.”

We regret that Jason Vargas wouldn’t be kinder to someone he considers a bro.

We regret that Jason Vargas had to be restrained by teammates.

We had only recently begun to cease regretting having signed Jason Vargas.

We haven’t yet begun to cease regretting a number of other players.

We haven’t yet begun to cease regretting the manager.

We haven’t yet begun to cease regretting the general manager.

We haven’t yet begun to cease regretting ourselves, really.

We even kind of regret our fans, as you can infer if you follow @mets during games.

We sometimes have to be restrained from stating our regrets.

Where were we?

Oh yeah, regretful. So very regretful.

We regret we have to issue statements apologizing to reporters for verbally and possibly physically attacking them — and apologizing in general to everybody that this is how we allow our frustrations to manifest themselves — but that, like fourth place, is where we are. So here’s the rest of our statement:

We do not condone this type of behavior from any employee. The organization has reached out and apologized to this reporter and will have further discussions internally with all involved parties.

There. Ya happy?

Too bad. Neither are we.

Hands at 10 and 2

It is one of baseball’s great curiosities that your sub-.500 team can leave its home park, whip a first-place opponent in its home park by a fairly uncommon score on a Tuesday and do the exact same thing four days later to another first-place opponent in its home park. This particular phenomenon may not quite be the stuff of Unicorns and Uniclones, but it is something you rarely see.

Actually, we never saw this specific combo until this past week: the Mets beating the Braves in Atlanta Tuesday night, 10-2, and then, Saturday afternoon crushing the Cubs in Chicago, 10-2. Same totals for and against, same road trip, same daunting punching-up challenge that didn’t intimidate our boys in orange and blue one iota…and two different pitching coaches overseeing the arms proportion of the equation. You can’t say the Mets don’t make things interesting for those of us who pay attention to the stuff on the margins.

These were the 24th and 25th 10-2 triumphs the Mets have ever posted. For those of you curious like me (and bless you if you are), here are a few juicy tidbits regarding some of the other 23:

• The Mets’ previous win when they had their hands where your high school driving instructor shouldn’t have told you to put them, at 10 and 2, occurred over more or less these same Cubs at Citi Field, July 1, 2016. It featured Brandon Nimmo’s first major league home run, along with a pair of blasts from Asdrubal Cabrera and one apiece from James Loney and, the night after he became the first batter to reach the Promenade level in regulation competition, Yoenis Cespedes. Of course Cespedes, like Nimmo a current resident of the 2019 Mets’ 40-man roster no matter that you probably haven’t recently thought about either of them any more than you have Loney or Cabrera, poked many a ball into Promenade in the 2013 Home Run Derby.

• Its direct 10-2 predecessor encompassed merely the clinching of the National League Eastern Division title on September 26, 2015, in Cincinnati. That was less than four years ago. Honest it was.

• The 10-2 before that? Another visit to Atlanta, September 21, 2014, the delightful Sunday afternoon at the late, unlamented Turner Field when the Mets eliminated the Braves from postseason contention and Jacob deGrom — same dude who shut down Los Bravos this past Tuesday — more or less ensured he’d be awarded Rookie of the Year hardware by striking out ten in six innings, back when ten strikeouts in six innings was also uncommon.

• The first 10-2 win in Mets history happened fifty years ago a week from today, June 30, 1969, at St. Louis, amid a season when the Mets were achieving many a glorious first.

• The most momentous 10-2 Mets win? You gotta believe it was Mets 10 Pirates 2, Shea Stadium, September 21, 1973. The eight-run rout simultaneously raised the Mets’ record to 500 and catapulted them past Pittsburgh and into first place.

Zack Wheeler, back to his second-half of 2018 self, tossing seven five-hit, one-walk innings that stayed a shutout into the seventh. Lavishly supported as he was, Zack didn’t need to be flawless, but he mostly was. Mets starting pitching does need to approach excellent as a rule, and the third start made under the watchful eye of apparent breath of fresh air Phil Regan represented an encouraging step.

The power was sourced from Pete Alonso and two others. No disrespect to Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos, each adding eighth homers to their ledgers, but when Pete goes deep immediately, as he did in the first inning for a solo blast Bob Seger-style — against the wind — it’s hard to concentrate on what anybody else hits out. The Polar-izing figure’s 26th of the season tied him with Darryl Strawberry for the Mets rookie record and set the National League first-half rookie record, not likely the last time we use phrases involving “tied,” “set” and “record” where Pete and home runs are concerned. You already know the Mets record for home runs in a season is 41, shared by Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran. Perhaps you remember that Cody Bellinger eclipsed the NL rookie mark long held by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson when he socked his 39th homer on September 22, 2017 (or perhaps you don’t, because the Mets of September 22, 2017, were just that captivating). Bellinger finished his freshman year with 39. Alonso isn’t quite midway through his maiden voyage and he has 26, or two-thirds Bellinger’s sum.

Doing the math was never so much fun.

Speaking of fun, the baseball porn was provided by Jeff McNeil in that way game situations will make fans emit sudden noises of delight and satisfaction that you’d prefer polite company not overhear. In the second, Saturday’s second baseman (a.k.a. Friday’s right fielder/left fielder) slapped — I mean slapped — a low Jose Quintana fastball just inside the third base line with two out. It burrowed itself a narrow path between Kris Bryant and the bag, driving in the the second and third Met runs of the game, making the Year of the Squirrel that much more sexy. Going the other way turns us on like crazy. Having McNeil do it in just this fashion…I don’t smoke, but I kind of wanted a cigarette. The only thing that ruined the mood was Jeff, per usual, getting himself tagged out trying to headily grab an extra base when he thinks the defense isn’t looking (with Alonso due up, no less). Just as well, maybe. I don’t know if I could have handled that much ecstasy at once.

Over nine innings would have been a different matter. Not that 10-2 a second time in a week didn’t do it for me, but for six innings, the Mets had something else spectacular going: the mythic picket fence, adorable baseball slang for scoring in every inning. The Mets have never done it. Hardly anybody has done it. National League teams have picketed across the scoreboard only seven times, and four of those occasions took place before 1900. The last NL game in which a pointy fence was constructed was 1999, by the Rockies at Wrigley. The last NL time before that was 1964 by the Cardinals at Wrigley. And before that? Not at Wrigley, but by New York (NL) in 1923, when our Giant forebears redecorated the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia.

Everything was going so great on Saturday, could the stars align for this marvelous little curiosity, too? The Mets kept hope alive in the sixth when they put one on the board via replay review. They didn’t desperately need the tenth run they got when Chelsea reversed the on-field call that mistakenly said Dominic Smith was out at second on Frazier’s grounder to deep short that scored Alonso from third, but dammit, they earned it.

Alas, as if the baseball gods ruled the Mets a bit greedy for demanding replay review while already leading 9-0, the fence ended three pickets shy of complete, so we’d have to settle for just another 10-2 win. We could definitely handle that much ecstasy.

Thanks to Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac for the research assistance. The top of my head contains a lot of information, but not everything.

The Year of the Squirrel

Jeff McNeil went 8-for-8 on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field with two cycles and a sacrifice fly. In the field, he had six assists apiece from left, right, third and second, and recorded the final out of the game by bursting through the protective netting in front of the seats near first base to make a diving grab of Anthony Rizzo’s towering pop fly.

Or it just felt that way.

In actuality, McNeil and the Mets beat the Cubs, 5-4, taking the first Friday afternoon game they’ve played on the Near North Side since 2013, when our matinee idols were Matt Harvey and Marlon Byrd. This time the stars of the game were Jeff McNeil and Jeff McNeil. Supporting credit must be given to Brooks Pounders (winning pitcher who rescued Jason Vargas, who nearly had his head taken off by his own catcher, Tomás Nido, on a wayward throw to second), Michael Conforto (tying home run in the sixth), Seth Lugo (two scoreless innings of relief) and Edwin Diaz (a perfect ninth under the immediately impactful tutelage of relentlessly innovative pitching coach Phil Regan), but mostly it was McNeil.

Jeff started in right, where he made a fine catch with his back nearly up against the brick wall despite never having started in right at Wrigley or anywhere else; moved to left and engineered a key 7-4-5-4 putout of Rizzo when it appeared this back-and-forth affair was about to tilt back toward the Cubs; and kept the ball rolling as Mickey Callaway’s designated leadoff hitter, launching a two-run homer in the third to put the Mets up, 3-2, and singling to right in the seventh to drive in Adeiny Hechavarria with what proved the winning run. That last RBI was particularly sweet, as McNeil dueled Mike Montgomery to a full count before finding just the right pitch and just the right hole to ground it through.

The Cubs are the latest to learn you can’t stop McNeil — .341/.407/.491 — and you can barely hope to contain him. In this era of shifts that turn once-obvious hits into increasingly routine outs, Jeff is not so easily stymied. You can’t shift on him. You can’t discourage him. You can’t overlook him anymore. If you’re his manager, you can’t sit him and you don’t have to, because you can play this Squirrel anywhere and it’s not nuts to expect he’ll acquit himself confidently and competently. He’s got two outfield positions under his belt now to go with the two infield positions he handles just fine.

As a fan, you love when the player few in the outside world were fully aware of months before asserts himself fully for the first time. Like Brandon Nimmo last year. Like Edgardo Alfonzo a couple of decades ago. The radar might miss them but we don’t. To paraphrase from a Chicago-based movie of yore, the National League All-Star team can use a guy like Jeff. We can be pretty sure they’ll take his step brother-in-arms Pete Alonso because nobody can miss what Pete does every couple of games. Pete’s hit 25 home runs, 17 of which are still orbiting Mars. Jeff’s hit twenty fewer, but what he lacks in power and profile he makes up for in glue. McNeil’s kept this team together day after day.

And Counting

My first numerical obsession as a baseball fan developed in the waning days of the 1969 regular season. There was nothing waning about late September and early October if you loved the Mets, but I did catch on, at age six, to the finite nature of the schedule, so I figured out that the Mets had only so many opportunities to win a 100th game. That became important to me once my first concrete goal for them — clinch the division title — was achieved. As a kid, I had an aversion to the numbers 97, 98 and 99 as totals of anything. Why stop there when you could get to 100?

Thus, I excitedly monitored the standings in Newsday every afternoon when I got home from school as the Mets increased by one a day their number in the W column in the standings. The winning streak that began before their wild celebration at Shea Stadium on September 24 continued unabated by champagne. They were 91-61, 92-61, 93-61…when they got to 96-61, they were NL East champs. And they just kept on winning until they got to 99-61.

On October 1 (though I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn about it until October 2), the Mets did it. They got to 100 wins: 100-61. Making it all the sweeter was they beat the Cubs, their and my archrivals, 6-5, at Wrigley Field. It wasn’t easy. The Mets needed extra innings after Nolan Ryan and Jack DiLauro gave up a hard-earned 5-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth. We didn’t score in the tenth or eleventh, as Chicago called on its most trusted reliever to preserve a shred of Cub dignity. That guy retired the Mets in order in the tenth and eleventh before giving way to a pinch-hitter. In the twelfth, against other pitchers, Buddy Harrelson led off with a double, Tommie Agee advanced him on a grounder to second and Art Shamsky singled him home. Bob Johnson came on in the bottom of the inning to record his first major league save.

It was round and official. We had 100 wins, not to mention nine in a row. Keeping the streak going into infinity would have been splendid, but I’d learn all good things must come to an end when I checked the standings one more time and saw the Mets lost their final game of the season to end 1969 at 100-62. I didn’t mind too badly since it looked so elegant in print. Since we had playoff games ahead in Atlanta regardless of the outcome of Game 162, it didn’t really matter that we weren’t 101-61. Aesthetically, the line was so much better than 99-63. The fact that the Mets were pegged as 100:1 longshots to win the pennant, something I’d learn after the fact, made 100 wins sparkle that much more.

Today, I’d be less picky about 99-63 if it got us into the postseason. Today, for the Mets to be en route to 99-63 or the postseason at any combination of wins and losses, it would take a miracle so extraordinary that the 1969 Mets would appear pedestrian by comparison. Today, the Mets are 35-40 and need all the boost they can get from whatever source can provide it.

That would include the 1969 Cubs reliever who retired the side twice in extra innings on October 1 fifty years ago, for that pitcher is, as of yesterday, the 2019 Mets pitching coach.

Phil Regan’s debut in his new and wholly unexpected role Thursday night at the very same ballpark alluded to above didn’t yield any miracles. Walker Lockett started in place of Noah Syndergaard. For two innings, the Cubs didn’t touch Lockett, just as the Mets couldn’t do anything versus Regan on 10/1/69. Conversely, Pete Alonso reached out and touched the hell out of a Tyler Chatwood fastball for a two-run homer to furnish Lockett with a 3-0 lead heading to the bottom of the third. Perhaps the Cubs were thinking they should have held on to this Regan guy and his timeless magic touch.

Perhaps not, for the simultaneous beginning of the Walker Lockett and Phil Regan eras soon commenced to curdle. Lockett put runners on base. The runners advanced and scored. More runners arrived. Regan trotted to the mound to offer a few words of encouragement and instruction to Lockett. Regan returned to the dugout. Lockett continued to allow runners and runs.

Walker was gone after two-and-a-third, down 5-3 in a flash. One more run would be charged to him when Brooks Pounders uncorked a wild pitch to score Lockett’s final runner, Javier Baez, from third. Walker Lockett. Brooks Pounders. Phil Regan. I wonder what the odds in Las Vegas were that those three would get together in any kind of New York Mets game story in 2019.

Wilmer Font, speaking of household names, came on to restore order to the barn whose door had been blown off its hinges. The Mets proceeded to lose, 7-4, despite Alonso’s 25th and Todd Frazier’s 200th career home runs. Lockett is 0-1. Regan is 0-1 as well, though I don’t believe anybody really tracks pitching coaches’ won-lost marks.

Regan is the man in the windbreaker at the manager’s side because Dave Eiland isn’t any longer. Eiland, you might recall, coached as Jacob deGrom compiled a 1.70 ERA and captured a Cy Young Award last season. He coached as Zack Wheeler stormed through a second half that was every bit as impressive as deGrom’s. He coached as Noah Syndergaard completed two victories in September and while Steven Matz found consistency that had been eluding him for years. I was going to use more dynamic language and say Eiland coached deGrom and the rest to their successes, but I have no idea if that’s true. Perhaps Dave was integral to Jake’s all-world dominance or at least instrumental. Perhaps the pitching staff made strides in spite of him. Chances are some pitchers benefited more than they didn’t and maybe some were not getting what they needed then or now.

Eiland’s possible genius went missing in 2019 — unless he was the one who straightened out Jason Vargas and elevated Seth Lugo to another level of effectiveness while simultaneously ushering a parade of Fonts and Poundses into the pen. Those games where deGrom looked his old self, that could have been Eiland reassuring the ace of what it took. Or those games where deGrom looked surprisingly off-kilter, that could have been Eiland messing with the best thing the Mets have had since vintage Doc Gooden.

I seriously don’t know if Eiland’s overall impact actually tilted so quickly from swell to lousy. Nor do I have a clue as to what Chuck Hernandez was telling the relievers — Lugo and everybody who hasn’t been Lugo — out in the bullpen prior to their mostly flammable appearances and whether their predilection for lighting games on fire could be traced to Chuck, if I may call him Chuck, for I’m pretty sure I haven’t thought let alone written about him since he was named as Ricky Bones’s bullpen coach successor.

Hernandez is now Bones 2.0’s predecessor, just as Eiland is Regan’s. Also stir into Thursday’s coaching staff shakeup the addition of Jeremy Accardo as pitching strategist. Accardo joins Luis Rojas, quality control coach, in holding titles that are vaguely troubling in that you’d figure strategy and quality were already implicit.

Regan’s effect on the wayward Met pitchers is part of the remains-to-be-scenery. I wouldn’t read too much into Lockett’s implosion vis-à-vis Regan’s third-inning visit, just as I will try not to dwell on the fact that an active major league player from 1969 is an active major league coach in 2019. When framed that way, it is a fun tidbit to bounce around in the vein of anything Julio Franco did in 2006 connecting back through his having been a teammate of Tug McGraw’s in 1982, and McGraw having been a youthful charge of Casey Stengel’s in 1965, and Stengel having played for John McGraw, who was a baseball man in the 19th century, which was two centuries before the present one. It’s fun, but not especially relevant after a few bounces.

Players playing deep into their forties inevitably make for intriguing curiosity copy. Julio Franco. Jamie Moyer. Bartolo Colon. They played with some guy from your long-untouched baseball card collection and they are in the game as we speak. They’ve beaten the odds just as the 1969 Mets did. Eventually time wins out because time is always playing with house money.

A coach coaching into his eighties is what we actually have as we speak. In case you missed it every single time his name was mentioned upon his debut Thursday, Phil Regan is 82. He’s “82-year-old Phil Regan,” as if that was his given name. Or as Casey Stengel allegedly said to a shocked Mickey Mantle when Stengel was imparting a bit of advice gleaned from his playing days, “What do you think, I was born old?” At the time, Stengel was nowhere near 82. At no time when Stengel managed was Casey near 82. The Ol’ Perfesser was seven years younger than Regan is now when he bowed out of the game.

Regan has bowed back in during a generation when 50 is hailed as the new 40 and so forth, but 82 still sounds like 82. When we’ve heard about Phil for the past decade, it’s always been in the context of what a revered figure he is in the organization, a fantastic influence on Met minor leaguers like deGrom and Lugo whether as the pitching coach for Port St. Lucie or as assistant pitching coordinator lending a hand throughout the system. It was a big deal in 2017 when the Mets flew him up to Flushing to toss batting practice as an 80th-birthday present. What a feelgood story to see an octogenarian putting on a big league uniform.

Well, now he’ll be doing it daily for however long “interim” means. The novelty aspects of his hiring were understandable from an instant-angle standpoint. Regan pitched for the 1969 Cubs, legendary roadkill for the 1969 Mets, winning 12, saving 17 and, like most everybody Leo Durocher leaned on as their lead melted away, being used to excess (71 appearances, third-most in the league). In 1988, reflecting on what went wrong for those Cubs, Regan told author Rick Talley, “The Mets really played well. Just look back at that pitching staff. They weren’t much on the field, but they really did have pitching.” If nothing else, we know Regan recognizes good pitching when he sees it.

He saw it up close when he pitched for the 1966 Dodgers, in the company of Sandy Koufax, who they don’t make ’em like anymore. While Sandy was giving the last of his left arm to win 27 games, Phil was swooping in vulture-style and picking up 14 victories in relief, one more than Don Drysdale garnered in 40 starts. The Dodgers won a pennant and Phil grabbed a nickname that resonates every time a reliever is credited with a decision that didn’t necessarily require all that much effort relative to the day’s starter. In my first years as a baseball fan, I delighted in Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy periodically invoking “The Vulture Phil Regan” and explaining to me what exactly that meant.

Regan pitched for the 1960 Tigers, too, meaning one of the batters he faced in his first year was Ted Williams in his last year. Teddy Ballgame broke in with Boston in 1939 — the Boston Red Sox, not the Boston Braves, who were a member of the National League in those days. Regan’s first manager was Jimmy Dykes, born in 1896, when John McGraw was a Baltimore Oriole in the National League. The American League was five years from its founding.

Yes, we can Julio Franco-ize Phil Regan for days, just as we can wonder how an 82-year-old pitching coach will click with pupils a half-century or more his junior, especially after Eiland, 52, was considered in some quarters too “old school” to relate to the current Met hurlers. We can also chuckle and worse at the idea somebody of eighty-two years is being asked to do anything except be spoken of benignly in the past tense. I don’t really get the joke. Nobody’s asking him to pitch. He’s being asked to teach. I don’t know if he’ll be as good at it as Eiland was. I also don’t know how good Eiland was at it. When the pitchers are on their games, their coaches are brilliant. When the pitchers aren’t, their coaches need to go.

Eiland went. Regan’s here. Pretty soon we’ll go back to mostly not noticing.

Miles From Home

Well, the Mets’ renaissance lasted for a grand total of one game.

The team had been weirdly aggressive on the bases for a couple of days, with formerly timid runners lighting out for the next base and even a double steal secured. But the good times screeched to a halt in the sixth inning Wednesday night. The game was tied 2-2, with one out and two on: Todd Frazier on first, J. D. Davis on second and Wilson Ramos at the plate. Ramos slapped a single to the right side that seemed destined to load the bases for Amed Rosario, who’d doubled in the tying run in the fourth but short-circuited further possible scoring by getting thrown out a third.

(In storytelling, this is called foreshadowing.)

Anyway, Davis hit third and Gary DiSarcina sent him home. Anticipating the play at the plate, SNY switched to the overhead, behind-home-plate view. There was Tyler Flowers, sprawled with the ball. But Davis was so far up the line that he wasn’t even visible in the shot.

One of my favorite bitterly funny memories of the horrid Mets clubs of the early 1990s is how Dallas Green would react when the Mets did something even more inept than usual. The cameras would catch Green staring at the field with his mouth hanging open in a cartoon O. You could tell he was furious, but that emotion was stuck in a mental queue behind shocked amazement. In a moment there’d be yelling, or at least a despairing look heavenward, but until Dallas got his brain’s switchboard rearranged he wasn’t capable of doing anything except looking dumbstruck.

I was alone in my living room, but I’m pretty sure the look I directed at my TV was the Full Dallas Green.

Davis eventually trundled into view and tried to jump over Flowers. Incredibly, this didn’t work. Mickey Callaway then challenged the call for some unfathomable Mickey Callaway reason. (The Braves were being mean?) Shockingly, this didn’t work either.

Rosario struck out, in the bottom of the inning Steven Matz imploded under a fusillade of long hits and oversized reactions, and the Mets were beaten. If you want to find the faintest glimmer of a silver lining, Chris Flexen was solid in relief and Stephen Nogosek made his big-league debut and didn’t die, though he also learned not to trust his bullpen colleagues, which seems less good.

Elsewhere, the Nationals swept a doubleheader from the Phils, which means they are now ahead of the Mets in the standings despite being written off as a dumpster fire not so long ago. I see no particular reason to disagree with that assessment, or with what that suggests about the Mets.

Anyway, our lovable fourth-place team has begun the brutal proving-ground part of their season by dropping two of three. And that is the point at which this recapper must take his leave — I’m headed overseas for two and a half weeks, and will freely accept your mutterings about rats and sinking ships as I depart.

Be kind to Greg, as I suspect the run-up to the All-Star Game will test even his love of baseball.

Stop Doing the Thing That Hurts

Before Tuesday’s game the Mets diverted a river into the Augean stables of their bullpen, sluicing Jeurys Familia onto the IL with a vaguely defined shoulder injury and washing Drew Gagnon out to Syracuse, in favor of Daniel Zamora and newcomer Stephen Nogosek.

Mickey Callaway also called a team meeting, after which his players said all the right things.

The Mets then went out and walloped the Braves.

So is that sequence chronological or causal?

Zamora’s looked like he knows how to pitch and been mostly effective in his brief big-league career … but we would have said the same thing about Gagnon not so long ago. Nogosek, the last remnant of the fire-sale trade of Addison Reed two summers ago, has logged less than 13 innings of Triple-A ball.

Spaghetti-at-the-wall reliever swaps should be greeted with the same diplomatic silence granted that friend who bravely insists that this manipulative, shiftless, “functionally high” boyfriend really does have good qualities that the others lacked. And team meetings make that kind of this-time-it-will-be-differenting seem like hard science. If you believe in them, I’m going to do you the kindness of not asking publicly about the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny.

Maybe I’m wrong and that’s too cynical. I would love to be wrong. If I am wrong, I will risk my by-then brittle old bones by performing a shaky but gleeful interpretive dance at the launch party for Greg Prince’s much-anticipated 30th-anniversary book about the 2019 Miracle, the one that devotes a chapter to the cavalry-style arrival of Zamora and Nogosek and pauses for a joyous point-counterpoint between Callaway’s rallying of the troops and Tug McGraw channeling M. Donald Grant. (We’re gonna have it at Foley’s, with an open bar. Or at least food vouchers.)

But it’s more likely that the part of the Mets’ plan that can be causally linked to Tuesday’s results was sending Jacob deGrom to the hill, and an angry Jacob deGrom at that.

DeGrom’s been merely good this year, perhaps because he’s laboring in the shadow of one of the all-time great campaigns by a starting pitcher, perhaps because sliders have become unreliable. It’s been interesting — and sometimes painful — to watch him navigate that unfamiliar psychological terrain.

Suffice to say that the previously stoic deGrom has not hid his frustration this season. It’s been visible when plays aren’t made behind him, when pitches don’t go where they were directed, and when good work has gone for naught through mischance or bullpen failures. Half the time, it feels like, he’s been pitching while seething.

Tuesday night he had plenty of reason to seethe, from the serial incompetence around him to having his pregame routine scrambled by a delayed starting time that somehow wasn’t properly communicated. He looked coldly furious from the jump and took it out on the Braves, annihilating them with a fastball that hit 100, a slider that actually slid and a change-up that could have been classified as a war crime.

The Braves had no chance until deGrom tired in the ninth, north of 100 pitches. He surrendered back-to-back solo homers and the mound to Robert Gsellman, who managed not to lose an eight-run lead. (Seriously, given recent bullpen outings it does need to be specified.) After the game, he seemed mostly PO’ed about Outs 26 and 27 proving elusive.

Meanwhile, his teammates more than did their part. Pete Alonso was on base six times, connecting for a home run that looked like a routine fly ball until it came down 425 feet away. Jeff McNeil chipped in three hits, including a homer of his own. And Michael Conforto subjected a baseball to a cruel act, redirecting it to the top of the Braves’ annoying Chophouse beyond the right-field stands. Every starter had a hit — even Robinson Cano did things that suggested a mirror held up to his mouth might actually fog.

Maybe the Mets need daily team meetings. Maybe they should cycle relievers on and off the roster before each game. (Letting them actually pitch seems less advisable.) Maybe they should agitate every starter and tell him he’s pitching into the ninth. Maybe they should clone Jacob deGrom.

Or maybe the Mets’ ace performed like an ace, which makes even the dopiest plan look sound.

Because the rest of the day … ehh. We learned Brandon Nimmo has been shut down from baseball activities for a month, the same Brandon Nimmo who was sent back out to play a couple of days after getting hurt. Which makes Nimmo’s case similar to Cano, Justin Wilson and Jed Lowrie, and that’s considering this season alone. That sure sounds like those who shouldn’t be involved in Mets medical decisions are up to their old self-destructive tricks.

We saw what to my eyes sure looked like deGrom all but refusing to come out of the game, and his manager standing down. Even when you’re not sure about the warden’s qualifications, the asylum probably shouldn’t be reinvented as a collective guided by inmate consensus.

In other words, it was mostly a typical day in Metsland. A near-shutout and an offensive outburst will always drown out complaints about such things. But it’s a hard blueprint to follow consistently.

Postscript: The Braves hailed Gary Cohen’s 2,000th play-by-play appearance by sending him chocolate-covered strawberries and Champagne, a classy gesture from a franchise chiefly known for gestures that ought to be retired.

I often ride out insomnia and my own night-owl habits by watching other games on, and that’s taught me that the Mets’ booth stands alone. Their wisdom, easy flow and balancing of hometown affinities with clear-eyed analysis add up to pitch-perfect broadcasts on most nights, and Cohen’s play-by-play is the fulcrum of it all.

I can summon many Gary Cohen calls back to life if I close my eyes, reaching back to his radio days. But one, for me, will always exemplify his Hall of Fame talent.

(Warning: It’s not a call we remember joyously.)

It was the last call on the afternoon Jeff Francoeur lined into an unassisted triple play. Here’s the transcript: “2-2, the runners go! Line drive — CAUGHT BY BRUNTLETT! He makes the tag … it’s a triple play … and the ballgame is over! An unassisted triple play to end the ballgame! UN-believable! [beat] With the runners going and nobody out, Bruntlett — who had made two bad plays in the inning — has a line drive hit right to him at the bag. He stepped on second for the second out and tagged out Murphy to complete the triple play!”

Elapsed time of the play: 4.6 seconds. Total time of Cohen’s call: 37.5 seconds.

That’s not a walkoff homer, but a play that’s only occurred 15 times in MLB history. An unassisted triple play happens in the blink of an eye, and only a prophet or a lunatic would rehearse calling one. I can’t imagine a harder test for a baseball broadcaster, and Cohen aced it: In rapid succession, his call accurately captures what happened, the mechanics of a play almost no one watching has ever seen, and the context for the defender and the game. All without a single bobble or reversal. The lone pause? It’s there to let the moment breathe.

I marvel at Gary Cohen’s work every night, but for that one words fail me. We are so lucky to have him. Here’s to 2,000 more nights with him and his crew.

They Came, They Got Us

As Monday’s game and possibly the season it is a part of were getting definitively away from the Mets, I found myself particularly irked not so much by their comprehensive, soup-to-nuts on-field shoddiness but the deficiencies in their off-field communications. It’s bad enough they don’t play a good game, they’re also not up to the task of talking one.

Mind you, if you win, you can fill in the script later. And if the 2019 Mets start winning, keep winning and win all there is to win or at least a great deal of it, we can point with pride to the January day the general manager issued a gutsy challenge to the rest of the National League East or even that time in June when the manager delineated a significant milestone for his charges. While I wouldn’t rule out the Mets getting to winning as if it’s something they are designed to do, I have less faith that a tangible connection waits to be made from their prospective victories to whatever crossed the lips of Brodie Van Wagenen or Mickey Callaway.

Van Wagenen’s offseason pronouncement is the more infamous one. It seems destined to go down as this decade’s version of Fred Wilpon’s testimony that Art Howe lit up the room or Bobby Bonilla swearing the smile won’t be knocked off his face. You know it by heart already, for it is a classic:

Come get us.”

Reads brutally in the wake of the team way ahead of them thrashing them, doesn’t it? “Come get us” has grown into an easy punchline every time the Mets have strung together losses, but it resonated all the worse Monday when the Mets were facing one of the teams that was supposed to come get them, as if the Mets were everybody else’s aspirationally high bar. The Mets’ opponent, on the road, was the Atlanta Braves, not just as hot a team as baseball features of late, but the defending NL East champions.

Were the Braves of Acuña and Albies and Freeman and the rest really supposed to be intimidated by Brodie Van Wagenen’s Mets? Atlanta hadn’t gone away in the offseason. They made a few enhancements to a 90-win team, including bringing in Josh Donaldson and bringing back Brian McCann. It might not have made them prohibitive favorites to repeat, but they didn’t get worse just because the Mets were working on getting better.

The Mets certainly worked on it. On the day Van Wagenen issued the quote that remains tattooed to his forehead, the club was introducing Jed Lowrie to the media. The rest of us look forward to meeting him real soon. Jed theoretically joined previous bold-type Van Wagcquisitions Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Wilson Ramos to create a sense of all-around improvement. Hands were definitely not sat on in Flushing. Combine these names with the starting pitching we’d long depended on for good news; the progress we could legitimately anticipate from the likes of Conforto, Nimmo, Rosario and maybe McNeil; and the encouraging September that erased some of the bad taste that otherwise spoiled 2018, and, sure, the new GM had every reason to be upbeat. Mind you, this was before we had a clue what Pete Alonso was going to be or even where he was going to start the year.

Here’s how Brodie fully articulated his thoughts:

• “I look forward to showing people that we’re a team to be reckoned with,” Van Wagenen said on January 16. Fair statement.

• “Let’s not be shy on wanting to the be the best and I fully expect us to be competitive, to be a winning team.” There was nothing controversial or at odds with reality within these sentiments.

• “Our goal is to win a championship and it starts with the division.” Admirable ambition and sensible step.

• “So come get us.”


Follow up those first three sentences with “let’s go get ’em” or “we’re gonna keep building” or “with a little luck, we think we can make some strides” or “we’ll play hard and look for every edge” or, my favorite hypothetical, “enough talk, see you in St. Lucie in a few weeks.”

But no. “Come get us.” I don’t know if front offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington reverberated with giggles or were too busy preparing their own rosters to notice the Brodie bluster, but if you’ll excuse a fan for thinking like a fan, somehow I’ll bet the Baseball Gods heard. You know their Karma Council took note. They’re worse than Joe Torre when it comes to handing out fines.

Brodie, my man. We embrace confidence in winter. We appreciate positivity when it’s merited — and you were making moves that we could process as positive. But we didn’t need to be overly impressed when simply impressed would do, and we absolutely shudder at the thought of karma being disturbed. Think of it as the oral equivalent of Jacob Rhame throwing high and tight at Rhys Hoskins. Do it once, swell. Do it twice, you’re asking for a 900-foot home run in retaliation.

Karma’s not known as a sweetheart.

Agents, of which you were apparently a good one, need to hype their product with a straight face. General managers, on the other hand, need to put their head down and get more relief pitching. Somebody should have told you that in advance. I apologize that I haven’t gotten around to mentioning it until after your team fell eight-and-a-half games behind the first-place team that just beat you by nine runs. My bad.

As for Callaway, talking out loud to people who can hear what he says hasn’t really been his strong suit since he became manager, thus expectations are always low. Still, he managed to not exceed them last week when he was asked about his club’s inability to scale .500. I thought this was a softball. For more than a month, the Mets have alternated stumbling and straightening out in the shadow of the break-even point. Statcast metrics indicate the inconsistency has teased us to within an inch of our sanity. Those of us who commit microscopic attention to the fluctuations of our team’s daily record bristle with frustration.

You know who shouldn’t admit to paying attention to it that much beyond the last game played having been either “a great win” or “a tough loss”? Their manager. Leave the details of winning percentages to those of us who obsess over such minutiae. When asked about your team not being able to win as many as it loses, your answer should be something along the lines of, “We can only worry about our next game. We take care of that one, then we can worry about the one after that.”

Clichéd? Perhaps. Unhelpful in answering the actual question with any degree of depth? Without a doubt. But the reporter’s agenda doesn’t have to be your agenda. You have enough on your plate, Skip. Instead of brushing off the inquiry cordially, you bit:

“I’ve been with a few teams, whether it is the .500 mark or getting above four games above .500. There are always these marks that seem to be difficult for teams and then once you finally eclipse them, you can finally take off. […] It’s like that mark, you get up to it and you get knocked back down. But we are not going to give up. We are going to get to .500 and we are going to have to take off at some point, we are just going to keep grinding away.”

Too. Much. Information. Let me condense from that response all that you needed to say to be both polite to the reporter and protective of your position:

“We are just going to keep grinding away.”

There. That was it. Add in some variation of taking them one game at time and you were good to go. Instead, you magnified the idea that the Mets are that team that can’t get to .500 — and that team that dared other teams to come get them.

Again, if Zack Wheeler was better, the defense tighter, the hitting timelier and the bullpen a source for anything but sadness, we wouldn’t be left to ponder the meaning of what were probably intended as no more than offhand musings or clumsily constructed declarations of optimism. But nothing the Mets said with their arms, gloves or bats made them look good in Atlanta or the standings.

That Man Again

If you’d like some good news from Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, there’s this: Somehow, we’ve reached a juncture where the idea that Jason Vargas might be absent from duty is a cause for concern instead of mild relief.

That sounds like a dig but isn’t — Vargas has been genuinely good of late, a sort of mini-Bartolo Colon (also not a dig), living off incremental changes in speed and precise location to baffle hitters wired for combating superhuman fastballs. I’m still surprised that it’s happened, but it has.

Fortunately, Vargas’s leg injury appears to have been a cramp, and shouldn’t impact his next start. Unfortunately, the Mets are shorn of Noah Syndergaard, for how long no one knows, just as no one knows what Plan B is behind him. Most likely it will be Wilmer Font, who pitched effectively on Sunday and has looked better of late, though he’ll always be “Font” when I’m yelling at the TV, “Wilmer” being reserved for another departed and dearly beloved Met. It probably won’t be Anthony Kay, who just struggled in his first Syracuse start and deserves time to figure out how not to struggle rather than being thrown in the Braves-Phils-Cubs-Yanks cauldron that now awaits the Mets, and that I suspect will be the stretch of the season that ends all fantasies in which the Mets are relevant come September.

I hope Syndergaard’s replacement won’t be Chris Flexen, who hung a 3-1 slider that became a souvenir and the fulcrum of Sunday’s loss. Flexen has been converted to relief, but he looked very like the Chris Flexen I had no particular desire to see ever again. On the other hand, the fatal pitch was a slider, and we know how that goes this year. Also, the Cardinal who hit that slider was Paul DeJong. You could take Tom Seaver‘s brain and download it into a diamond-thewed, nuclear-powered Transformer who threw 250 MPH and DeJong would manage to bang one off the pole. At this point, it’s a surprise when he doesn’t beat the Mets, and I would very much like him to be inducted into Cooperstown (because surely he beats everybody the way he beats us) and stop tormenting my baseball team.

Flexen’s return to duty was followed by the Mets debut of Brooks Pounders, a perfectly monikered baseball player. Pounders is 6′ 5″ and listed at 265, which should be assessed the same way you’d ponder a listing for me as 180 with Syndergaardian locks. Sticking with comparative adjectives, Pounders is Bohananesque, Bell-shaped, Colonnoidal.

We’re not selling jeans here, to quote Billy Beane, so if Pounders does well that will just mean there’s more of him to love — I have fond memories of the three hefty hurlers name-checked right above. His first Mets inning was a blameless affair, but that scoreless frame lowered his career ERA to 8.69, which is the kind of number you’ll have more trouble getting a kindly recorder of vital figures to shave a bit. He also has a career FIP of 6.31 … and the pitch he relies on is a slider.

I will temper my enthusiasm.

The 56th Annual Queens County Science Fair

“All right, now we move on to the entries from Mr. Callaway’s class. Mr. Callaway’s class always has such interesting ideas and unorthodox ways of displaying them. Our first student is Peter Alonso. Peter, tell us about your project.”
“Pete. Just Pete.”
“You’re registered as Peter.”
“I know, but I like to be called Pete now.”
“Very well, Pete. What is this?”
“I call it Study of Launch Angle and Stuff. I smashed a home run as soon as I could to see how far and how fast it would leave the ballpark.”
“Uh-huh. And what were your findings?”
“See, I got this pitch from Michael Wacha in Mr. Shildt’s class and crushed the shit out of it…”
“Language, Pete.”
“Sorry, I get excited. I crushed it a lot and it flew a lot more.”
“Can you quantify?”
“Um, I have the data here: 458 feet; 111 miles per hour; launch angle of 29 degrees.”
“That sounds impressive, Pete, though I’m not sure everybody here understands. Can you break that down in layman’s terms?”
“I asked Dr. Rose in the audio lab for help. He said it can be interpreted like this: ‘Swing and a drive, deep to left, this baby is LONG gone, oh my goodness!!!! That went into the upper deck!!! It tumbles down as it hit either something or someone around the front row of the upper deck, one of the longest home runs in the history of Citi Field!! Pete ALONSO with an absolute MOONshot has given the Mets a three-to-one first-inning lead — WOW!’
“I must say, Pete, that’s very impressive. You might want to think about varying your area of research, as this seems a little redundant, given that you’ve submitted projects like these 22 times already this semester, but it does seem thorough.”
“I have an opposite-field single in my locker I can go get.”

“No, Pete, this will be fine. The home run is excellent. Next…do we have a Brooks Pounders here? A Brooks Pounders? Or maybe it’s a Pounders Brooks. I don’t want to seem culturally insensitive. The name was just scribbled on my attendance list. Uh, you? Yes, you have a question?”
“I’m Brooks Pounders, sir.”
“Oh, OK. Do you have a project?”
“My family just moved here from Cleveland, so I didn’t know there was a science fair today.”
“I see. Vice Principal Van Wagenen should have oriented you to our schedule.”
“I don’t know who that is. My family moves around a lot.”
“So you’re not prepared, Pounders?”
“Brooks. My first name is Brooks. My last name is Pounders.”
“Sorry, young man.”
“I’m not that young, really.”
“Brooks, we expect all our students at Citi Middle School to be prepared.”
“I can show you my bus pass. They just gave it to me today. Oh, wait, that’s the one from Cleveland…no, hold on, that’s Denver…”
“Brooks, just take a seat.”
“Which one?”

“Just use Hector Santiago’s for now. Or Tim Peterson’s. Or Tyler Bashlor’s. It doesn’t really matter. All right, who is prepared? I see a hand. J.D. Davis?”
“I’m prepared, sir. I’m always prepared.”
“I can see that, J.D. Why don’t you explain to the judges what you have here.”
“This is my Wonderful World of Base Hits. I cultivated four of them and this is how they grew.”
“Very interesting, J.D. Can you describe them in some detail?”
“Well, I have this single from the first inning, this home run from the second inning, this double from the fourth inning and another single from the sixth inning.”
“That’s very nice, J.D., but I think it would have been even more interesting with a triple. Did you consider trying to grow one of those?”
“I tried, here in the eighth, but it became a groundout, so I had to settle for the four hits.”
“It’s ‘A’ work, J.D. I’d really like to see you try for the ‘A+’ next time, understand?”
“You mean I get to try again? Mr. Callaway usually doesn’t let me participate in every fair.”

“You have a good attitude J.D. Speaking of attitude, is Noah Syndergaard ready?”
“Yo, right here.”
“We don’t have anybody named ‘Yo’ here, Noah.”
“We used to.”
“That’s enough sass for today, but it is nice to see you finally got a haircut.”
“Got ’em all cut.”
“Very funny, young man. What do you have for us today.”
“I worked on this six-inning start, and it was going OK, and I tried to make it a seven-inning start, and it didn’t work out so good.”
“So ‘well,’ Noah. Grammar matters”
“Tell us what we’re looking at.”
“It’s a magnetic resonance image of my right hamstring.”
“Did you do this MRI yourself?”
“I had to go the nurse’s office.”
“Can you tell us what it means?”
“Damned if I know.”
“Language, young man!”
“Darned if I know. It’s strained, I think. Can I go now?”

“It looks like you’ll have to. Be sure to ask one of your friends to bring you your homework. I see our next project is a group affair. Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Edwin Diaz, am I to understand you teamed up?”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Seth, are you the group spokesman here?”
“That’s right. Robert’s not really up to talking and Edwin’s kind of shy, which is one of the side effects of our experiment.”
“Explain it, please.”
“What we did was take relief pitching and apply psychological principles of stress management to it. We wanted to see how many pitches we could throw, how many runners we could put on base, how many deep counts we could run…”
“And what did you find?”
“We hooked up a random group of spectators to a machine measuring their blood pressure, their pulse, their heart rate and other vital signs.”
“What do these abrupt spikes indicate?”
“It’s what everybody watching us experiences every time we throw a pitch.”
“This seems dangerous, Seth. Did you have any supervision?”
“Mr. Eiland told us to try to keep the ball down and off the plate.”
“I’m not sure how that helps. You each seem to have bruises. Are those related to your project?”
“More a manifestation of our own psychological stress. I think that’s why Edwin doesn’t want to talk anymore.”
“I see. It’s certainly a very ambitious project, boys, but I’d advise taking it down a notch in the future. Given your methods, I don’t know that you can get many more volunteers to sit still for it.”
“To be honest, we wouldn’t mind getting a day off from school now and then.”

“We’ll see about that. All right, we have one more project to review. Jeff McNeil? What do you have to show us?”
“Oh, this is really neat.”
“The judges will be the judge of that.”
“No, really, it’s cool. Check it out. There’s this ball here, OK? And it falls between me and Scooter.”
“Scooter…Michael Conforto. My friend Scooter. We all call him that.”
“Why do you call your friend Scooter?”
“Look at him, man. Anyways, the ball bloops in between us, OK? And Mike kind of falls down and I kind of run past it, and did I mention the baserunner on first?”
“There’s a baserunner?”
“Oh, totally. It’s the ninth inning and there’s always a baserunner.”
“Slow down, Jeff. You’re acting very squirrelly”
“I can’t. Too much adrenaline. There’s a baserunner. The really cool part is it’s a pitcher.”
“You used a pitcher as the baserunner?”
“I didn’t, he was just there that way. He was pinch-running, I guess. Anyway, the ball falls between me and Scooter and the pitcher is running real hard, except he doesn’t really know how to do that, like a guinea pig on a hamster wheel, so I pick up the ball and I see Buffalo…”
“Buffalo? There’s a guinea pig, a hamster and a buffalo?”
“No, man, Buffalo is Wilson Ramos. My friend Buffalo. We all call him that.”
“Why do you call your friend Buffalo?”
“Look at him, man. Anyways, I get Buffalo’s attention. He’s behind the plate. I throw him a seed.”
“You used seeds in your experiment?”
“Sorry, I like to call my throws seeds. My throw was a seed. Anyway, I throw the ball and it gets to Buffalo and Buffalo catches it, and get this — the pinch-running pitcher is out! It’s so cool! The game is over. Even Eddie Diaz looks happy for a change!”
“I’m confused, Jeff. Do you have an audio interpretation that perhaps the judges and I could follow more clearly?”
“Oh, totally. I got Dr. Cohen to record one for me. It’s so cool: ‘He gets one in the air, shallow right, out goes McNeil…in comes Conforto…McNeil can’t get it! It lands! Flaherty around third! The throw to the plate…one hop…Ramos with the tag…he’s out! AND THE METS WIN IT!!’ Cool, right?”
“Very nice, Jeff. What are the applications?”
“Does your project have any kind of real-world use that could ever be replicated again?”
“Are you kidding? It won us a game! We beat the Cardinals, 8-7
“Like I said, Jeff, it’s very nice. But the idea of science is to move us forward. This is very showy, but it lacks logical underpinnings and, frankly, I don’t see how anybody else could be expected to execute such an experiment under similar conditions and gain the same kind of positive outcome.”
“But it got Noah a win and Eddie a save and Mr. Callaway gets to keep being our teacher at least until the beginning of summer school.”
“Again, it’s very nice, Jeff. As science, however, I’m not sure you could ever hope to re-create this exact set of circumstances and not have it literally blow up in all of our faces.”
“Do I still pass?”
“Yes, you pass, Jeff. You all pass, except for Brooks Pounders, who gets an incomplete. I’m going to have to have a word with Mr. Callaway, though. I think I’m going to suggest he redirect you kids into the drama club. Your skill sets seem more suited to fiction than reality.”