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ABOUT US

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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Regular Season, Damn It

Remember when Jose Reyes not getting hits and Matt Harvey not getting outs were the Mets’ only pressing problems? Good times.

The Reyes some of us stubbornly love and remember returned Saturday night in Atlanta, tweeting playfully “Jose Reyes will get a hit” eleven times in one tweet and making good on his forecast, going 3-for-4 and scoring one of the three runs the Mets put on the board in the eighth to furnish the just-removed Jacob deGrom with the lead he deserved after matching zeroes with Julio Teheran all night long. The Mets had a 3-0 lead that was primed for expansion, though construction was promptly curtailed. Maybe Mickey Callaway could have pinch-hit for the other Jose — Lobaton — with the bases loaded, but maybe you want to show your contingency catcher you have some faith in his abilities. In the course of a season, even the course of a week, you can’t give up on any of your players or either of your Joses.

Lobaton lined out to end the visitors’ eighth, leaving the Mets ahead, 3-0. Anybody who stepped away from the action for a spell had to be confident of the outcome. Anybody watching from the bullpen, including a recently deposed starter, probably figured the outcome was making its way to book-putting. None of Saturday night’s affair was on Matt Harvey, but he was its mental focus when little else, besides excellent starting pitching emanating from the arms of others, was in progress. On Saturday afternoon, Callaway announced that in the game of rotation musical chairs necessitated by the nearly complete physical rehabilitation of Jason Vargas, it would be Harvey who’d be left standing and told to take a hike out to the Mets’ bullpen.

So he did. In the early innings, the PIX11 cameras found the Dark Knight trailing behind Jerry Blevins to his new seat, hundreds of feet from where starters traditionally kill time when they’re not starting. Harvey was no longer with Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz. He was with teammates whose names he probably knows but doesn’t usually socialize with in-game. Blevins, accustomed to the world out there, jovially bumped fists with his penmates upon his entrance. Harvey looked lost. He offered up his knuckles, but without conviction. He sat down on one of the bleacher planks SunTrust Bank offers to its out-of-town relievers and…well, one can only infer what he was thinking.

Before the game, Harvey let us know he was “pissed off” to the 10th degree, even while acknowledging that he had to “get my shit in order”. The Mets would be broadcast on over-the-air television, but Matt was laying it out there in language better suited to an HBO special. When words like “scapula,” “thoracic” and “Tommy John” are added to the vocabulary people apply to you, you’re entitled to say what you want, how you want.

But you’re not entitled to not embrace the opportunity to revamp yourself as a reassigned relief pitcher. I hope that’s what Matt does despite his starter state of mind. He clearly doesn’t want to be out there where Robles gives way to Bautista, and Bautista gives way to Oswalt. Matt Harvey has never been an interchangeable piece of the Mets puzzle. For what amounted to forever, he was in the middle of the picture on the front of the box. Who pitched the division-clincher in 2015? Who started and won the first-ever postseason game at Citi Field? Who took the ball in the first inning the last time the Mets were in the World Series and who still had it in the ninth?

That was Matt Harvey. That was three years ago. That was, essentially, another era. We understand that Matt probably feels misplaced in the bullpen. We can’t blame him for initially looking around as if absorbing that this is one nightspot where he can’t order bottle service. But he needs — for himself, for his team, for the fans who follow along — to pull back the hood, shake off the sulk and pitch in his new role as best he can. Maybe it leads him back to starting. Maybe it creates a new competency for him as a lights-out reliever. Maybe it compels Scott Boras to text Sandy Alderson and demand accelerated resolution to Harvey’s Mets career.

Saturday night I flashed back to Dave Kingman, specifically after June 15, 1983, the day we got Keith Hernandez. Keith turned the franchise around as much as any one player ever did from that moment forward (going on to revolutionize social media with his Hadji the Cat videos), but Hernandez’s taking the wheel left Dave by the side of the road for the rest of that season. Kingman, the greatest slugger the Mets had ever had, wasn’t exactly lighting up Shea in ’83, but through June 14, Dave had belted 12 homers and had driven in 23 runs. The rest of the season, Dave homered once and registered four RBIs. Mostly he sat and stared.

The 1983 Mets began 6-15 with no immediate aspirations of contending. An indifferent Dave Kingman (who viewed Keith Hernandez, per Keith’s first book, as “my ticket out of here”) probably wasn’t a great example for younger players, but it wasn’t like his marginal presence was diminishing the team’s chances. The 2018 Mets have begun 14-6 and need everybody on point. For all my faith in Jose Reyes finding his footing from the end of the bench, I, too, wondered when the hell he would stop hitting .000 and rocket to .125. But I knew he’d keep striving to get off the schneid and pledged my patience to his quest. I hope Harvey and his 6.00 ERA legitimately inspire similar faith once he’s tapped to get up from his seat and start warming up.

Because the Mets could use some help out there. Those diehard Mets fans who might have allowed themselves to step away from the aforementioned action Saturday night were probably so filled with brio from the Mets’ mid-eighth 3-0 lead that could have been 5-0 that it didn’t occur to them whatsoever that whoever followed deGrom’s seven innings of four-hit, two-walk, ten-strikeout ball wouldn’t simply continue Jake’s good work. This one seemed to be in deBag.

Imagine the element of surprise inherent in checking the line score a while later; processing that two runs in the bottom of the eighth and two runs in the bottom of the ninth added up to four for the Braves, while the Mets hadn’t budged from the three they already had; and then calculating that the Mets had lost, 4-3, to the stupid Braves.

Yeah, imagine that.

A lot of surprise, then a little DVR reconnaissance when next fully awake and engaged. AJ Ramos, whose arrival from Miami in 2017 bears no historical resemblance to Keith Hernandez’s from St. Louis in 1983, walked two of three batters. Blevins, who bumps fists better than he douses fires lately, gave up a double to Freddie Freeman, whose wrist willed itself to wellness after getting hit the other night because he knew the Mets would be swinging by. Freeman’s blow off Blevins edged the Braves to within one. Jeurys Familia rode to the rescue to keep the Mets ahead to end the eighth.

Then Familia hung around to nudge the Braves ahead in the ninth. Granted, the damaging glances were delivered in fairly novel fashion.

• There was a ground ball triple under the second baseman’s glove.

•There was a line drive knockdown by the third baseman.

• There was a drag bunt single that had to be executed beautifully (or brutally, depending on your rooting interest) to be recorded as effective.

But there was also a frigging four-ball walk to Dansby Swanson to begin the inning and there was nothing upon further video review to indicate Jeurys would be any better than lucky to escape. So no wonder Johan Camargo wound up on third via the grounder heretofore offensive hero Asdrubal Cabrera couldn’t corral and distant outfielders Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce couldn’t easily track down. No wonder Kurt Suzuki got an infield single on the liner Todd Frazier knocked down but didn’t recover with enough alacrity or awareness to either throw out Suzuki or tag out Camargo. And no wonder, with one out, Ender Inciarte laid down his beautifully brutal bunt to push home Camargo one batter later. Adrian Gonzalez fielded it cleanly, but it was no use. It was Inciarte versus the Mets. Ender Inciarte is the name Chipper Jones’s son Shea adopted once he grew up to torture the Mets, I’m pretty sure.

That made it two horribly blown games in one week for the Mets. The first, against Washington on Monday night (also a waste of deGrominance), felt extra horrible because it punctured the hot air balloon in which we fancied ourselves floating above the National League for the next six months. It was laughable to believe we would stay aloft like that the length of an entire season, but we were 12-2, winning every game it appeared we’d be losing and emitting virtual invincibility. All we needed, we told each other, was more Hadji videos and less Jose Reyes. It was also laughable to believe that the descent on Monday foretold a steady plunge through the earth to depths explored painfully and without pause in 2017. We were just having trouble dealing with a loss like that, especially to the Nats, because our sample size of success had our perspective fiercely askew.

The second…the second is one of those horrible games for which subtext is minimal. It was just a lousy loss amid what had been set up as a spectacular win. We understand those happen in a season that isn’t heaven-sent. When we were 12-2, we thought this might be one of years gifted from the gods. Now we’re 14-6 and sense it isn’t. Doesn’t mean it’s the direct opposite. It probably means it’s just a regular season, fate to be determined, the kind of season that when you step away from it for a couple of innings, you don’t have to assume the worst, but you can’t automatically assume the best. The bullpen needs help. The catchers don’t hit. And nobody’s perfect.

It’s not the easiest kind of season to take, but we never step away for very long.

We suggest you tune into Madam Secretary tonight on CBS and pay close attention to the scene that unfolds under a movie theater marquee. If you require an explanation, we provide a detailed one here.

The Ugly Ones Still Count

In any year your team will win some classic nailbiters, ones you’d like to bottle to break out for a baseball newbie ready for his or her first game. Your team will also win some dopey games, which come in a number of flavors: 4-1 snoozers, 11-2 trashfests in which only one team seems to be playing, and 7-5 contests in which each team is trying to one-down the other.

Friday night’s game was a stranger variety: the kind that warningly flashes DEBACLE for a solid hour, somehow turns into a win for the good guys, yet is such a hot mess that you feel vaguely ashamed to have cheated scoreboard death.

On Friday night Noah Syndergaard was good but less than Asgardian. His pitches lacked their usual sizzle, and his time on the mound featured too many looks at Noah turning after another hit, looking puzzled and faintly offended. The other Mets were a lot less Asgardian than that. No one could field: Jay Bruce lost a ball in the lights, to plantar fasciitis, or both; a wild pitch set up the tying run for the Braves; and Asdrubal Cabrera flubbed a throw and turned a highlight-worthy Yoenis Cespedes assist into nothing. Wilmer Flores got thrown out at first, second and home, leaving him one base shy of the out cycle. There was a fair amount of other mess, which I’m mercifully forgetting because I’m tired.

Fortunately the Braves were a bit red-faced themselves. Nick Markakis doubled leading off the sixth, but the Braves didn’t collect another hit until Mac Suzuki singled in the bottom of the 11th. That was farther than I figured this one was going to go: after the seventh-inning stretch it was positively radiating teeth-gritting loss. I figured the leadoff walk issued by Seth Lugo to start the seventh would prove fatal, and when Lugo did the same thing to start the eighth (Good Lord don’t do that) I just sighed and waited for the inevitable.

Except it didn’t come. In both cases Tomas Nido short-circuited threats by throwing runners out at second, a capability that hadn’t been demonstrated by any of 2018’s four Mets backstops. The Mets survived Freddie Freeman ABs in the eighth and 11th, disproving the hypothesis that you always see the killer coming. They also survived ABs by the likes of Preston Tucker and Charlie Culberson, disproving the hypothesis that you never see the killer coming.

The game moved along to the Let’s Throw Random Relievers Out There and Shrug portion of the proceedings, with the Mets turning a runner on third and one out into nothing in the eighth and first and second with none out into nothing in the 11th. With anonymous Atlanta relievers ducking trouble I figured it would be the Mets who’d wind up unlucky at reliever roulette, with Gerson Bautista the object of my suspicions.

But no, Lugo survived and A.J. Ramos looked terrific for an inning and then Robert Gsellman looked great for two. And then, in the 12th, the Mets staged the kind of near-accidental rally that was perfect for the evening. Gsellman led off the inning (really?) and was hit by a pitch, though actually the only harm was to his uniform. Some miscommunication followed: Glenn Sherlock needed to speak directly to his comrades in the dugout and then directly to Amed Rosario (I guess the next step was to write out instructions and tape them to Rosario’s bat) before Rosario sacrificed Gsellman to second.

Michael Conforto popped up as part of a miserable evening, suggesting further stretches of futility. Up came Cespedes, who’d spent the night convincingly imitating an offshore wind farm. He poked at a pitch and served it through the infield. Gsellman scampered home, crossing home plate with the one actually graceful slide glimpsed all night. Cabrera then doubled in Cespedes for an insurance run, but fell down rounding second and was tagged out, because that’s the kind of evening it was. Jeurys Familia then came in for a no-muss no-fuss save, perhaps because everyone was too embarrassed for additional tomfoolery.

It wasn’t a good game. Frankly, it was an awful one, with spasms of lousy defense and bad base-running interrupting up a dull slog. Additional demerits go to the Braves AV crew for encouraging fans to ram plasticware through their own eardrums by playing the tomahawk chop after every single pitch in the late innings. (Ron Darling suggested someone needed to kick the jukebox.)

The saving grace, at least, is fairly obvious: Friday’s hot mess of a game counts just as much as any comeback win against the Nats or Wilmer walking off the Brewers. You want to win every damn game you can, even the ones even the greenest intern would reject for a future edition of Mets Classics. The Mets won ugly, but they won. The season’s blur will quickly render this game forgotten, and mercifully so, but the standings will remember.

In other news:

Our t-shirt vendor seems to have gone MIA, which annoys us even more than we fear it will annoy you, seeing how we’ve been separated from money earmarked for server costs and our inventory. Our apologies; we’ll pass along better news if and when we get it.

A cheerful reminder that you’ll be able to see the proprietors of this blog on the TV Sunday night, sporting very handsome, extremely limited-edition Faith & Fear caps. For more about our journey to TV stardom, read Greg’s account, which includes his interview with our new favorite person Sam Hoffman.

Faith and Fear on TV (Humor Us)

You know we cherish our Mets Pop Culture here, so much so that at the end of every year we round up the previous twelve months of such sightings — anywhere that anything Mets shows up in a non-sports, non-news context — and present them with Oscar’s Cap Awards. That, of course, is Oscar as in Oscar Madison, the fictional character whose affection for the Mets was as authentic as the Mets cap that so often topped his head across every iteration of The Odd Couple.

If you know it, and it’s something we do at year’s end, why am I bothering you with this now? For that matter, why am I pre-empting our regularly scheduled dissection of Matt Harvey’s latest quantity start, this one a little longer than usual (6 IP), but no more successful (6 ER en route to a 12-4 loss in Atlanta)? Because, gentle readers, this Sunday night, April 22, on the CBS television network, Faith and Fear in Flushing becomes part of the pantheon of Mets Pop Culture.

No kidding. Tune into your CBS affiliate, 10 PM Eastern Daylight Time (check local listings), for the acclaimed drama Madam Secretary. At some point — and you’ll have to watch closely — you will see me, you will see Jason and you will see the Faith and Fear logo. Like Oscar’s Mets cap, it will be on our heads.

Did I say no kidding? I have to say it again: no kidding. We’re TV stars! Well, we’re TV extras. Bit players would be a stretch. We speak no lines and our names appear nowhere in the credits, but we’re there, on film, beaming to millions of viewers from coast to coast. No kidding — somebody decided we and our blog needed to be on a long-running television series that otherwise has nothing to do with the Mets.

“Somebody” is Sam Hoffman. Sam is a producer of Madam Secretary, with the show since it premiered in 2014. He’s also a writer and director, having applied his talents most recently to the motion picture Humor Me, which enjoyed a nice theatrical run over the winter and has just become available on DVD and through Video On Demand. Humor Me is a father-and-son story that weaves many threads, one of them a distinct blend of orange and blue.

Now we’re getting somewhere in discerning what your bloggers are doing on your TV screen this Sunday night. We weren’t cast for our pretty faces. We weren’t cast for our faces at all. We were cast for how we appear on your other screens: your computer, your tablet, your phone (though I suppose you might watch television on those). Sam Hoffman is a Mets fan who likes to read, which you’ll recognize as code for he reads Faith and Fear in Flushing.

As you’d expect from a Faith and Fear reader who makes movies, Sam’s film has a Mets angle. In it, the father (Elliott Gould) and the son (Jemaine Clement) don’t bond over much, but they bond over the Mets. Specifically, they bond recalling with recriminations the trade that sent Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel.

The film is listed as a comedy, not a tragedy, but in splicing in a Mets misstep, Sam is borrowing from real life, specifically his real father’s reaction to basically every Mets misstep. “The Mets are gonna blow the game” was a common elder Hoffman refrain. But the Mets did help keep a son and his dad close, just as the lead characters in Sam’s movies find a moment of common ground while recalling what a bad trade the Mets made in 1989.

I first learned about the Samuel subplot in Humor Me after we ran our latest edition of the Oscar’s Cap Awards. Sam reached out to let me know his movie contained that particular Met grace note. I thanked him and added it to my Mets Pop Culture file for next year’s presentation. Then, about a month later, I received an e-mail from him, the kind of e-mail we don’t get every day here at Faith and Fear:

“I’m a Mets fan and a fan of your writing. In the episode of Madam Secretary I’m about to direct, some of the characters are standing in line to see a 3 hour (fictional) baseball documentary. I’d love to put you in the line as a cameo.”

After Jason and I overcame our disappointment that there was no actual three-hour baseball documentary to stand in line for (though it did have an intriguing name: Man On Third), we said sure. Technically, first we said “what the…?” to each other, then “sure” to Sam.

At first, television production works fast. There was a flurry of e-mails from all kinds of studio professionals telling us what we had to sign, what we had to bring, what we couldn’t wear (licensed Mets gear was out, but that would turn out to be a blessing), where to go and for how long. No, check that — nobody said how long this would take. If they had, we might have reconsidered.

But probably not. We had stars in our eyes, even if we were only extras on a call sheet the length of a CVS receipt.

Our day of filming was February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Mets fans’ emancipation from the endless, cold New York winter, for February 12 was also the day Pitchers & Catchers reported for Spring Training. You may not remember that anymore, but we all pretended it was a big deal between the last out of last year and February 11. Oh, Spring! Oh, Warmth!

Not where we were. We reported to Actors & Extras, headquartered in a borrowed church rec room in Cobble Hill. That’s where they told us to go, and we went. Jason lives in Brooklyn, so it was a stroll. I live on Long Island, and it was a schlep, made schleppier because I followed wardrobe’s instructions to the letter and brought multiple changes of clothing that got heavier and heavier as I changed train after train. They had a certain look in mind if we were supposed to portray baseball fans.

Jason showed up unencumbered by such details. His approach was the right one. We already look like baseball fans. What we were wearing was basically fine — except they had to give us something for our heads. Synagogues give you yarmulkes, but this was a church and we were representing the Church of Baseball, so they gave us baseball caps.

Faith and Fear in Flushing baseball caps. Those don’t exist (unlike our t-shirts, which exist in theory; apologies for difficulties with our vendor). In the course of our intense “where do we sign?” negotiations, we told the production company and the network and whoever else — because they asked nicely — go ahead and use our logo if you want. And they did. They turned it into the centerpiece of an expertly aged two-toned baseball cap. The lid is royal blue, the brim is black, to match the black patch that fields our white letters. Not only were we told we should wear them in the scene, other extras on the movie line would be wearing them as well.

Not sure what’s crazier: a three-hour baseball documentary (“one of the three best of the year,” according to the detailed poster outside the theater) or the idea that the people lining up to see it would be showing off their affinity for our blog. I’m still hung up on the fact that there was no baseball documentary.

See? Expert casting.

We were stoked to get the caps, stoked to be ever so briefly drafted into show business, just plain stoked. Then maybe a little less stoked as the day wore on. I knew there was a lot of waiting around in filming, so I wasn’t surprised. But it does take some of the stoke out of you.

Not the worst wait of our lives, by any means. We hung out like we usually only hang out during doubleheaders, except longer. We kept up on the vital news of the day, mainly that the Nationals had picked up that traitor Matt Reynolds. We met people who extra for a living, people who would prefer to act for a career. None of our fellow extras had heard of any Mets blogs, but some professed familiarity with baseball. One who’d done this a lot offered to lend us a book to pass the time.

Around six o’clock in the evening we broke for lunch. That’s what they call it. I looked forward to partaking in craft services. Alas, craft services is apparently for the real actors and was nowhere in sight. The extras can go get their own lunch, which we did. We used our hour to eat at a nearby coffee shop; to mutually decide the 2018 Mets weren’t shaping as terribly promising; and to debate with surprising civility the artistic merits of Billy Joel (I’m steadfastly pro, Jason’s virulently con, but we didn’t start a fire). We spilled nothing on our caps — we were urged to keep wearing them to get in character — and we prepared to wait a little longer. And a little longer still. At some point, after our late lunch, we got the good word: go to the actual set, which was, in fact, an actual movie theater.

That’s where we waited some more after walking over, by which time, it’s worth noting, there was no sign of spring. Walking a few blocks on a chilly night is no big deal. Standing outside for a movie you’re not actually going to see because it’s not there can get frigid. It can and it did.

The other part of long, besides the waiting around (which continued for a while inside the blessedly warm theater), is the actual filming. I assure you we won’t be on camera for long. Nobody, not even the actual Madam Secretary characters who are meeting on a blind date outside the theater, will be on camera for long at this location. But it takes time to set up the shot, to shoot from multiple angles, to correct all that isn’t immediately right, to do it take after take after take. We don’t see the incredible effort TV takes when we watch TV. You know it when you’re in the thick of it, especially on a thirty-degree night amid a thirty mile-per-hour wind.

I’m been waiting to say this, so I’m going to interject it now: that’s showbiz.

Just before being called into action, we met Sam. He’d been busy directing the rest of the episode all day. We got three minutes of baseball talk in before he had to dash. Then we had to dash. And freeze. And, if you can call it that, act.

How do non-professionals like Jason and me not ruin everything in an established television show populated and produced by pros? We do as we are told. We were told to stand over here. Then stand over there. Then look like we’d look as we were waiting in line for a three-hour baseball documentary: fidget on our feet; scroll through our phones; lightly grumble to one another. Turn and talk without talking. Just mouth words. Don’t whisper. Whispers can be picked up by the omnipresent microphones.

My silent dialogue, improvised on the spot, was made up mostly of mid-’70s Mets whose names don’t get mentioned out loud all that often: Jay Kleven…Mike Vail…Jerry Cram..Roy Staiger…Bob Apodaca. Skip Lockwood, too, probably because I had recently finished reading an advance copy of his new memoir (highly recommended). Given that Jason and I spent a chunk of our church waiting time in Talmudic analysis of the Holy Books, one of my imaginary lines was “he doesn’t even have a card,” which I apparently whispered instead of mouthed since he asked me after somebody yelled “CUT!” whether that was, in fact, what I’d just said.

Mostly we had to be unnoticeable (though Sam made sure we’d be recognizable to anybody likely to recognize us). The focus is on the two characters meeting for the date. We’re ever so briefly in their way and then just there. Same for the rest of the extras in line, though none of them were bloggers. We were all bundled up against the worst the winter night had to offer, but otherwise appeared as baseball fans. One of the extras who took the wardrobe instructions to heart brought a baseball with him, as if that’s something a baseball fan would bring to a movie. I’m guessing he’s not a baseball fan when not being paid to portray one.

When you shoot on the streets of New York — Brooklyn included — you take your chances. Pedestrians who were held from walking toward their destinations weren’t too happy to stand aside for however long it took for each take. Drivers and passengers seemed to relish honking their horns into our boom mics. Then again, I spied a neighbor in a nearby building pleased to avail himself of a sneak preview from his window, while somebody in a car double-parked across the street long enough to take a few pictures. Glamour, inconvenience, frostbite, baseball — the night had something for everyone.

I thought it would go on forever, yet somehow it was decided, after a dozen or so attempts to show our prospective lovebirds meeting for the movie and making their next move, that we were done. All that was left was to thank the crew for their patient expertise (some were Mets fans) and head back to the church to sign out and gather up our unworn stuff for the schlep home. We had been told we’d have to return all official wardrobe items, including the caps with the Faith and Fear logo, but Sam told us to tell them he said we could keep ours. Since it didn’t seem likely FAFIF would become a recurring character, we didn’t get an argument.

So you’ll recognize it, a link to the cap is here:

http://i66.tinypic.com/2dw7qkh.jpg

So that was our adventure in acting and our stitch in the rich tapestry of Mets Pop Culture. You’ll see the results Sunday night on Madam Secretary, if you are so inclined. And if you keep reading, you’ll learn more about the man who made it happen for us.

MEET SAM HOFFMAN
I couldn’t let this experience pass without asking our patron in the arts what led him to care enough about the Mets to insert a couple of fairly obscure bloggers into his network television show simply because they write about the Mets. Sam Hoffman graciously consented to be interviewed in early April, at which point I had just about completely thawed out from our shoot in mid-February.

Sam’s first brush with Mets Pop Culture came during Spring Training in 1979. As he tells it, his father took him to St. Petersburg as part of an “incentive package” related to his Bar Mitzvah preparation. Learn your haftorah, go see the Mets. Good deal. His visit coincided with a historic moment: the filming of the Chico Escuela comeback for Saturday Night Live, during which he encountered Garrett Morris as the former Met icon and Bill Murray as the intrepid reporter. Years later, when Sam entered the business, he’d find himself on several movie sets with Murray. On one of them, Sam told him they’d met before, in Florida, at Spring Training, when baseball was being berry, berry good to both of them.

“Yeah, I don’t remember that,” was Murray’s response.

Bar Mitzvahed and grown, Sam’s career has wound through a couple of landmark sports movies. In the early ’90s, there was Rudy, the film I am most likely to drop what I’m doing and watch whenever it’s on. Sam recalled most vividly that Notre Dame gave the crew exactly eight minutes of halftime to shoot football action and that the crew ran what amounted to “an eight-minute drill” to get all they could out of it. During that same general time period, Sam worked on A League of Their Own, not only serving as second assistant director, but playing a little ball.

In the tryout camp scene, filmed at Wrigley Field (which he counts as his “No. 1 thrill”), Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson has to make a bullet of a throw from behind the plate to second base. A great actress isn’t necessarily a natural catcher, so they had a stuntwoman on hand to make the throw. Except the stuntwoman didn’t have the arm for it, either. All her tries were “lollipop throws,” Sam says. With Jerry Grote unavailable, Sam went to director Penny Marshall and volunteered that he could do it. Marshall figured there was nothing to lose in letting Sam try. He was as good as his own scouting report.

Thus, when you see Dottie Hinson firing a frozen rope to second, that’s Sam Hoffman in a wig and Geena Davis’s costume. He was, in essence, an uncredited twentysomething stuntwoman, but he’s in the movie.

Sam’s predilection for baseball came from his father. “He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan originally,” Sam says. “He switched to the Mets when they came along and inculcated and indoctrinated me.” Who else would take a kid to St. Pete for Spring Training as part of Bar Mitzvah training? Who else would agree to a youngster’s insistence that, when the family was in the San Francisco area, they drive around looking for Dave Kingman’s house because the youngster had read something about his favorite player living in a particular neighborhood?

Don Hahn is the first player Sam remembers, though more as a name than as a Met hero. “I remember that trade,” he says, referring to the swap that shipped Hahn, Dave Schneck and Tug McGraw to Philadelphia for Mac Scarce, Del Unser and John Stearns. Hahn generally gets no higher than fourth billing when that trade comes up in Mets fan conversation, but it is to Sam’s credit as a Mets fan that he’d fixate on a below-the-marquee player worthy of being silently mouthed by a baseball fan standing in the cold waiting to see a fictional three-hour baseball documentary. Come to think of it, I might have mouthed “Dave Schneck” to Jason. Had Humor Me been made twenty years ago, perhaps Gould and Clement would have rued the 1974 Hahn trade the way they presently rue the 1989 Samuel trade. Mets fans of every generation can always find a trade to rue.

For Sam, Hahn’s departure from New York is a point of Met demarcation. “That’s about when they became bad,” he approximates, but that didn’t stop him from growing into his fandom. “I got excited when Craig Swan won 14 games,” he says. “I was heartbroken when Dave Kingman broke his thumb” and was henceforth halted from breaking Hack Wilson’s National League home run record. Each of us spent a moment mourning that injury four decades after its occurrence.

Far from silently mouthing, Sam cheered wildly when Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs. That doesn’t differentiate him from any other Mets fan, except Sam was in college in London during the 1986 World Series. “In my dorm, there was me and a kid from Boston,” he says. “We listened over Armed Forces Radio on a transistor radio in the middle of the night, yelling and screaming and keeping awake everybody else who didn’t care.” Sam didn’t hesitate from exulting while England slept. And he kept caring, kept rooting, kept the family tradition going. In 2015, he had another great thrill, taking his then ten-year-old son to the World Series at Citi Field.

I asked if being in entertainment has him crossing paths with athletes. Not that much, he told me, but on The Royal Tenenbaums he worked with a rugged stand-in whose previous profession he knew nothing about. “The back of his neck was sun-damaged,” Sam says, “so I asked him, ‘What’s the deal, are you a cowboy?’ He told me, ‘I was a catcher.’” It was Greg Goossen, who made a Hollywood career of standing in for Gene Hackman, but attained a modicum of fame in Sam’s infancy as the Met of whom Casey Stengel told reporters was twenty and had a chance in ten years to be thirty.

“I played for the Mets,” Goossen informed Sam. “Then I got traded to the Seattle Pilots.”

“I said, ‘Holy shit!’” By the tone in Sam’s voice, I believe that’s an exact quote.

It got better. At a later date, Sam had the opportunity to go to a Mets game with, among others, Goossen and Luke Wilson, a genuine movie star. Outside Shea, they were accosted enthusiastically by a fan. “He looks like he wants an autograph,” Sam says, figuring the target was Wilson. The fan ignored the star and went straight for the stand-in. “You’re Greg Goossen!” the stranger exclaimed. “You played for the Mets in ’68 and you’re Jewish!”

Indeed, he did and indeed, he was. Greg Goossen is part of that small fraternity of Chosen Mets. People generally know from Art Shamsky, Shawn Green and Ike Davis…Greg Goossen, not so much. This was new information to Sam, the former Bar Mitzvah Boy who would go on to create the online phenomenon Old Jews Telling Jokes. You had to understand, Sam explained, Greg Goossen was “the least Jewish guy you’ve ever seen — he comes from a family of boxing promoters in Las Vegas! I asked him, “You’re Jewish?”

Goossen shrugged, “Half.”

Well, I’m no Greg Goossen, but I am fully appreciative both of the time Sam gave me over the phone and the experience he provided Jason and me on Madam Secretary. I also appreciate that he’s been a Faith and Fear reader for a long time. “A number of years ago,” he remembers, “there was a boom of blogs about the Mets. I would sample a number of them.” Sam namechecked the pioneering Eddie Kranepool Society and the sabermetrically innovative Mets Geek from what the Cranberries might have called those “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” days.

“Then I found yours,” Sam says, “and I came back to yours. That was a result of how you guys bring some poetry to being a Mets fan.” When the three-hour documentary appeared in the script for the episode of in question, “I thought who would be in this movie line? First thing that came to mind was you guys. You have the combination of wonkish devotion to the Mets and baseball and the love of artistry and writing. I’d seen your picture on the blog and thought it would be fun to see you guys in line — sell the idea of real baseball fans going to see this movie.”

I don’t know if it will be fun for anybody else to see us there, but we sure had fun being there, cold and all. Thanks again to Sam Hoffman and everybody who gave us our moment just to the side of the spotlight.

Unswept in First At Last

“And I guess that’s what I want to do with this campaign: sort of calm things down a little…”
—Former Gov. Fred Picker (D-Fla.), “Primary Colors”

Early during the seventeenth game of the Mets’ 2018 season, I found myself longing for the Mets of the first not quite fifteen games of the 2018 season. That was a great team and a great year. Alas, the Mets from the end of the fifteenth game through the first several innings of the seventeenth game were such a comedown. We were obviously sentenced to be stuck with them forever.

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the throwback game the Mets spontaneously staged in the nine-run eighth inning of the seventeenth game, bringing back to Citi Field the 2018 Mets from the first not quite fifteen games. They even wore the same uniforms.

Whichever team it is we have this year won the seventeenth game, much as it had won twelve of its previous sixteen, which reads as pretty impressive on paper and in pixel, but registered as useless in our hearts and heads. We knew the magic was gone after the defining lead-blowing elements of Monday night. No wonder Tuesday was ruined. No wonder Wednesday, until the eighth, was a lost cause for the potentially 12-5 first-place Mets.

Thank goodness it wound up a won cause, 11-5, for the actual 13-4 first-place Mets, the team that came back on the Nationals in the eighth inning the way the Nationals came back on the Mets two eighth innings prior. It was almost as if, across a 162-game season, some nights things suddenly fall apart wildly; and some nights things suddenly come together sensationally; and sometimes those nights and their aberrant things occur in counterintuitively close proximity.

These Mets, the eighth-inning Wednesday-night Mets…the ones who tied the score on Todd Frazier’s two-run single up the middle, surged ahead on Juan Lagares’s pinch-hit two-run double down the right field line and slammed the hammer down via Yoenis Cespedes’s four-run homer to distant galaxies…these were the real Mets. Not those Mets; these Mets. I know we decided the eighth-inning Monday-night Mets were the real Mets, but we have since obtained new information which we have verified as reliable by tasting it for salt and pepper.

Given that we could really use a sip of water, we can say with confidence it checks out. The momentum-depleted 2018 New York Mets were going to be swept and the competitive portion of their season was going to be cancelled. Instead, the momentum-fueled 2018 New York Mets stand unswept and nobody is going to catch them — certainly not the momentum-depleted Washington Nationals, who couldn’t even sweep those lousy Mets.

The magic that was gone is back. All hail the way things are going now until they’re not.

Just a Loss

The good news, such as it is: Tuesday night’s loss to the Nationals was just a loss. No record scratch, no talk-radio meltdown, no requirement to sit in a dark room and ponder.

It was an annoying yet pretty interesting slow drip of a game, won by a team that slapped and blooped singles, worked out walks and stole bases and lost by one that failed to do the same. Hard-hit balls were few and far between: this was almost a game borrowed from the deadball era. Perhaps not what we’d want as a steady diet, but mildly refreshing in an age of titanium-thewed sluggers, nuclear-armed hurlers and baseballs concealing cores of Tigger-bottom’ed springs.

Zack Wheeler took the mound without the electric stuff he’d shown off in Miami — the slider in particular was unfortunately MIA. He hung in there, and it would be wrong to say the Nationals hit him hard. He also seemed to learn a valuable lesson later in the game: he started pounding the strike zone with his fastball, which is more in line with the philosophy espoused by Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland, and yielded far better results.

The Mets, meanwhile, were undone by an utter lack of clutch hits, with two at-bats particularly annoying. In the sixth, back-to-back singles by Juan Lagares and Tomas Nido put the tying run on third with one out. That spelled the end both pitchers’ nights at once: Gio Gonzalez departed in favor of Sammy Solis, and Wheeler was called back to the dugout for a pinch-hitter. Callaway opted to pass over Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Lobaton, choosing 0-for-2018 Jose Reyes.

Reyes fanned helplessly at a 2-1 pitch, then was dismissed on a half-swing. The Mets did not score.

The Nats did, and in unlikely fashion. Robert Gsellman was asked to pitch to Bryce Harper with first base open, one out and 2018 human out Ryan Zimmerman on deck. Another head-scratching Callaway call, except Gsellman retired Harper on an easy fly, making the manager look like a genius. Gsellman then gave up an RBI single to Zimmerman, because baseball is perverse and will kill you.

That made it 4-2, and in the bottom of the seventh the Mets faced a smaller-scale version of the sixth inning: consecutive one-out singles by Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores put a runner on third and brought up Todd Frazier. Frazier struck out against Ryan Madson, swinging nearly as wildly as Reyes had. For all intents and purposes that ended the game, unless you wish to further explore the heroics of annoyingly good young Nats catcher Pedro Severino or a fruitless AB from Asdrubal Cabrera, which your recapper does not wish to do.

Given two nearly identical at-bats with poor outcomes, it may seem unfair to pick on Reyes while excusing Frazier. But there’s a wider context here: Frazier filled a Mets offseason need and has played superb defense, collected big hits and won accolades in the clubhouse.

On the other hand, Reyes’s return didn’t make a lick of sense in the first place, and read like the Mets locked up a Plan B because they weren’t sure ownership would approve the more expensive Plan A. Reyes had the most ABs on the 2017 Mets, which is as thorough an indictment of that wretched season as the name “Tommy Milone.” It’s good that he’s no longer an everyday player; unfortunately he’s never been a bench player and shows no sign of being suited to that role. Reyes has decayed into a singles hitter, he’s no longer automatic stealing bases, and the most charitable description of his range afield would be “better than Flores.” Being a mentor to Amed Rosario doesn’t justify a roster spot which would be better filled by Phillip Evans, a far superior hitter who gives the Mets more defensive options, or by Ty Kelly if for some reason Evans makes too much sense.

There’s simply no reason for Reyes to be a Met any longer; unfortunately, eating his $2 million salary would be admitting an offseason mistake, something I can’t see the Wilpons allowing until summer at the earliest. Until they decide it’s time, make Jose the league’s most expensive bench coach. Nostalgia is pretty curdled in his case anyway, given his off-field issues. But even in the absence of such unhappy considerations, holding on to the past is a fatal mistake in baseball. Callaway shouldn’t be bound by it as a newcomer to the Mets, while Sandy Alderson should get his flinty-eyed Marine on and remind his bosses that the Mets shouldn’t waste a heaven-sent start.

Record Scratch

Collecting the first 23 outs went well enough.

Yes, Bryce Harper hit a broken-bat home run that you’ll see forever and/or will go down in infamy as an emblem of this new juiced-ball era. I’ve seen broken-bat homers, but they’re usually the stuff of a few flakes and splinters and a short porch. The heavy end of Harper’s bat went flying, as did the ball — it came down a cool 406 feet away. The man’s prodigiously good at baseball, but even by his lofty standards that was absurd.

Absurd, but apparently no big whoop. The Mets quickly tied the game and then pulled ahead, and Jacob deGrom was cruising along, riding fastball variants and a killer slider to drop Nats like bowling pins. He came out for the eighth with 11 strikeouts and a five-run lead. The Mets had turned a 4-1 cushion into what looked like a rout thanks to a Brandon Nimmo triple and an Asdrubal Cabrera homer into whatever the Pepsi Porch is called now, on an 0-2 pitch no less. The fans were serenading a chilly Harper, the Mets were about to be 13-2, and all was not just well with the world but so freaking good that as a Met fan you needed to pinch yourself hourly just to check you wouldn’t wake up with a yelp and discover it was 3 a.m. and the Mets were actually 4-11 and mired in nagging injuries and dumb controversies.

DeGrom allowed a leadoff single to Moises Sierra in the eighth, but fanned Michael Taylor and went to work on Trea Turner, who’d done the opposite of covering himself in glory earlier in the game by stealing to take the bat out of Harper’s hands. DeGrom got two quick strikes on Turner, but he refused to bite at three bait pitches, fouled off a pair of fastballs and singled, ending deGrom’s night. Which was the right call — deGrom had expended 19 pitches in the eighth, taking him above 100, and the Mets’ bullpen had been more or less impeccable.

Well, at least until tonight, when the record scratched.

(Aside: Is that term something nobody understands any longer, or will it linger despite no one actually connecting it to a now essentially unknown physical event?)

Seth Lugo faced Howie Kendrick — and walked him. Exit Seth Lugo.

Enter Jerry Blevins to deal with Harper and the bases loaded. Not ideal, but the Mets still had a 6-1 lead. Blevins surrendered a two-run single. 6-3 Mets. Exit Jerry Blevins.

Enter A.J. Ramos, who struck out Ryan Zimmerman on a somewhat generous call. The Mets had a three-run lead with four outs to get, and it seemed like the preceding drama would be a minor bit of added excitement.

Ramos remained to deal with Pedro Severino, who looks like he’s developing into an annoyingly capable catcher at a time when the Mets are going with Plan C and Plan D. Severino singled to reload the bases.

Ramos remained and walked old friend Matt Reynolds to make it 6-4 Mets. Exit Ramos.

Enter Jeurys Familia, with a side of Wilmer Flores at first. Familia promptly surrounded a two-run single to the other Wilmer, Difo of Washington. Tie game, disaster official.

Familia then hit Sierra, batting for the second time in the inning. Bases reloaded.

Familia then walked Taylor. 7-6 Nats. Did you know the Mets walked in 20 runs in 2017? I had either never noticed that excruciating factoid or suppressed it.

Turner then lined out, but yeah.

All that was bad enough, but the Mets had more horrors to inflict. In the ninth, with one out and the Mets down 8-6 thanks to a Kendrick homer allowed by Hansel Robles, Cabrera doubled to left to give the Mets at least some faint hope — that was Michael Conforto at the plate, after all. A ball in the dirt squirted away from Severino and Cabrera … took off for third? What in the name of Jay Payton did he think he was doing?

Cabrera was called out at third. The Mets challenged, because Difo’s tag had been ill-advisedly aimed at Cabrera’s leg instead of the bag and because why not. Cabrera was reaffirmed as out, not just on video evidence but also on general principles dating back to King Kelly and Wee Willie Keeler. He slunk back to the dugout, somehow having had the worst 4-for-5 night imaginable, and Conforto lined out to make things officially dismal.

I mean, shit. We all knew 12-2 was not a sustainable pace, the bullpen wasn’t this good, the Mets would not in fact always come back to win, and so on and so on and so on. But that’s not to say we all thought regression to the mean would get crammed into a single inning of relentless, slow-building suck.

This was one of those games that leaves a mark. After it was over, everyone connected with the Mets — Cabrera, the bullpen, the ill-advised Citi Field taunters of Harper, and all of us fans on our couches who smugly dispensed with Very Important Fan Rituals — needed to sit in a dark room for an hour and Think About What They Did.

Now that the sentence has been served, it’s time to move on to the next game, for better or suddenly how the hell is it possible we’re feeling like this for worse. The Mets are 12-3. That’s pretty good. 12-4 would still be pretty good, but it would feel shakier than it ought to. So let’s not do that. Guys who actually play: no shaking off the catcher, no missing location on 3-2, no streaking for the next base when your run is cosmetic. Guys and gals who form the vast non-playing auxiliary: no serenading still-dangerous MVP candidates, no tweeting snickering questions about whether Washington is still in the league, no switching rooms with the game still in doubt. We’ve all seen what can happen. We don’t need it happening any more.

Wilmer the Weekend Walkoff Warrior

The Mets flirted with history several times on Sunday. Losing two in a row for the first time in 2018 would have been historic. No need to make that kind of history. Noah Syndergaard approached Tom Seaver’s major league record for consecutive strikeouts. Tom, as every schoolchild knows (I was in first grade then and I knew), struck out the last ten Padres he faced on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. The earth moved from all the wind power the Padres produced.

The way Thor was going, the opportunity to tie Tom seemed within reach. So did a no-hitter. So did a pair of fur-lined mittens if the equipment guys were doing their job. Everybody wore 42 and shivered at wind chills in the 30s. Thor’s imagined Nordic background made him the ideal pitcher to keep blowing Brewers away.

Syndergaardian history was not meant to be. As soon as Hernan Perez made fair contact to lead off the fifth, the strikeout skein was over. As soon the ball landed in the outfield, the no-hitter was over. As soon as the scoreboard was glimpsed, it was remembered the game was not over. The Mets led, 1-0, on Todd Frazier’s first-inning RBI single, which was better than being tied or trailing, yet it was shaping up as one of those afternoons when the Mets seemed imposing but the game wasn’t being put away. Sort of like the Mets — behind Seaver’s 10 straight K’s and 19 overall — holding on to edge the Padres on April 22, 1970, 2-1 rather than 20-1. Sort of like the Mets — despite Jacob deGrom striking out the first eight Marlins he faced — bowing to the Marlins on September 15, 2014, 6-5. Mets pitchers being literally untouchable should discourage opponents more, shouldn’t it?

All those consecutive K’s didn’t disqualify the Brewers from competing. They bundled up, kept swinging and disrupted history. Syndergaard would have to settle for being one of only three Mets pitchers to strike out eight or more consecutive batters in a game. Not a bad club to be a part of. Sort of like the first-place 2018 Mets.

The 2018 Mets held off the Brewers into the sixth despite approximately 2,018 Mets being left on base, despite Noah’s brilliance, which not coincidentally contributed to his pitch count. You remember the fuss raised by the number of pitches Seaver threw when he struck out nineteen Padres? Neither do I. Syndergaard struck out eleven, threw 101 pitches and was removed with one on and out in the sixth. It wasn’t surprising. It’s 2018.

Robert Gsellman entered in Noah’s place. Milwaukee looked at who was on the mound and decided the pitcher was a matter neither hair nor there. Everything was blowing in the wind, not just our hurlers’ ’dos. The Mets’ one-run lead made like a hot dog wrapper and got caught in an unfortunate gust. Lorenzo Cain greeted Gsellman by walking. Forgive Matt Harvey in the dugout and Mets fans everywhere for reflexively groaning.

There had been just enough defense all day when Thor wasn’t striking out Brewers to keep the visitors off the board. With two out and the bases loaded, there wasn’t. A wide throw from Amed Rosario enabled two Brewers to cross the plate with the tying and go-ahead runs. Cain was the second of them. Eric Hosmer wasn’t the first. Consider heaven thanked for small favors.

That’s bad history running on the field of my subconscious. Please have security tackle it when it’s done searching some poor sap’s bag for open bottles of water.

Time to flirt with better Mets history. Down 2-1, Brandon Nimmo led off the home sixth with a home run. Nimmo, who had already tied a record for the shortest, perhaps most pointless demotion to Las Vegas ever (maybe they needed his smile to help light up the Strip), was now in contention to join the Mets Cycle Club. He had singled in the first and scored, and tripled in the fourth and didn’t. The bizarro three-bag element was out of the way and the longest shot was in the books. All Nimmo needed was a doable double. Ten previous Mets had cycled. The most recent of them were Jose Reyes (2006) and Scott Hairston (2012), both in losses. As with striking out batter after batter, their four hits in service to defeat were reminders that fancy batting feats don’t necessarily guarantee pleasing standings news.

Spoiler alert: Nimmo never doubled Sunday, the temperatures never rose and the Brewers didn’t go away. After the Mets left their twelfth runner of the day on base in the sixth, the Brewers kept Mets relievers busy and Mets fans angsty. Gsellman gave up a hit, got an out and left the game as the top of the seventh commenced. AJ Ramos threw a wild pitch, walked Jonathan Villar, made a fabulous play to turn a difficult ground ball into a 1-3 out and then walked Cain. As pitchers went, Ramos was a dynamite infielder. Jerry Blevins then came on for one of his sharper cameos, grounding out Travis Shaw to end the Brewers’ threat.

In another context, “the Brewers’ threat” would have you wary of your beer. On Sunday, you gripped your hot chocolate and wondered what happened to spring…and which one was 42 again?

The Mets sandwiched a successful Hansel Robles inning (he still has those) with two punchless turns at bat. The top of the ninth brought Jeurys Familia to the mound without a lead; Terry Collins must have been turning over in his special advisor’s office. Had this game gone on to extra innings…oh wait, this was a home game, and the save is of theoretical concern only on the road. Either way, let’s get through the top of the ninth, Mickey Callaway reasoned. And Familia did as assigned, striking out two, walking one, being complicit in a stolen base (Mets pitchers and catchers need to stop that) and grounding out Jesus Aguilar for the final out.

In the bottom of the ninth, with two out, nobody on and extras/frostbite beckoning, history tapped a Met on the shoulder once more. The Met wore No. 42. That didn’t help identify him. Oh wait, that’s Wilmer Flores, part-time first baseman and all-time clutch hero. History of the walkoff home run variety knows him very well. It knew him better once Wilmer sent grim 2016 memory Matt Albers’s fourth pitch over the left field fence. Even on the coldest game day in Flushing since O.J. Simpson rushed past 2,000 yards, even when you can’t tell the players with a scoreboard, that’ll end a game with a 3-2 win.

Walkoff Wilmer did it again! Like when he walloped Washington! Like when he offed Oakland! Better yet, Walkoff Wilmer did it on a Sunday! Why is that better? Other than it was Sunday, so doing it on a Thursday wouldn’t have helped? For aficionado reasons solely, but if you like this stuff, you’ll like finding out.

First off, thanks to Ultimate Mets Database, we know Wilmer Flores became only the twelfth Met to author three or more walkoff home runs as a Met. That’s a private society worthy of smoking jackets, innerwear that certainly would have been put to good use Sunday under all the other layers.

The establishing member of the fraternity Walka Offa Thrice (WOT) was the best hitter the Mets organization produced during its first two decades, Cleon Jones. Jones socked four walkoff home runs between 1966 and 1971. Then along came Steve Henderson, who if you forget why he was a Met was a shall we say terrific Met. He went deep to win a game on June 21, 1977 — six days after June 15 — and then twice in 1980, most notably on June 14, a.k.a. the Steve Henderson Game. Before Henderson arrived from Cincinnati in the same flurry of trades that sentDave Kingman to San Diego, Kingman won the Mets two games with last powerful swings, in 1975 and 1976. After Henderson had been traded to the Cubs for, yup, Kingman, Dave did it again: on June 10, 1983. Five days later, Frank Cashen would trade for Sky’s first base replacement, Keith Hernandez, and Kingman all but walked off the scene.

The next great slugger in Mets history was emerging by then and was in full bloom two years later when the next member of WOT got going on his application. Darryl Strawberry launched his first walkoff homer early in the 1985 season to beat the Reds; enhanced his credentials three years later with another sticking of it to Cincinnati; and saw a different shade of red when he beat the Cardinals with one swing in September of 1990, his last month as a Met. Like Kingman, he knew how to get about going out on a high note.

During Strawberry’s reign, two other Mets showed last-swing depth: Howard Johnson hit three walkoff home runs between 1988 and 1991, while Kevin McReynolds hit four, one each year from 1988 to 1991. Let’s go live to the clubhouse to hear McReynolds’ thoughts on having just won those four games…oh, he’s already showered, dress and outta here!

Many of the Mets who were part of championship (division or higher) teams were gone by 1992, but on the scene to make us forget the likes of Strawberry and McReynolds — Hojo was still around — was Bobby Bonilla. You know how well that worked out. Or do you? Bobby Bo is a WOT man, too, beating the Reds on a Sunday night in August of 1992 (the Mets and Cincinnati were wearing 1962 throwbacks, which meant losing pitcher Rob Dibble could theatrically tear off his classic vest and fling it to the grass in disgust) and the Pirates and Dodgers in ’93. The latter blasts would star in the 1993 Mets’ highlight film, which I would highly recommend, but I think the Motion Picture Academy of America burned the only copy.

In the mid-1990s, Metsopotamia hungered for a home run hero, and fate filled that roster spot with Chris Jones. Yes, Chris Jones. Not Cleon Jones. Chris Jones did one thing very well in his two seasons as a Met, and it’s why he’s in this article. Not three, but four walkoff homers emanated off the fellow’s bat, two in ’95 and two in ’96. It’s a figure matched in Met annals only by the “other” Jones, McReynolds and the next Met enjoying a hearty chuckle in the four-or-more section of the club, Mike Piazza. Mike wove his walkoff magic between 1999 and 2004. He’s in the Hall of Fame as a Met. Read all about it here.

Carlos Beltran, who joined the Mets when Mike was still a Met, hit three walkoff home runs between 2006 and 2008, the period when the phrase “walkoff home run” gained currency in baseball. Beltran overlapped with Ike Davis, who slugged dramatically three times between 2010 and 2014, and Davis (last reported trying his hand at pitching) overlapped with Flores. The walkoff circle will remain unbroken, even if the ties these gentlemen broke didn’t.

Being one of only twelve Mets to produce as many as three walkoff home runs is historic enough for us and Wilmer. There have been 1,047 Mets to date, meaning 1,035 haven’t done it. Not even Seaver. But what makes Flores’s flourishes all the freakier, I believe, is he hit his on a Friday night, a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon. Only the first Jones — Cleon — marked every weekend box that way (his last two were two Saturdays a week apart), but only Flores did it in its natural calendar order: Friday versus the Nats in ’15, Saturday versus the A’s in ’17, Sunday versus the Brew Crew in the year of our sizzling 12-2 start, 2018. Wilmer’s is the lost verse of “Working For The Weekend,” which makes sense since he’s our Loverboy.

We certainly love how he spends his weekends with us.

Harvey’s ‘Better’ Days

I was driving through my hometown
I was just kinda killin’ time
When I seen a face staring out of a black velvet painting
From the window of the five and dime
I couldn’t quite recall the name
But the pose looked familiar to me
So I asked the salesgirl,
“Who was that man between the Doberman and Bruce Lee?”
She said, “Just a local hero…
“Local hero,” she said with a smile
“Yeah, a local hero…
“He used to live here for a while”

Bruce Springsteen

 

The inevitable, as Steve Zabriskie might have been moved to observe, became reality Saturday night, as the Mets played a baseball game without winning it, halting their streak of victories at nine and limiting them to a record of 11-2, or their best thirteen-game start ever.

Yeah, they’re OK. Still in first place, still setting the pace, still the apple of our eye, even if they failed to raise the Apple or any hint of offense against the Brewers in the kind of lifeless 5-1 lossyou could sort of see coming. I have no data to support this assertion, but when the Mets are on a roll the length of a loaf of Italian bread and attract an immense crowd anticipant of figurative fireworks (never mind the Grucciesque variety), something in the oven fails to rise to the occasion.

Enough metaphors for you? I may be projecting from some past letdown, but the feeling, even from watching at home, felt familiar. The Mets can’t lose! Gotta go see the Mets not lose! These seats are way up because we’re all here to see the Mets never lose again!

And they lose with minimal fuss.

It happens. It could happen in front of a smaller gathering in the midst of habitual losing with no more than the back of a disgruntled security guard’s hand as your premium for showing up, but this situation, wherein the “in” separates irreparably from the “vincible,” is an old chestnut that doesn’t come out to play that often, thus is stands out. This was the sixth nine-game winning streak the Mets have ever unfurled that failed to reach double digits. If double digits were that easy to attain, somebody would have invented a single digit for them.

The Mets did nothing against Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson and less against Milwaukee closer Josh Hader. There was a no-hitter in progress for a long while, three hits when nine innings were through, and only yeoman long relief from Paul Sewald to count as a positive. As little as the 2018 Mets have resembled the 2017 Mets, this was a typical Sunday afternoon game from Citi Field last year, except it occurred on a Saturday night. Maybe the Mets were simply getting a jump on today yesterday, the way some folks insist on picking up the first edition of the Sunday Times.

Might as well grab the one that doesn’t have Saturday’s Mets score. News is depressing enough lately.

Because the Mets were so wholly stymied at bat, we can, if we wish, dismiss Matt Harvey’s latest ineffective outing on the mound as relatively inconsequential. Only a starter who was truly “on” could have matched zeroes with Chase Anderson. The Matt Harvey of 2012 and 2013 could have done that. The Matt Harvey of 2018 hews closer to the Matt Harvey of 2017. We can be polite and note he threw five scoreless innings versus the Phillies in his first start and left with a lead against the Nationals in his second, but here in his third start, he left little wiggle room for interpretation of contemporary Harvey. He looked like the Harvey we’ve come to know and expect. He looked like a guy whose spot in the rotation is no given once the manager has six options to fill five spots.

Early cuts both ways. If it’s too early to make October reservations based on thirteen games, it’s too early to nudge aside a pitcher of portfolio who’s still trying to come back from all that’s ailed him. But, honestly, if Matt Harvey’s name were, I don’t know, Shaun Marcum, would we be expecting a full-blown renaissance and cling to the idealized notion that the Mets are dealing nothing but aces every evening? Directly after the game, a reporter asked Mickey Callaway if he’s thought about moving Harvey, as opposed to Zack Wheeler, out of the rotation whenever Jason Vargas returns. Callaway predictably and wisely sidestepped the question. Mickey hasn’t managed long, but he knows enough not to make personnel pronouncements to the media before he’s made them to his personnel.

That reporter couldn’t have been the only one curious about Matt’s fate. I was thinking Harvey may not be one of our five starters down the line, and I wasn’t all that convinced I was conclusion-jumping. Matt isn’t as depressing to watch this April as he was last September, but — and this doesn’t show up in the box score — he’s nearly as depressing to listen to after the game. One word has made more appearances in his answers than Jerry Blevins has made appearances in his starts:

Better.

As in “I have to be better,” “I have to do better,” “I need to make better pitches.” I swear I heard Harvey use the word “better” used in some form or fashion five separate times in less than five minutes of Q&A. None of it was in the context of warning Jonathan Villar or Jett Bandy that they’d “better” watch out after taking him deep. (I guess that’s more Thorspeak.) I remember hearing a lot of “better” out of Harvey late last season when he was pitching worse and worse. It may his safe word now, like “cripes” was for Terry Collins.

Give Matt a check mark for self-awareness. The Mets could shrug off a loss after nine straight wins. A pitcher who’s given up four runs on eight hits in five innings (on the heels of a start that measured four runs, nine hits and five innings), does need to do better, whatever his name, whatever his past. Harvey’s 2018 is a work in progress, and the Mets’ cushion in the standings allows both work and progress to continue.

That past, though. It doesn’t just linger in our collective subconscious. It has seats behind the plate in Excelsior. Back when the Mets as a whole lagged behind their emerging ace, we used to be the ones to vouch for Harvey being better. Better than Strasburg one magical Friday night. Better than Kershaw as an All-Star assignment approached. Better than any Mets starter in decades, we swore. “Harvey’s better.”

Remember that? Hard to forget. Hard not to strain to hear still.

Long-Distance Conversation

Baseball’s pretty fun under any circumstances. Buried in the standings and auditioning kids whom everyone knows aren’t ready? A September game’s still not a bad use of an evening. Grinding along in a summer you know won’t require keeping your fall calendar clear? Ditto.

But baseball’s even more fun when it matters.

Starting 11-1 doesn’t ensure a September or even an August of baseball that matters, but it sure doesn’t hurt. And it’s a great teaser for what could be. Which was a pretty apt description for a gorgeous Friday in New York, the kind of sparkling spring day that promises gentle weather and ample sunshine to come, with a crisp, clear night as a chaser.

It would have been a perfect night for baseball even if our team hadn’t run off eight straight victories, six of them on the road. Given that added bonus, what better plan as there than to roll up to Citi Field and cheer on the pinch-me Mets?

That’s not what I did, though.

I wasn’t there. I didn’t see the big crowd of 34,000-odd at all. But that wasn’t my fault, because I was driving from Stamford, Conn., up to Massachusetts. And I could certainly hear that big crowd. They were a constant counterpoint to Howie and Josh, a Greek chorus of emotions undergirding long drives hit by Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce, enemy bats put in futile motion by a pitchers’ parade that began with Steven Matz and ended with Jeurys Familia, and the unlikely progress of Jose Lobaton, the Plan C catcher, from home to third in a single trip.

I could hear them on every play of moderate note, and I kept catching myself smiling. Smiling and thinking, That sound makes me happy. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

That’s another thing about baseball that makes me happy, whatever the condition of the roster, standings and apparent future: the sport is a faithful companion, loyally filling whatever time you have to offer it under any circumstances that allow you to find the game.

Our drive was three and a half hours or so, which is a chunk of time perfectly sized for a baseball game. The long-distance conversation started out the old-fashioned way, with me trying to figure out how the heck to tune the radio in the rental car and trying to remember what frequency WOR was. That approach worked just fine until around Old Saybrook, when wow and flutter began competing for the right to be heard.

Bruce’s misadventure with a fly ball marked the end of the traditional route: Howie noted that Jay was barking at himself with displeasure, but I mostly heard a female pop singer. I was pretty sure that wasn’t Bruce’s mode of self-laceration, which meant WOR was no longer able to defend its atmospheric footprint and it was time to switch to At Bat. The newfangled way can be a bit dicey away from Wi-Fi, but it was flawless this time, with nary a dreaded AUTHORIZATION ERROR or BUFFERING. It brought us to the end of the game a mere 20 minutes short of our destination, a chunk of time just right for one’s own personal happy recap.

Some thrills and spills were had along the way, sure, but when you win that’s part of the fun. Frazier cracked a pair of home runs, an excellent addition to his portfolio of enthusiasm and can-do spirit. The Mets continued their early-season habit of getting knocked down but hopping up and punching back harder. Mickey Callaway navigated lefties and righties and young guys in new roles flawlessly to escape a tense eighth inning. Lobaton emerged from a day behind the plate without (presumably) needing an X-ray or an MRI.

It was a beautiful night, we got where we needed to go with minimal bother, the fans were out in cheerful profusion, we got to listen in, and the Mets won. That’s a whole lot of win columns at once.

Wanna Have a Catcher?

Remember that bruise on Kevin Plawecki’s mitt hand from Wednesday night’s game, the one that was declared just a bruise once x-rays were reported as negative? You will when you look for Plawecki behind the plate and see no trace of him. The hand, we learned from the Post’s Mike Puma Friday morning, is broken from the fastball that hit him in the otherwise rousing top of the eighth inning when the Mets were capturing their otherwise rousing eighth win in a row. This shall we say breaking news followed the Mets revealing on Wednesday that Plawecki’s platoon partner Travis d’Arnaud was out with a torn UCL in the elbow he uses for throwing and is probably done for the year.

If you’re keeping score at home, use pencil for “2”.

Exit, once it’s made official, Travin d’Arwecki, and enter, at least temporarily, Tose Nobaton. Or Jomas Lido. However you line them up, the new catching combo is the minor variation on the major league plan. The Tomas Nido half of that you glimpsed when Plawecki left Wednesday night for his x-ray and possibly witnessed sipping coffee last September. Jose Lobaton, presumably aboard an eastbound flight from Vegas, you’ll recall from killing the Mets as a National. Now he gets a chance to make it up to us.

There are also market solutions, one in Miami if the Mets can shake J.T. Realmuto loose from the Marlins’ loose grip on competitiveness. They’ll probably want prospects and stuff for him. Carlos Ruiz is still out there somewhere, I believe. I always liked him despite his being a Phillie, “always” going back some years, which I suppose is an issue. Ruiz is 39, but played solid defense when he was 38 in Seattle. Wasn’t the very recently DFA’d Miguel Montero considered hot stuff fairly lately? Jonathan Lucroy was an ideal free agent target over the winter, but he went to Oakland. That doesn’t help, I realize, but I just wanted to mention that.

The d’Arnaud-Plawecki platoon, conceived from strong 2017 finishes and born of 2018 budgetary finagling, proved an adequate eleven-game answer as long as something absurd like serious injuries to two catchers didn’t materialize in a ten-minute span. Chalk it up to the Mets amid their best start ever to reserve a roster spot for absurdity.

Catchers, huh? We all know the riff on the first Met selected in the expansion draft. Casey Stengel said the Mets went for Hobie Landrith because without a catcher, you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.

Great line. And apparently timeless.

The Mets have persevered through stuff like this before. Deprived of the services of Jerry Grote in the middle of 1973, they reached down to Double-A Memphis and elevated Ron Hodges. Hodges would make such an impression en route to the World Series that he fastened himself to the depth chart for a dozen seasons. Hodges was still a Met when John Stearns went down for most of two years between 1982 and 1984, a span by the end of which the Mets were again, at last, serious pennant contenders, just as they were in 1973. Nido is up from Double-A, too.

Precedent can take on whatever significance you choose. The Mets were without Todd Hundley entering 1998 and muddled through nearly two months without a legitimate starting catcher. Hell, they more than muddled. They played better than .500 ball with a mélange of Spehr, Castillo, Pratt, Tatum and Wilkins crouching and putting down fingers. The Mets went 23-20 through May 21 sans Hundley; you could look it up. Oh, then, on May 22, they got Piazza and improved exponentially. We’re probably not gonna be able to get a postmodern Piazza, but we also don’t need to improve exponentially.

I’m running out of heartening examples of catchers going down and other catchers stepping up and the Mets doing fine. Maybe Nido is reincarnated Ron Hodges and 2018 adds a charming footnote to its legend already in progress. Maybe Realmuto flies the same South Florida fire sale shuttle to LaGuardia that once transported ol’ No. 31 out of teal purgatory. Perhaps Phil Evans has gotten really good at his emergency skill set since being sent down. He’s an emergency catcher and we seem to have a bit of a catching emergency.

Anything is possible, including us being 10-1. As Mets fan Dan Rather might advise, courage. Meanwhile, best wishes Travin. May you both heal soon for everybody’s sake.

UPDATE: Additional reports indicate Plawecki has a hairline fracture and may not be out more than three weeks. This may be where we see how the new Met injury protocols perform versus the old club standard of magical thinking. Also, Johnny Monell seems to have come marching home, or at least to Las Vegas. Multiple sources report our 2015 backup-backup catcher has signed anew with the organization.