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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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Fairy Tales Can Come True

“All right, time for bed.”
“Tell me a story!”
“You want a story, huh?”
“Yeah, but make it a good one this time.”
“What’s wrong with the stories I’ve been telling you?”
“They’re always so sad.”
“Not always.”
“Yes always. There’s always somebody getting hurt and somebody going on a list where they stay hurt and everybody winding up sad in the end.”
“That’s not always.”
“It is most of the time lately. And I don’t want to hear the one about the prospect who keeps getting another chance. That one got old a long time ago.”

“OK, you want a happier story…well, let’s see…there was once a prince.”
“What kind of prince?”
“He was a prince with very long hair.”
“Like Rapunzel?”
“Longer.”
“Does the prince let down his hair like Rapunzel?”
“Every five days.”
“Is that very often?”
“It’s as often as the rules let him. Also, the rules say he can let it down for only so long.”
“I thought you said it was very long.”

“This is a different kind of long. The man in charge of the prince’s hair doesn’t want the prince’s hair to get all tangled up in the prince’s right arm, so he keeps track very closely of how much he lets his arm and hair stay on the mound.”
“The mound? What’s the mound for?”
“The mound is where the prince is allowed to show off his arm and his hair and make all the people in the kingdom happy every five days.”
“That’s sounds good.”
“It does, but the man in charge of the prince’s hair and arm worries a great deal about leaving the prince on the mound for too long, so he has developed this habit of snatching the prince away before it’s necessarily time for him to go.”
“Oh no!”
“Yes, it’s a big problem for all the people in the kingdom, because once the prince and the hair and the right arm are gone, the mound becomes a very, very dangerous place.”
“What happens on the mound when the prince is gone?”
“All sorts of terrible arms take the prince’s place and the monsters the prince was keeping from attacking the kingdom…”
“There are monsters?”
“Yes, monsters with big wooden sticks, and the monsters can’t be stopped by the terrible arms that take the prince’s place.”
“Where do these terrible arms come from?”

“They’re dredged up from under rocks, mostly, and are usually kept in a pen. When they stay in the pen, they can’t do any damage, but when they get out…”
“What? What happens?”
“Oh, the monsters and their big wooden sticks get loose and they swing the sticks or, sometimes, they just stand there and are allowed to walk.”
“Walk? Walking doesn’t sound so scary.”
“Have you ever seen one monster after another go for a walk? They just keep walking around until one of the other monsters swings the big wooden stick and it hurts the kingdom very badly.”
“Oh no!”
“So what do you suppose the man in charge had to do?”
“Um, find a way to keep the prince on the mound?”

“That’s right, the prince had to be allowed to stay on the mound. And how do you suppose that happened?”
“I don’t know — how?”
“With help.”
“What kind of help?”
“He got help from a very powerful dude, someone whose powers are very strong, but they only appear in very short bursts a few times a year.”
“Where are they the rest of the time?”
“Nobody knows. He also got help from the hometown boy.”
“The hometown boy?”
“Yes, the hometown boy is usually far from home, but once a year he gets to go home and it is commented upon endlessly that he is back home and he grabs one of those big, wooden sticks and wields it mightily…twice!”
“And how does this help the prince with the long hair and the right arm?”

“Because the very powerful dude and the hometown boy and some of their friends do what they do with the sticks, they make a big cushion for the prince, and he can stay on the mound, all comfy with that cushion for longer than the man in charge usually lets him.”
“Is it a magic cushion?”
“It feels like it to the prince, and even the man in charge can see that, and he lets the prince stay and stay and stay some more, almost to the end.”
“Almost?”
“Yes. The prince can stay almost to the end, but never exactly to the end.”
“Why not?”
“It’s the rule.”
“What’s the rule say?”
“OK, it’s not actually a rule. More of an unwritten rule.”
“How is it a rule if it’s not written down?”
“It just is. The man in charge has to rescue the prince with the long hair and the right arm before the prince uses the arm too much.”
“How does he know when it’s too much?”
“He doesn’t. He just thinks he does.”
“I don’t understand.”

“Nobody does. But just before the end, the prince has to leave the mound.”
“Oh no!”
“No, it’s all right, because the prince leaves behind the magic cushion, magical enough to withstand the worst damage any of the terrible arms might accidentally inflict on the people of the kingdom.”
“So it’s a happy ending?”
“Yes, it’s a very happy ending.”
“I guess that’s good.”
“Of course it’s good. What’s better than a happy ending?”
“Nothing…but why not just leave the prince on the mound to get to the finish?”
“I told you, there are rules.”
“But you said they’re not written down anywhere.”
“They’re not. But the man in charge has to keep count anyway.”
“Count? Like a royal count?”
“No, more like the way you count your fingers and toes.”
“I have ten fingers and ten toes.”
“The prince has ten fingers and ten toes, but the man in charge counts how many times the prince uses his right arm.”
“Does that help the prince?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody knows. But that’s the rule.”
“The rule is he has to count how much the prince uses his right arm?”
“The rule is the prince can’t use it to get to the end.”
“But it’s not written down anywhere.”
“That’s right.”
“But if the prince with the long hair makes everybody so happy, why would the man take him off the mound so close to the end?”
“Because the prince will be back on the mound in five days and nobody knows what his right arm will be like then, so you can’t be too careful.”
“Why not?”
“Because you can’t.”
“Does the man in charge have some kind of hard evidence that it matters one way or the other if the prince stays on the mound to the end or only almost to the end?”

“No. And that’s enough questions. You got your story. You got a happy ending. Now you have to get to sleep.”
“OK, I guess. Will you tell me another story tomorrow?”
“We’ll see. Maybe I’ll tell you about the special Pill.”
“The special Pill? What’s that?”
“Nobody knows yet. It could make everybody in the kingdom very happy or it could just unleash more monsters.”
“How come these stories don’t all just have happy endings?”
“It’s part of what happens when you decide you’re going to be one of the people in the kingdom.”
“Oh. Oh yeah. I forgot.”

Of the Mets and Infinite Regress

“Rock bottom” gets thrown around a lot in sports, and is invoked as a good thing. No, rock bottom isn’t a place you want to visit, but if you do find yourself there, at least you can’t go any lower. The only possible direction is up. Throw in a pinch of resilience, a sprinkle of rosy memories and a tincture of optimism and rock bottom starts to seem OK. The team that’s arrived there, you see, has Had Enough. It will pull together, rise up and do other hazy but dramatic-sounding things. Scarred but smarter, phoenix-like blaze and all that.

Thursday night’s Met loss wasn’t quite as rock-bottomish (bottomesque? bottomnal?) as Wednesday night’s, which I realize is praise that’s faint bordering on invisible. Rafael Montero pitched like a guy who throws 84 instead of 94, was horrifically inefficient and soon forced to depart, but you probably saw that one coming. (And Rafael really ought to be going.) The relievers acquitted themselves well enough, with Paul Sewald and Josh Edgin doing stalwart work, and there were no managerial maneuvers to get exercised about.

But that was about all that was passable. The Mets’ hitting was appalling, though some of that blame should fairly be reapportioned as praise for the debut of San Diego’s rather wonderfully named Dinelson Lamet. Still, the Mets put the leadoff man on in the third, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth and converted that into exactly one run, largely because they were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. The Padres never had a lead larger than two runs, but it felt like 20.

If you actually went to Citi Field on this clammy night to witness the Mets play listless, deeply boring baseball in weather a Scotsman would consider deplorable, I’d like to simultaneously tip my cap and gently suggest you make better life choices. Honestly, the Mets should have paid you — and even then, my first question would be a skeptical, “How much?”

Granted, every team has stretches where you wonder how they’ll ever manage to play tolerable baseball again. Hell, the 2015 Mets looked ready for contraction and then rebounded all the way to a World Series. But the 2017 club sure has a lot of stretches like this — this year the fitful bouts of competence are islands in a trackless sea of ineptitude.

Which gets us back to the idea of rock bottom, and reminds me of the world’s most folksy cosmological argument. (Trust me — this is going somewhere.) You’ve heard the story: a scientist is explaining the solar system to an audience and a listener interrupts to tell him he’s wrong. The world doesn’t revolve around the sun, but rests on the back of a turtle. The scientist, amused, asks what the turtle rests on and is told that it rests on the back of a second turtle. The scientist smiles and goes in for the kill, only to be pre-emptively dismissed with the blithe assurance that it’s turtles all the way down.

In one form or another the anecdote goes back to the 16th century, but in this country its earliest appearance seems to have been an 1838 New York Mirror account of a schoolboy talking cosmology with an old woodswoman. (As one does.) That version is a bit different: the old woman rejects the schoolboy’s explanation that the Earth is round, because it’s obviously flat and sitting on a rock — and, as you may have surmised by this point, it’s rocks all the way down.

Rocks all the way down, hmm. That would mean there’s always another rock bottom.

I’m not a scientist, but my observations of the 2017 Mets suggest the old woman had it right.

Fume After Watching

If there was a way to lose Wednesday night, the Mets were going to find it.

The bullpen was terrible. The bullpen was terribly managed. The hitters turned a gimme into a gag me. Just a complete and utter disaster.

Insult to injury: said meltdown came against the Padres, who sure don’t look like a team capable of winning 35% of their games. The Padres have turned in two days’ worth of horrific at-bats, bad baserunning, lousy pitching, klutzy defense, lazy play and inept tactics and will somehow still play a rubber game tomorrow. Tonight they balked twice, their supposed star player admired a long drive instead of running hard, they had some lousy luck and they still beat the Mets. It would be funny if it hadn’t been so disgusting to watch.

As for the Mets, well …

You know what? I’m going to need a moment.

[steps away from computer]

[walks around in circles muttering]

[rage-tweets for a few minutes]

[more pacing and muttering]

OK, I’m back. Let’s just say that … nope, not there yet.

[repeat most of the above]

Sigh. Buckle up y’all. This is going to hurt.

Terry Collins‘ bullpen is a band of arsonists, and all too often it doesn’t much matter whom you turn to. Fernando Salas got two outs without incident before disintegrating in a flurry of hits and walks. Neil Ramirez, already cut loose by the Giants and Blue Jays, threw two pitches, the second of which came within an inch of being a grand slam. Those misadventures turned what had been a 5-1 Met lead into a tie game. After a brief spell of competence, enter Josh Smoker — the same Josh Smoker who was recently sent down because he was incapable of getting major-league hitters out but then recalled because Hansel Robles was sent down for being incapable of getting major-league hitters out. Smoker went 3-1 on Hunter Renfroe before throwing a pitch that landed in Portugal, and would prove the game-winner for our West Coast guests.

Some of that was poor execution, which obviously gets pinned on the players. But some of it was poor planning, which ought to be in the flaming bags left on the doorsteps of the manager and the general manager.

Let’s ring Sandy’s bell first … y’all ready to run and film the hijinks from a safe distance? Smoker is a disaster right now, who replaced the guy who was a disaster before. Ramirez has thrown 36 pitches in a Met uniform and yielded two walks and three singles — if he’s the answer, the question is some kind of cruel joke. Collins, sensibly, doesn’t trust Rafael Montero any farther than he can throw him, which raises the question of why Montero is still on the roster. Even if you’re a master chef, good luck serving chicken salad when the second word of that dish seems to have been cruelly misspelled and the health department just came out of the kitchen frowning.

And yet, not for the first time in 2017, Terry proved he’s more graveyard-shift hash slinger than culinary maestro when given bullpen ingredients. On Tuesday the Mets took a six-run lead into the sixth inning after a day off. If any situation actually made you say “Rafael Montero ought to pitch here,” it was that one — but instead Terry used Smoker (who, wait for it … gave up a leadoff home run), Paul Sewald, Jerry Blevins and Salas in numbing succession. That led to him declaring Sewald and Blevins unavailable tonight, which is how he wound up using the soft white underbelly of the pen in a much tighter contest. Except he also pulled Robert Gsellman with just 84 pitches under his belt instead of letting him begin the seventh, in a season that’s seen Met starters tax the bullpen night after night.

Some nights the Mets can hit themselves out of their own way, and it looked like they might do so again tonight: they loaded the bases off Brad Hand with nobody out in the ninth. Almost anything would have tied the game — I’ll spare you a solid paragraph of outcomes that would have delivered that result — except for Curtis Granderson waving helplessly at a slider, which was of course what he did. Rene Rivera then struck out too, and I should have turned the TV off right then, instead of watching Juan Lagares fly meekly to right field.

Is there such a thing as exponential ineptitude? Because I can’t think of what else to call this game. As rough approximation, I’ll settle for saying it’s another jaw-droppingly awful, self-inflicted loss in a season that’s been thick with them.

Ballgame tomorrow. Tune in if you dare.

Word of warning: Management is in no mood for poor behavior. That shadow looming overhead is the ban hammer.

A Beautiful Night in the Neighborhood

Joe Posnanski, who writes lyrically and frequently about baseball, published a breezy piece last week titled “Ranking the Stadiums,” in which he identified Citi Field as one of the majors’ “Underrated Ballparks,” alongside Comerica Park and Angel Stadium. He elaborated, “I actually don’t know if Citi Field is underrated  —  I suspect most people who have been there think it’s a pretty great place. But there’s something about the whole Mets persona that screams UNDERRATED…Citi Field is a fun place to watch a baseball game; it is easily the best ballpark in New York.”

If a respected national scribe like Posnanski had been so kind to Citi Field in its infant or toddler phase, I would have scoffed. I probably would have rooted for it to rate as low as possible while still retaining the bit about being the best in town. For several years, I resented Citi Field’s existence and found the sum of its parts overpriced and underwhelming.

Now? Now I’m happy to see the ballpark where my ballclub plays its home games be recognized as a relatively solid architectural citizen. Posnanski implies it rates somewhere in the middle of all extant ballparks, definitely on the sunny side of the median. I think that’s fair and I think that’s fine. I’m well past the point of rooting against Citi Field, or at least the perception of Citi Field.

My grudge lapsed a couple of years ago, once Shea Stadium no longer seemed to have stood five short minutes before and once Citi Field showed it wasn’t necessarily incompatible with hosting winning baseball. Twenty Fifteen took Citi Field off the hook in my estimation. It could go about its business and I could go about enjoying it without toting across its center field bridge the emotional baggage the demise of Shea left behind.

Tuesday night, I enjoyed Citi Field as best I can, which is quite a bit. My dirty little secret is that under the right circumstances, I’ve always more or less enjoyed Citi Field. I was angry at it for existing and I critiqued it with an eye for what it was lacking rather than what it contained, but (in the spirit of improbably long-serving Mets managers) once I got used to it, I knew that if I was headed for a game there, I’d very likely have a swell time there…under the right circumstances.

A Tuesday night in May when it’s finally stopped freezing and raining is right. The Padres as unglamorous opponent when we could really use one is right; their lineup seemed to half-consist of visiting San Diego fans who custom-ordered personalized jerseys —MARGOT, SCHIMPF, RENFROE, SPANGEBERG, HEDGES — and wandered away from the tour group. A total attendance that is more gathering than crowd is right. The right field Promenade is right. Going with my wife, who literally lucked into a pair of right field Promenade tickets to see the Mets play the Padres on a warm Tuesday night in May, is rightest of all.

The eventual 9-3 win we saw ultimately ensured the rightness of our cause. Seven runs in the bottom of the first inoculates you from the wrongs that can ruin any ballpark outing. Michael Conforto led off with a home run and, nine batters later, Michael Conforto singled in two of his teammates. Michael Conforto may be the best leadoff hitter in Mets history, certainly on Tuesday nights against the Padres in first innings that graciously refuse to end.

Once New York’s effective ball control offense on its first drive of the game resulted in a 7-0 lead, all you wanted was for Matt Harvey to go into the baseball equivalent of the prevent defense. But what was it Warner Wolf said about the prevent defense when he was doing Giants football highlights, circa 1980? Oh yes, the only thing the prevent defense prevents is you from winning. So let’s not go to the videotape of Harvey’s five lumpy innings. Suffice it to say Tuesday’s Mets starter was not so terrible that he gave up more than two runs, yet he wasn’t anything close to good while delivering 103 mostly torpid pitches. Still, he won. Perhaps all those many outings in which he pitched brilliantly with scant support at last yielded him a karmic cashback bonus.

Harvey — whose trademark je ne sais quoi is apparently still on the suspended list — left leading by five and the Mets, in the care of four (!) relievers and a second Conforto homer, won by six. The Matt saga notwithstanding, the contest was stressless enough that Stephanie and I did something we haven’t done in a while at Citi Field. We took an impromptu walk in the middle innings, from 504 in right to roughly 531 in left and then back. It was literally the only walk Harvey didn’t give up.

What a lovely night for a stroll. The Promenade concourse really had a neighborhood feel to it, its town square chock full of spots to grab a bite or cocktail or something sweet if that’s what you craved. You could window-shop. You could people-watch. Once you got to left and turned left, you could admire the view off to the west. Best of all, you never had to lose track of what brought you to the neighborhood, because every few feet, from every stoop and every living room on the block, you could hear Gary Cohen tell you what was going on. This must have been what Flatbush in the heyday of Red Barber sounded like.

Never mind Ye Olde Brooklyn. Citi Field, established 2009, has been around long enough for me to pick up on its own organic nostalgic cues. Furthest right field Promenade encompasses a concession stand that’s almost never open. I saw it Tuesday night and remembered when it was open and attracting plenty of customers, during the 2015 postseason. Man, that was fun. When Harvey warmed to his U2/Jay-Z mashup of choice, I remembered the first time I noticed his music, the second game of the 2013 season, also against the Padres. Horribly freezing, but incredibly encouraging…and not in that “at least he got through five innings” way we’re thankful for now. I remember hearing Gary Cohen through the strategically arranged speakers in the top of the first that night as I hustled to my seat. Matt Harvey, he said, had thrown seven pitches for seven strikes. The heat outstripped the cold. Man, that was fun. I remembered less momentous moments at Citi Field on Tuesday night, too, games Stephanie and I have taken in together over these past eight-plus years, games whose details I spring on her with no warning and no expectation she’ll recall, but she plays along.

“If the score stays 8-3,” I share from my stream of consciousness, “this will be the first Mets’ 8-3 win since the last game of 2014, which we were at. But I don’t have to tell you.”

“Oh yeah,” she responds with as straight a voice as she can arrange, “I remember that.”

She doesn’t, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Terry at 1,015

When Dallas Green died, an AP photo of him from his Mets managing days circulated alongside obituaries and other remembrances. It was from the beginning of his final Spring Training running the club, taken in his office in Port St. Lucie. Dallas was in what baseball people call street clothes, but with a Mets windbreaker over his button-down shirt. He looked like the Dallas Green I remembered, which is to say he didn’t look at all like the manager of the Mets.

Some managers I never got used to as Mets manager. Dallas held the job for the lion’s share of four seasons, so I knew for a fact he was the guy in charge. His signature was on the lineup card and his quotes filled the articles that ran the next day. His background in the game, his bearing, his stature, his temperament — definitely managerial timber.

I just never got used to him as Mets manager. I always saw the manager of the 1980 world champion Phillies, no matter that he wore the Mets windbreaker. I never got past the shock that he was the choice to succeed Jeff Torborg, who definitely needed succeeding. I was vaguely aware that Green was a scout in the Mets organization just beforehand, but his appointment to the most visible post in a Mets fan’s existence may as well have descended from outer space. Dallas Green, four games pitched for the 1966 Mets notwithstanding, was an alien life form set down in our midst. Regardless of what he brought to the franchise in his time, both good and less good, I couldn’t easily link the name with the title. Dallas Green. Manager of the New York Mets.

Still can’t.

Buddy Harrelson couldn’t have been more of a Met. Couldn’t be more of a Met when he’s not being a Duck to this day. He was the shortstop on two of the most fabled teams the Mets will ever have, the two for whom “Miracle” and “Believe” were enshrined as Met buzzwords. It is accepted and likely accurate wisdom that the 1973 Mets don’t Lazarus themselves if Buddy doesn’t come back from injury when he does. He wore the Mets uniform as an All-Star twice, as a Gold Glover once, with grit and hustle and heart and every cliché you care to apply. It all fits.

What didn’t was Buddy in the manager’s role. That became easy to deduce once the 1991 season went down in flames and took Harrelson with it, but I would have said the same thing during the very good times a year before. Buddy, the narrative went, was exactly the tonic the 1990 Mets needed. He loosened them up, let them play, guided them from the middle of nowhere to the top of the division for a spell. It was one of the greatest stretches any Mets club produced — 27 wins in 32 games spanning June and July — and I was happy to nod along that Harrelson was the right man at the right juncture…but I never really bought it. I never bought Buddy Harrelson as manager of the New York Mets.

Coach? Yes. Announcer on a cable channel I rarely saw because we didn’t yet have cable? Sure. Manager of the Little Falls farm team where he nurtured one of his shortstop heirs, Kevin Elster? Sounded in character. When it was rumored that Toronto had its eyes on Buddy, I didn’t want to see him go, not so much because I didn’t think Davey Johnson couldn’t risk losing him as a lieutenant but because Buddy Harrelson should have never worn any uniform but ours. It was bad enough that he passed through Philadelphia and Texas to end his playing career. It was wonderful that he returned home. He was half of the first induction class of players in the Mets Hall of Fame, alongside Rusty Staub, and it was a perfect choice.

Making him manager never felt that way. I loved Buddy. Continue to do so. He’s Buddy Harrelson. No Mets fan who can envision him sprinting into shallow left field to reel in a pop fly or yucking it up on Kiner’s Korner or reciting the praises of his roommate Tom Seaver could ever not love him. Nevertheless, Bud Harrelson as manager of the New York Mets refused to make sense to me.

Some managers of the Mets always were and always will be the manager of the Mets in the mind’s eye. Casey Stengel invented the Mets before I was born; we wouldn’t be here without him. Gil Hodges was the first skipper I ever saw and he will define the position of manager to me and a whole lot of others into perpetuity. Davey Johnson strode right in and took over as if he and the Met renaissance of the middle 1980s were meant for each other. You can envision Bobby Valentine rubbing his hands in anticipation of running this team right up to the moment the reins were passed his way. Others I take on faith. I didn’t experience Wes Westrum or Salty Parker, but their names are embedded in my consciousness, so they get a pass. Mike Cubbage gave the Mets an honest week to finish out Harrelson’s term. Seemed like a good dude.

Figuring this out comes down to what Jimmy the Greek would have labeled an intangible. Sometimes I can say for sure why a grumbly other-league outlander like George Bamberger seemed all wrong, but I couldn’t tell you why Jeff Torborg, for all his glaring drawbacks, didn’t seem all that strange (nor did he seem all that suitable once 1992 got to unraveling, but that’s a different measurement). Yogi Berra being Mets manager made all the sense in the world to me. He was Yogi Berra! Joe Frazier never quite did. Who was Joe Frazier? Joe Torre as player-manager seemed like uncommonly clever destiny.

Roy McMillan’s short interim stint clicked in my perception. Frank Howard’s slightly longer term didn’t. I can’t stress enough that this isn’t about record or performance or progress. It’s not even about “looking the part,” which is no way to staff a baseball team’s brain trust let alone a presidential cabinet. I’d seen Art Howe manage for Houston and Oakland, yet he looked out of his element managing the Mets even before the first battle was lost. I’d never seen Willie Randolph manage anybody, but if I hadn’t known different, I would have assumed he came here with a résumé Dave Bristol deep. Jerry Manuel transitioned from coach to manager in five minutes. The rest of his tenure wasn’t so smooth, but I always connected his dots.

Once Manuel’s dots fell apart, we entered the age of the man of the ongoing hour, the man of the past six-and-a-quarter seasons’ worth of hours, Terry Collins.

Can you believe that at the conclusion of business Saturday night Terry became the longest-tenured of Mets managers? One more game than Davey Johnson, then two, then three as of tonight, which will be No. 1,015. If he and his players are successful in their directly upcoming mission, it will be Terry’s 500th win as manager. A losing record overall, but an impressive sum of victories.

You know what I find most impressive about Terry Collins, Mets manager? That when I look at him, I see Terry Collins, Mets manager. No question about it. It’s not weird. It hasn’t been weird for quite a while.

Maybe at first. When Terry was introduced to us, I thought he looked severely out of place. I hadn’t thought much about Terry Collins in my life up to then (to be fair, he hadn’t thought of me at all). His previous title in the Mets organization had been minor league field coordinator. I had never heard of that position before the spring of 2010. The Mets needed all the coordination they could get, and if a former manager could help them stand up straight, terrific. Before the calendar year was out, he was charged with coordinating the Mets at their highest level. They still didn’t seem terribly coordinated, but a change, per special advisor Sheryl Crow, could do us good.

Collins showed up for his offseason meet ‘n’ greet press conference, as all new managers do, in a suit and tie. Forced to talk about himself for an audience that knew him mostly for having been drummed out of his previous posting more than a decade before, he demonstrated enough edginess to cut aluminum sheeting. When the Mets’ holiday party for kids rolled around a few weeks later, I had the opportunity to shake his hand and make what amounted to awkward small talk. He was in a suit and tie that day, too, and came off as only a tad less edgy. I came to realize Terry Collins shouldn’t be asked to talk about anything except the last game he managed and the next game he’ll manage, and that he should never be dressed in anything but a baseball uniform. No suits. No ties. Get that man a Mets cap, a Mets jersey, a pair of Mets pants and let him be. Maybe give him a Mets windbreaker if he’s chilly.

It was weird to consider the guy whose overintensity imploded in Anaheim was going to discover his mojo in New York. It was a dozen years between major league dugouts. Old dogs, new tricks…ah, but TC isn’t a pooch. He’s a person and he learned to calibrate. He communicated with players. He communicated with the press. He channeled his energy, of which there was a nearly endless fount, into trying to make a bad team play better than it was poised to. When you think about the 2011 Mets, on the off chance that you do, you don’t think of a team that wound up a net total of four wins from .500. You instinctively assume they and their successors lost a hundred games over and over again.

They didn’t. Collins’s Mets of ’11 and ’12 and ’13 ran out of fuel across their Augusts and Septembers, but they showed up at the park and competed, which sounds like the least you can do, but exceeding minimal effort practically all of the time is its own kind of achievement by the late innings of a 162-game slog. They didn’t win enough to satisfy their hardy band of patrons, but they could have been worse. If you recall the composition of the Mets of those seasons, you understand that as high praise.

After a while, I was totally used to Terry Collins as manager. I didn’t approve of every move (still don’t). I didn’t nod along with every explanation (shake my head more often than not). But I saw it. I got it. It made even more sense when the talent level rose and Terry shepherded it to the outskirts of the promised land in consecutive seasons. He’s the manager of the Mets. I remember others maybe doing it better, but certainly nobody doing it longer or with more determination to do it as best as he could.

Somebody will someday succeed him, but after 1,014 going on 1,015 games, I have a hard time imagining it. That’s how much Terry Collins is the manager of the New York Mets.

Happy Piazzaversary!

Nineteen years ago today, the course of the Mets changed for good and for the better. On May 22, 1998, a trade was consummated between the New York Mets and Florida Marlins. Plainly stated, the Mets packaged an outfielder they’d recently called up, Preston Wilson, with two minor league lefty pitchers, Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnall, and they received from the Marlins catcher Mike Piazza.

You know what the kicker is going to be in a sentence like that but it always lands like a walkoff home run. No matter how you try to undersell it like it’s no bigger deal than any other deal you’d have found in the transactions box of your newspaper of choice the next morning, the Mets acquired Mike Piazza. In the baseball sense, he became theirs. In the emotional sense, he became ours.

It was a very big deal.

So many trades, few as humungous in Mets history, none more mammoth for impact. Mike had been a Marlin for a week and a megastar for half a decade. It was crazy that he was now a Met. It was crazy that he was at all a Marlin, but that was how the business of baseball played out in the spring of 1998 — essential Dodger to provisional Marlin to sudden Met in a veritable blink. Los Angeles had new owners who wanted to send a message about sizable contracts. Florida had a reluctant owner who didn’t want to be stuck with sizable contracts. New York, over here on the National League side of town, had owners who came to concur that they wanted and needed a marquee attraction, with cost not necessarily no object, but also not a deterrent to action.

Steve Phillips, under the auspices of Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, made hay. What remained of Mike Piazza’s $8 million salary for 1998 became the Mets’ responsibility. For their four-month investment, the Mets were able to insert within their lineup the National League’s perennial All-Star and Silver Slugger catcher. Whereas they’d been attempting to get by with backstops named Castillo and Spehr and Pratt and Tatum and Wilkins — all because they were deprived of the services of their heretofore offensive anchor Todd Hundley — they now had a state-of-the-art model. Mike was a catcher who could hit better than all of his peers and a hitter whose catching would do just fine. Upgrade was an understatement. The Mets got themselves all the difference in the world.

What would the Mets do with Hundley once he fully recovered from the surgery that had kept him out since the prior September? How would the Mets convince Piazza to stay beyond the expiration of his current pact? Would the intensity of New York agree with a player who appeared to be the quintessence of laid-back Californian? Could the Mets pick up games on the Braves and take back pages from the Yankees? Might there be playoffs in our relatively immediate future?

Nineteen years a Met and counting.

All of that would be figured out in the summer ahead. Right now, on May 22, 1998, the Mets had Mike Piazza. It was crazy, but it was true, it was tremendous, and it sent us, as Mets fans, on an incredible journey, one I set out to capture in the pages of Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star.

My book about the Met who changed how we remember an entire decade traces the parallel paths of Mike and the team he was destined to join, starting in the late summer of 1992 and leading up to this date in 1998 when their roads merged. From there, he, they and we became one, like something out of a Spice Girls ballad. We had Mike Piazza of the Mets on the field through 2005 and Mike Piazza of the Mets in our hearts and minds forever after. His election to the Hall of Fame in 2016, along with his subsequent induction into Cooperstown and the retirement of his number at Citi Field, marked the final steps of the journey. Conveniently, that’s where the book winds up.

When I wrote Piazza, I wrote a lot. When I was done, I had to condense some portions and extract some others to fit the agreed-upon parameters of publication. This is to say I wrote a lot that didn’t make it into what was published. What follows, then, is some bonus material I thought I’d share on this happy Piazzaversary. Below is an introduction I had to slice for space, one of the sections I was rather sorry to see go. The chapter was titled “Dual Identity,” and it strove to explain to the reader, so there was no mistake about it, that the book in your hands was written by a not-so-dispassionate observer of the Metsian condition, do with that information what you will.

Here’s how the book would have begun had length been no object.

***

Late on a Saturday afternoon, a writer sitting in on what is called a media availability had a question for a retired baseball player of significant renown: “Mike, you said in your [Hall of Fame induction] speech that it felt like the eight years here flew by. Did it always feel like that, especially in the second half of your stay when you weren’t contending as much, and maybe you had to play another position, things like that?”

The baseball player offered an answer: “That’s a good question. Well, I think, maybe when you get into the minutiae of the season, and you go through those tough parts like the team is going through now, it may not seem like it’s as quick. But, generally, I heard a great expression, that the days are long, but the years are short, and that’s what I would describe it as. Thinking and feeling like it did go by that quickly, you miss it. You miss the pressure of it and you miss the doubt. You’re never going to appreciate victory until you go through defeat.”

Not much later, on that same Saturday, early evening, the player was taking a ride in a golf cart around the track of the stadium where he’d answered that question. It was less a victory lap than a chance to say thank you a section at a time, if with no more than a wave or a nod of acknowledgement. When his vehicle rolled by a section that was literally at field level, this one fan, realizing he was close enough to make eye contact with the player whose name and old uniform number he was wearing on his own person, did what felt appropriate to the moment. He doffed his baseball cap in appreciation for all the seasons of joy the player had given him. The player might have nodded back to him in gratitude, or perhaps it was the fan next to him who caught his eye.

Given the sensory overload of the occasion and the thousands of faces vying for his attention, it’s unlikely that the old ballplayer who answered the question for that writer a couple of hours before recognized the fan doffing the cap was, in fact, the same guy.

Both of them were me.

***

Many with whom I discussed this book when it languished in its extended larval stage asked if I was going to talk to Mike Piazza. I told them I hadn’t planned to, yet I guess did…for that one “good” question and one thoughtful answer. So there ya go.

I’m a writer who roots for the Mets and a Mets fan who writes. When issued a media credential by the baseball team I “cover” mainly as a blogger, professional decorum will prevail. I will button my shirt and make dispassionate inquiries of interview subjects as I have for several decades, dating back to my days asking our high school’s soccer coach, “How do you think the team looks this year?” (I know almost as much about soccer now as I did then.)

On July 30, 2016, the night the Mets retired No. 31 and effectively ended the journey toward immortality I planned to write about — that of how a franchise went from claiming one certified icon to two — I could be that detached pro for only so many minutes. Once the availability broke up, I removed the media credential from around my neck, slipped into a nearby men’s room, unbuttoned the shirt I’d been wearing since setting out for Citi Field and pulled on my PIAZZA 31, the same black tee I’d owned since 1999. After adding a black cap of the same vintage to the ensemble, I strolled down the right field line to my seat in the Honda Club, formerly known as the Mo’s Zone, eventually known as something else when the next sponsor comes along.

Given that this book was already a work in progress, the night the Mets retired Mike Piazza’s number demanded I show up as a writer. But I had to stay as a fan. I had to be somewhere where cheering — verboten in the press box — was not only allowed, but encouraged. My entire experience with Piazza, dating back to the electric Friday afternoon in May of 1998 when word went forth that the best-hitting catcher in baseball was suddenly ours, had been conducted as a fan. The advent of blogging, specifically the blog Faith and Fear in Flushing, which I write with my friend Jason Fry, had allowed my writing and my fandom to coexist snugly. Now and then over the years, mainly when a media credential was in play, I had to act like someone for whom the Mets winning or losing didn’t much matter. Not only “no cheering,” but no “we” and no “our.”

Such dispassion would not do for long on a night when Mike Piazza was going to speak to more than 40,000 Mets fans. I was one of them. A Mets fan who writes, but a Mets fan first where Mike and what he did as a Met were concerned.

Just to be clear, this book was written by that Mets fan; its subject matter processed by that Mets fan who remembered how dismal it was a few short years before Piazza arrived; how intensely compelling it became while Piazza reigned; and how vital it seemed that everything Piazza accomplished and represented was properly validated and codified for history’s sake.

Having experienced Mike Piazza as a Mets fan is what made me want to write at length about Mike Piazza as a Met within the context of the life and times of the sport that surrounded him. The writer wrote it. The fan lived it. The writer decided to write it the way the fan recalled it, relying on a host of contemporary accounts to confirm or correct memory, and augmenting those with relevant thoughts that had been recorded since. But overall, this is the convergence of Piazza, the Mets and baseball, 1992 through 2016, the way it happened, recreated for your reading and reliving pleasure.

So, no, I didn’t go out of my way to talk to Mike Piazza, besides that one question I got in before the Mets retired his number. Being one more journalist going through channels and vying for time seemed beside the point. I paid attention to all the interviews he gave once his election to the Hall of Fame was announced and made note of all the answers he provided, but I wasn’t necessarily looking all that much for how Piazza remembered things in 2016. I wanted to remember Piazza through the prism of his era, the way it happened for me and so many Mets fans.

***

Like the day the Mets traded for him and I made or received at least three OHMIGOD! phone calls in a ten-minute span.

Like the pennant race night he took Billy Wagner deep in the Astrodome and I blurted out in my living room to nobody but my cats, “MIKE PIAZZA IS THE GREATEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED!”

Like the Subway Series afternoon my mouth dropped open when Mike blasted a Ramiro Mendoza pitch onto the picnic tent roof somewhere below where I stood in Row T of Shea’s Upper Deck, and once I was able to speak, I couldn’t form words, just sounds.

Like the time I refused to shout a syllable of encouragement from Mezzanine when Piazza was up against the Braves in a tie game, because I had kept quiet as the Mets had made their way back from seven runs down, and why jinx him before he could swing for the fences…which he did quite nicely.

Like on September 21, 2001, when Mike hit what instantly became his signature home run. Jason and I turned to and looked at each other in silence while others roared and shook miniature American flags. Neither of us had any advance clue that what had happened would happen, yet both of us knew there was no way it wasn’t going to happen exactly how it happened.

Mike Piazza made things happen. He made an era happen. He made a franchise happen. He made all of us happen. I was a Mets fan long before Mike came to the Mets and I’ve been a Mets fan since he left. But to be a Mets fan in the Age of Piazza was to be more alive as a Mets fan than at any time since there have been Mets.

The games were long. The years were sublime. I hope this book gets that across.

***

My thanks to Skip Clayton and Charlotte Reese of WBCB 1490-AM in Levittown, Pa., for having me on to discuss Piazza in Mike’s boyhood backyard. Skip’s been watching baseball since before the Phillies were Whiz Kids, so I really enjoyed hearing his thoughts as much as I enjoyed the chance to share mine.

I also wish to express gratitude to Matthew Cerrone who interviewed me for his MetsBlog podcast, which you can listen to here. Matt told me the Piazza trade coincided with the first kiss he gave his future wife. Mike always did have outstanding timing.

On Thursday evening, June 15 (ironically the anniversary of another Mets trade whose date lives on in memory not to mention infamy), I will have the honor of appearing at the beautiful Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, 67 E. 11th St., in Manhattan, hosted by the warm and insightful Jay Goldberg and signing copies of Piazza. I look forward to seeing you there.

Just a Loss

An occasional debate in these parts and elsewhere is whether there’s such a thing as a good loss. Does it make a difference if your team lost but put the fear of the baseball gods in the opposition? Lost but learned something about themselves? (Other than, presumably, that they lost.) Lost but exhausted the other guys so it might matter later? Lost but showed a certain quantum of fight, grit, vim, moxie or [insert name of unquantifiable and possibly imaginary substance here]?

I’ve never really made up my mind about that one — my opinion seems to be more an indicator of my mood on a given day than anything else. But I do know this much: there are galling, hideous, stick-in-your-craw losses that make you want to go scream in a dark room, and there are losses that are just the price of doing baseball business. After a solid week or so of the former, it was a mild relief to spend Sunday watching the Mets deal with the latter.

Let’s be clear: Sunday’s game against the Angels wasn’t exactly one for the ages. With the Mets somehow poised to sweep the Angels, Tommy Milone went out to the mound holding the broom wrong way up. Single, double, intentional walk, unintentional walk, grand slam, yikes: if you showed up a little late to the proceedings, well, it was already 5-0 without a lone out on the board.

It didn’t get much better after that: sent back out for the second to take his apparently predestined beating, Milone gave up consecutive home runs to Mike Trout and Jefry Marte. Once upon a time the latter was a Mets farmhand, sent west in exchange for the very briefly memorable Collin Cowgill. Trout, sad to say, has never been a Met anything, unless “object of admiration” counts.

Milone departed down 8-0; an inning later Trout made it 9-0 with a double off Rafael Montero, the modern Mets man’s Mike Maddux. At which point the Mets began, at first fitfully and then more compellingly, to fight back. Matt Reynolds homered to smear a little lipstick on this pig; Curtis Granderson added some more color; and then Jay Bruce‘s three-run shot made the pig look … well naw but you totally hesitated for a moment there, we all saw it.

At our house, we were engaged in the all-day cleaning that follows our annual Derby Day/Preakness party, and Joshua noted the score and started to extrapolate from 9-5 to something pretty amazing. Which I acknowledged amiably, but added a caution: the Angels were loose in the back end of the Mets’ bullpen, and the odds suggested that would stop going as well for us as it had.

Enter Hansel Robles … and scene.

The Mets lost, but it was just a loss — there was nothing heart-wrenching or astonishing about it. Milone showed he isn’t a long-term or even medium-term answer in the rotation, but we knew that. Robles showed that something has gone horribly wrong for him that needs fixing, but we knew that. The Mets scrapped and fought valiantly but futilely, which happens.

After all the recent drama, just a loss isn’t the worst thing to witness on a sunny Sunday.

The Potential Pleasures of the Eight-Inning Game

Here’s a new proposal for shortening the length of baseball games: shorten the length of baseball games. Or shorten the length of one baseball game in particular by one inning. Let us retroactively by 24 hours implement such a rule so it is applicable only to Saturday evening Interleague contests conducted in facilities constructed after 2008 yet before 2010 between National League franchises founded in 1962 that have never switched leagues and American League franchises founded in 1961 that have never switched time zones. Let us also stipulate that the rule has a sunset provision so we can say it was for one night and one night only.

The eight-inning baseball game would thus apply only to the most recent Saturday night affair that involved the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Angels of wherever. Consider it an experiment like the designated hitter was supposed to be an experiment, but in this case we don’t let a shaky idea take root. In this spirit, imagine a fairly fundamental summary of the game as it happened, changing nothing about the pertinent details except for treating the bottom of the eighth and the top of the ninth as if they never happened:

In the regulation eight-inning baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday night, May 20, 2017, the New York Mets defeated the Los Angeles Angels 4-2. Jose Reyes recorded the 2,000th hit of his career in the bottom of the first. Michael Conforto, the Mets’ hottest hitter of late, continued to reach base at an impressive rate. Zack Wheeler (3-2) got the win, assisted by solid relief work from Fernando Salas and Robert Gsellman. Gsellman, until recently a starter, recorded his first major league save. The loss went to Alex Meyer (2-2), who could take solace in getting his first hit in the big leagues, even as superstar teammate Mike Trout went hitless. The game was Terry Collins’s 1,013th as Mets manager, earning him the franchise mark for longest tenure, passing Davey Johnson.

That would have been a lovely Saturday night in the Meadows of Flushing. Everybody would have gotten all the essentials that we know occurred in our nine-inning universe. The winners won, the losers lost, the noteworthy milestones were gathered, the highlights that led to a two-run victory by the hosts would be as they ever were. By calling it absolutely official and done once the home team retired the visitors in the top of the eighth, all we don’t get is:

a) The piling on and statistical embellishment in the bottom of the eighth that extended the Mets’ lead to 7-2 and had us feeling extra confident about the state of the game and the season; and

b) A thousand pounds of angst because OHMIGOD WE NEARLY BLEW THAT GAME!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT ALMOST HAPPENED? HOW DID IT GET TO THAT POINT? ALL THEY NEEDED TO DO WAS GET THREE OUTS BEFORE GIVING UP FIVE RUNS AND IT WAS LIKE THEY DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DO THAT! NEIL RAMIREZ SUCKS! ADDISON REED…WHAT KIND OF SURGERY IS HE GOING TO NEED? TROUT…HOW DO YOU PITCH TO TROUT IN THAT SITUATION? WALK HIM WITH THE BASES LOADED NEXT TIME! THEY GOT LUCKY HE ONLY GOT A SACRIFICE FLY AND DANNY ESPINOSA SUCKS JUST A LITTLE MORE THAN REED AND WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THEM? CRIPES!!!

Under the actual rules of baseball, the Mets won by a score of 7-5 instead of 4-2 and the save went to Reed instead of Gsellman. Gsellman had been pitching with a two-run lead and held it with no drama in his improvised setup role. Once the Mets extended their advantage to five runs — a rally in progress made pinch-hitting Wilmer Flores for Gsellman a routine move and Flores doubled to commence the pleasing addition of insurance runs — it seemed unlikely Reed would have to pitch. Ramirez, acquired earlier this week based solely on availability, went in to mop up.

Some mop. The Angels loaded the bases in three hitters’ time. Reed needed to be recharged. Even though the Mets still led by five, Addison was entering a save situation, as the potential tying run stood on-deck (my eight-inning idea is no dumber than the save rule). Our post-Familia closer didn’t have his “A” through “Y” game. He walked Cameron Maybin to make it 7-3. He gave up a single to Kole Calhoun to make it 7-4. He was tasked with pitching to Mike Trout as the go-ahead run with the bases loaded and still nobody out.

Oh geez.

Trout didn’t kill him, merely filleted him a bit, launching a fly to right deep enough to score the runner from third to make it 7-5. If that’s the worst thing that happens when you play the Angels, then you’re doing all right, except there were worse possibilities looming and Reed wasn’t doing all right at all, yet his “Z” game continued apace. He induced Luis Valbuena to foul out but walked Andrelton Simmons on a full count to reload the bases. Espinosa, having the kind of year Reyes was having before Jose (3-for-4, 2 RBIs, now batting .205) remembered he’s not done, also got to a full count. Finally, Danny (.147) swung through strike three for the third out, letting the Mets get away with a less simple, less satisfying two-run win.

Same basic result, far different process. But, we must stress, same basic result. The Mets won. By two. In nine. Somehow.

They Did Win

The story is possibly apocryphal, but it’s worth retelling. On a Friday night in 2017, the phone rang in the office of a New York-area baseball blog. The caller had a question: “How many runs did the Mets give up today?” The person working the desk reported, “None.” The caller had a followup:

“Did they win?”

Yes, they did win. The Mets won a ballgame. It’s been known to happen, just not lately and not very often. It’s also unusual for the Mets to give up no runs. Before May 19, 2017, it hadn’t happened since April 3, 2017, a span of hundreds and thousands…no, actually just 39 games, but it felt longer. The good news is that with the exception of an eighteen-inning scoreless tie that crashed into a municipal curfew on the final Saturday night of 1965, the Mets have won every game in which they’ve held the opposition to zero runs.

Pitching and three runs by a homer and other means got the job done on Friday night, allowing the Mets to raise their all-time record when permitting nothing to 634-0-1 and their current-season overall mark to a less stellar albeit more relevant 17-23. They are also 51-0 after snapping losing streaks of seven or more games, the fifty-first of which was in desperate need of a snap entering Friday.

Desperate times call for deGrom measures. A team that used to be known in a good way for its starting pitching sometimes has to rely on its best starting pitcher for crackle and pop. Back when the most recent losing streak was a pup of merely three defeats, Jake came up something shy of awesome. To be fair, he was fine in Milwaukee, but he wasn’t virtually flawless. When you pitch for these Mets, you have to be pretty close to perfect. That may not be fair, but such is life in orange and blue.

Friday night, Jacob’s flaws were few across six innings. The Los Angeles Angels of wherever alighted at Citi Field for the first time since 2011, bringing with them Mike Trout and a passel of ex-division foes. The LAA’s weren’t the worst mix to be facing on paper, but the best player on the planet combining forces with a crew of old thorns can be tricky to pick through, especially when it is assumed by rational observers that another game will never be won by the Mets. (Seven consecutive losses will do a number on anybody’s ability to reason.) Trout was gonna Trout to some extent — a sharp single to left in his initial Flushing at-bat, thankfully with nary an Angel on, seemed inevitable — but deGrom otherwise effectively tamed the ghosts of NL East past. The Angels featured in their Friday lineup Cameron Maybin from the Marlins, Danny Espinosa from the Nationals and Andrelton Simmons from the Braves. Pending their exploits the rest of the weekend, they will likely always identify that way in my brain. Throughout Richard Thomas’s arc on The Americans, a friend of mine reflexively referred to the accomplished actor as John-Boy from The Waltons. First impressions tend to last.

Opposing deGrom for the Angels was Florida Marlins righty Ricky Nolasco. I was surprised to learn Nolasco is an Angel. I guess it’s indicative of how much local National League baseball we absorb to the exclusion of the junior circuit that my wife’s fandom-by-osmosis registered no more than passing familiarity with the all-world aura of Trout, yet the name Nolasco rang a clear and resonant bell. Ricky pitched 25 times in teal and other Fishy tones against the Mets between 2006 and 2013. Mike plays mostly after midnight and hardly ever against our team.

They both presented formidable obstacles on Friday. Nolasco the Marlin was not easy to reel in. Enough fumbling behind him in the first resulted in a lone Met run. No more than nibbles for a while thereafter, though, as the score remained 1-0 into the sixth. DeGrom locked in following Mike the Trout’s base hit, sailing without pause from the second into the sixth, much of his journey achieved via strikeout, all of it witnessed with great rejoicement. I could definitely see one run and one pitcher being the difference between a seven- and eight-game losing streak.

A moment of truth occurred in the visitors’ sixth. With two out, Kole Calhoun (there’s a baseball name for ya) singled. A wild pitch sent him to second, which was unfortunate since the batter in the box at that moment was Trout. The count had grown to three-and-two. What would be the outcome of a battle between an ace pitcher who had been stifling all comers and a premier slugger OPS-ing in the vicinity of 1.200?

Buzzkill Terry Collins prevented us from finding out, as he ordered Trout intentionally pointed toward first base. It wasn’t the wrong move by any means, but it did deplete the genuine drama unfolding before our eyes. How often do you see Jacob deGrom face Mike Trout with a game situation in the balance? Then again, how often have we seen plenty of hitters who are not Mike Trout take advantage of Mets pitchers, Jacob deGrom included? Collins hasn’t tied Davey Johnson for most Mets games managed by consistently playing to the crowd.

Two on, two out, Luis Valbuena up. Not as dramatic, but inarguably significant. Jake grounded him to second, inning over, Mets still up, 1-0. Then Mets up, 2-0, thanks to René Rivera doing what Valbuena couldn’t. He came through after an intentional point toward first base and singled in a runner from second. Rivera may be a stratosphere or ten removed from Trout most nights, but the way René’s been hitting (.395/.422/.558 in his last eleven games), it’s hard to fathom going out of your way to pitch to him.

DeGrom’s lead bolstered, the next mission loomed as Entenmann’s: get an out in the seventh inning. Cake, right? Yet it was something no Mets starter had done since Dennis Ribant in 1966. OK, it only felt that way, but it had been a few weeks and it explained to a great extent why the Mets were losing constantly. Here, at last, we were going to see the previously unaccomplishable. All a totally-in-command Jake had to was get an out and…

Hey, what’s he doing with his ring finger?

Is he picking at it?

What are he and René talking about?

Is he all right?

WHAT THE…?

It was just a blister. That’s all. A blister on a pitcher’s throwing hand doesn’t have to be anything big. Noah Syndergaard had one on Opening Day and the Mets won by shutout on that occasion. As for omens, it’s not like the blister presaged the downfall of the most crucial element of the organization’s plan for continued success and sent the season spiraling into a blazing hellscape from which it has yet to emerge.

Oh, fudge, it did. But not every blister is the same. No, this one appeared worse than Syndergaard’s. The sailing ceased. Jake appeared distracted and was suddenly less effective. Simmons doubled. Erstwhile White House press secretary C.J. Cron walked. Martin Maldonado was hit by a pitch. The bases were loaded. Fanning the flames of rising anxiety were multiple meetings with and without Ray Ramirez. Phone conversations transpired between Dan Warthen and Ricky Bones. Collins was surely going to remove deGrom with nobody out in the seventh because he realized that no Met starter was meant to ever again record a nineteenth out. And, by the by, isn’t Albert Pujols from the Cardinals on the Angels?

Ol’ Four-Finger deGrom, blister notwithstanding, stayed in and hung in. Espinosa looked at strike three. Hallelujah, we had a 6.1 IP in the box score, if nothing else. Mike Scioscia (speaking of haunting Flushing specters) could have next sent up Pujols, but either Albert wasn’t feeling up to destroying us like he did on the reg from 2001 to 2011 or the Angel skipper still twinges with guilt from his Dodger days. The pinch-hitter for Nolasco — National League baseball, y’all! — was Ben Revere from the Phillies. Revere looped a ball over the infield, the kind that falls maddeningly into the shallowest portion of the outfield and lands on the head of a team that has lost seven games in a row while Angels from Los Angeles of wherever circle bases.

But maybe not this time. This time, Jose Reyes made like Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, his aging body lunging to snare the dying quail. With every last breath within his bedeviled body, Jose reached back, stretched his glove out and…

He didn’t catch the ball. It smacked into his leathery palm and smacked right back out. The Angels were gonna…

No, wait! The ball smacked right back down into Jose’s glove and this time he secured it! Two out! Nobody scored! Just like Joe Hardy, except Reyes didn’t turn exceedingly middle-aged right before our eyes (it only looks that way sometimes). The inning wasn’t over, but it was about to be. Maybin, who caught the final out at Shea Stadium, made the final out of the seventh at Citi Field. Only slight karmic payback, perhaps, but on an 0-7 skein, we’ll surely take it.

In the bottom of the frame, Michael Conforto homered off a lefty reliever to make it 3-0, so he can stay in the lineup, probably. In the top of the eighth, Jerry Blevins came on for the twenty-fifth time in the Mets’ first forty games. The last time a pitcher pitched that often that early for anybody was Steve Kline for the 2000 Montreal Expos. I can’t say for sure that sort of incessant deployment is detrimental, but when was the last time you saw either Kline or the Expos? Blevins, who doesn’t require GPS to find the Citi Field mound, got an out, gave up the most harmless possible bases-empty single to Trout and got another out. Terry then removed Jerry and opted for his new chew toy Paul Sewald. Paul was held in abeyance as Terry’s de facto closer in Wednesday’s game at Arizona, which is why we saw Rafael Montero pitch the eleventh and also why Sewald wound up sitting in abeyance with nothing to close. The burgeoning Sewald phenomenon is still in its honeymoon phase, so we should all enjoy it before overuse kicks in and we notice Paul wears the same number as Mel Rojas. The rookie gave up a bunt single to Simmons but struck out C.J. Crone, who I have just learned is not the same person as C.J. Cregg. The ninth was given over to actual post-Familia closer Addison Reed and Addy-Boy earned an Atta Boy, or perhaps a Way To Go. Technically, it was a save, which implies there was something to save.

Hold on, the apocryphal phone is ringing again.

“Hello?”
“Yeah, hi, can you tell me the final score of the Mets game against the Angels?”
“Mets three, Angels nothing.”
“Did they win?”

After seven straight losses, I guess you can’t blame a person for wanting confirmation.

***

We don’t take calls, but you will note we do take comments again. We were going to open the gates after this game regardless of outcome, but it is serendipitous that we get to do it on the heels of a Mets victory. If we made this win-dependent, we figured we’d be wading into Joan Payson territory, as mapped by Jimmy Breslin.

A few days after the Mets opened the [1962] season, Mrs. Payson and her daughter and son-in-law left for the Greek islands. She asked to be informed of the Mets’ doings by telegraph. The telegrams came as requested, one right after the other, with the score always spelled out so there would be no error, and finally the lady couldn’t take any more of them. She wired back:

PLEASE TELL US ONLY WHEN METS WIN.

“That was about the last word I heard from America,” she recalled.

In the spirit John Sebastian greeted Gabe Kotter, welcome back. Our mood is ebullient given the Mets’ sudden hot spell, but we are grimly serious about enforcing a modicum of decorum in our little corner of the Met world. If you wish to add your voice to the FAFIF community that has been generally wonderful for a dozen seasons but Jason and I have found irritatingly atonal during the course of this one, here are a handful of ground rules by which to abide.

• Intentionally inflammatory comments directed at a fellow commenter, whether offered in the second or third person, will be deleted and the intentionally inflammatory commenter will be banned.

• Expression of Metsian hopes, dreams, exultations, values, disappointments, devastations, disgruntlements and so forth are all welcome even if they’re not the same as yours. Variations on the phrase “some fans are so…” — when inserted in fairly obvious service to belittling or ostracizing those who have yet to come around to your way of seeing things — will serve as a red flag and be deleted. Persistence in this line of commenting will lead to banning.

• The phrase (or sentiment) “as I’ve said many times before” is a signal that you’ve said it many times before. Move on. Get some new material. Comments incessantly repeating what we know you’ve sufficiently stated previously will be deleted.

• Refrain from prefacing your remarks by proclaiming how prescient you were about some issue or other. We’re all occasionally right, we’re all occasionally wrong. Elias isn’t keeping track. Utter self-aggrandizement is discouraged and will be deleted.

• This is the comments section of a blog written by two guys who love the same team as you do, not a message board maintained by a major media conglomerate. It’s just us here. Keep that in mind.

• Management reserves the right to monitor, moderate and ameliorate as it sees fit.

• Be nice to one another, treat each other with respect, remember that even though Mets baseball is what we figuratively live for every spring and summer and spiritually die without every fall and winter, it’s still just a game.

Otherwise, have fun. The Mets have proven it is possible to do so.

Fun was had by all of us who recorded the latest edition of the Rising Apple Report podcast. We talked at particular length about virtually every Met who ever wore 44. If a stroll down memory lane that stops off to greet Harry Chiti, Leroy Stanton, Tom Paciorek, John Cangelosi, Lastings Milledge and a cast of dozens appeals to you, then listen in here.

Surrender and Acceptance

So who was betting on “Rafael Montero blows it almost immediately” when pondering how Wednesday’s game was going to end?

And how many of you astute folks were brave enough to put $100 down on that in Vegas?

If you did, I know you’re swaggering around wearing the grin of a person who’s got, say, $105.

This is what things have come to. When the Mets were ahead early I knew they’d give it back. When they were tied late I knew disaster was waiting in the wings. When Montero arrived on the scene I figured the game would be over sooner rather than later.

When the Mets lost — a lot sooner rather than even a little bit later — I wasn’t angry, depressed or particularly surprised. I just turned off the TV and shifted immediately to the non-Mets portion of my day.

Right now a Mets game can be summarized by randomly rearranging the following thought processes, experiences and mental states:

  1. Disgust that this hapless team is somehow even worse than the cruelest mathematics suggest it could be.
  2. Wan flickering hope that someone on the team not named Michael Conforto is not, in fact, completely and irredeemably terrible at baseball.
  3. Weepy gratitude that Conforto is worth watching and cheering for amid this dead-eyed wreckage.
  4. Wondering why some player generally thought of as at least a known quantity has started doing dunderheaded things.
  5. Fantasizing that Amed Rosario, Dom Smith, or some prospect you just heard about would fix things and stewing that they weren’t called up yesterday.
  6. Calming down and surrendering to the near-certainty that everything will soon suck.
  7. Realizing you don’t want Rosario, Smith or any other prospect up here because proximity to this dumpster fire might turn them into Fernando Martinez — or Ryan Jaroncyk.
  8. Witnessing everything suck.
  9. Accepting that you knew everything was going to suck and now that it has, the world is much as it was.

So, yeah, Conforto hit another home run — and off one of those diabolical lefties, no less; Jose Reyes had a decent day except for the play where he short-circuited an inning by imitating serial dipshit Jose Offerman; Matt Harvey left with a lead which the Mets squandered, but don’t feel bad for him because he was basically pretty terrible anyway; Paul Sewald pitched decently again, which probably means his arm will be hamburger by Flag Day (edit: eh, it was the other day — the losses just blur together, don’t they?); Josh Edgin made a nice play which we might as well call our World Series; the Mets slogged directionlessly through a few dreary dull innings; Montero came in and lost.

You can use those things — plus a free token for general dissatisfaction — to fill out your Suck Bingo card if you have nothing better to do. Or you can wait till Friday night’s game, in which the Mets are likely to come up with a vaguely new variation on that theme.

Either way, enjoy your Thursday. It’s guaranteed to be loss-free. Try saying that about any other day of the week.