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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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I Wanted This?

When you're eternally the underdog, you dream of taking down the favorite. One very thin strand of me is in that position right now, with my alma mater, the University of South Florida, ranked for the very first time ever in the Top 20 of the AP college football poll. This Friday night, they…oh hell, we, the No. 18 team in the country, play West Virginia, No. 5. West Virginia is one of those football schools you've heard of. Making the AP list is hardly cause for their alumni to feel honest-to-god goosebumps this week. The game's in Tampa, but the Bulls are 7-point underdogs. If they lose, it's expected. If they win, the commuter campus I knew as a hotbed of apathy from 1981 to 1985 will go more nuts than it already has for its still youthful program.

This is the kind of underdog vs. favorite matchup I understand intrinsically. Everything I learned and loved about sports from the time I was old enough to distinguish between sides has been wrapped up in pulling for the underdog. My team has overwhelmingly more often than not been the underdog. I just assumed it always would be.

That's definitely how I figured it would play out if the Mets and Phillies ever threw down over any stakes of significance. It's all about where you came in on the movie, I suppose, but when I first paid any real attention to the baseball team from Philadelphia, they were far more Apollo Creed than Rocky Balboa. They were the champs in our division. Except for technically, we weren't really in their division. We weren't in their weight class. We were the lightweight tomato can whose stuff Mickey had thrown out of our locker and onto skid row.

Phillie history is synonymous with futility, I'm sure you've heard. They sure were futile when I first came upon them in 1969, a horrendous fifth-place team that only the expansion Expos kept out of last. They changed stadiums, changed uniforms, changed personnel, but the only tangible change in their performance all that movement brought them in the early '70s was a change from fifth to sixth. They began, however, to rise noticeably in 1974, the same year the Mets had their first losing season since I'd begun watching them in '69. They finished third. We finished fifth.

It would signal a lifelong pattern: The Mets had been good, the Phillies had been bad; the Phillies were getting good, the Mets were getting worse. They'd flip and flop for the next three decades, barely touching on their respective ways up and down. Oh, sometimes they'd both suck simultaneously, but that's not of much use to anybody.

The Mets and Cubs had a great recurring rivalry that even flared up during a Wild Card race once the two had been separated as Easterners. The Mets and Cardinals competed closely as a matter of course for several seasons. The Mets and Pirates duked it out once or twice. The Mets would go on to do memorable battle with the Braves. As documented monthly in this space, the Mets actually spent a year in genuine pursuit of the Marlins.

But none of those teams played anywhere near the Mets. The Phillies did. Thus, the rub. Wouldn't it be great, I thought as the Phillies rode roughshod over the N.L. East in the late 1970s and the Mets made themselves comfortable in its basement, if these two geographically aligned franchises went at it? I mean really went at it? When I was in high school, everything was Red Sox-Yankees this, Yankees-Red Sox that. I could read a map. I knew Philadelphia was closer to New York than Boston was. I also knew that New York was a National League town on hiatus.

Wouldn't it be great if we had a real Mets-Phillies rivalry?

That was my thinking in the winter of 1978-79 (post-Bucky Dent, not coincidentally). I became mildly obsessed with the idea that someday the Mets would ride the escalator up the National League East, past the Expos and the Cubs and the Cardinals and the Pirates and at last be pounding on the Phillies' door. The Phillies of Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and Bob Boone and Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox and Greg Luzinski and, somehow, Tug McGraw and, all of a sudden, Pete Rose…they were so smug after finishing first three years in a row, leaving us a combined 76 games from first place. But someday they'd be taken down by my Mets. My Mets of Mazzilli and Youngblood and Swan and Stearns and Flynn and Henderson and Skip Lockwood, a better closer any day than that lousy turncoat McGraw.

I really wanted a Mets-Phillies conflict to explode. And if it did, I truly believed we would prevail.

It didn't happen. It never came close to happening. I imagined it was happening at a crucial juncture of the 1980 season when the surprising Mets, in fourth place and on the fringes of the race that August, braced for a five-game series at Shea versus the big bad Phillies. Philadelphia wasn't in first at the time, but they would be any minute with a mighty assist from us. They stomped all over the Mets, taking five of five (40 to 12) and ending the whole Magic Is Back illusion in one cruel weekend's worth of flippin' cold reality check. Philly would win a World Series, their first, that October. The Mets would have their day a half-dozen years later, but by then the Phillies were a footnote to the proceedings. By 1986, I'd forgotten all about my fantasy feud. Nearby or not, the Phillies had ceased to matter where the Mets were concerned, even in my mind.

Reading George Vecsey the other day brought it all back. Here finally, he wrote, were the two potential pennant race pairings from the Great Northeast together at once: Yankees and Red Sox, as usual, and Mets and Phillies, first time ever. I suddenly remembered I had wanted this when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. I wanted this when I was looking up five spots in the standings to see the Phillies lording it over us. I wanted this when Mike Schmidt filmed a soft drink commercial in which he swatted home runs while a distraught generic catcher with blue and orange piping around his sleeve cuffs looked on in total dumbfoundery (while Schmitty was “Turning 7 Up,” we were finishing 24 out). I wanted this when we were the underdogs and they were the perennial favorites.

It never, ever occurred to me I would get it when we were on top and they would have to come after us. Once we became the kind of team that could be in first place in late September, I was never looking for any kind of rivalry.

Nevertheless, it came looking for us. By losing convincingly to Washington Monday night, we assured ourselves, after 46 seasons of doing no more than nodding and maybe exchanging some misdelivered mail, of our first no-holds-barred, all-the-marbles, down-to-the-wire pennant race with the Philadelphia Phillies. There will be no riding this thing out, no falling on the ball or taking one knee. When the margin is two games with six to play, you can talk all you want about destiny in your own hands and “just win, baby,” but there's no way you're not sweating the out-of-town scoreboard. The way we have pitched of late, we can't afford to be only Mets fans. Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday we are red-hot Braves fans because that's who plays the Phillies. There's a pretty good chance we'll be diehard Nats fans come Friday for the same reason.

The Phillies don't have Mike Schmidt anymore. There are nights when it feels like they have five or six of him and it scares me Schmidtless. On the other hand, we're not exactly a bunch of Mazzes and Hendus over here — though we could probably use Skip Lockwood right about now. We can win this thing. We can lose this thing. They can grab this thing if we're not careful. Even if we are, they might.

Approximately 110 miles from Shea Stadium to Citizens Bank Park. Six days from today to the end of the season. Two wins buffer us from them. We have to hang on to at least one of them.

Nope, definitely not the way I pictured it.

17 comments to I Wanted This?

  • Anonymous

    We lead the wild card by 2 games!

  • Anonymous

    Wild card? I eschew the wild card.
    Unless, of course, there are no other options.
    Then, I like the wild card. Go, whoever's playing the Pods!

  • Anonymous

    The good news is, we just have to be one game better than .500 the rest of the way to clinch at least a tie for the division.
    The bad news is, you have the virgin Phil Humber starting Wednesday and, most likely, either a very questionable Duque or a downright dubious Pelfrey again on Sunday. So that means all four of Pedro, Glavine, Perez and Maine now have to give us first-class winnable starts, and all four times, the bullpen has to get the job done. These days that's a pretty long-shot proposition.
    Bottom line: Realistically, the Mets' fate no longer rests entirely in their own hands. They are going to need help. Somebody has to beat the Phils a couple of times. And that somebody might have to be . . . . the Braves!

  • Anonymous

    If you don't think the Mets can win 4 of 6(7) then it's really irrelevant, because they'll blow the playoffs.
    I'm not worried. The Nationals scored all their runs for the week.
    The Phillies..just aren't that good. and the Braves are hot. that's easily 2/3 for them. The Nationals will be lucky to take one, but they probably will.
    The Mets will win 4 of 6(7). four more times.

  • Anonymous

    Last year I went to Philadelphia for Mets/Phils games twice. Both times, on the trip back, I said, “Man, wouldn't it be something if this became something?” Proximity is there, fans in each other's stadiums is there, dislike among the fan bases is there (and available for the world to see on YouTube). Only thing that hasn't been there is history and opportunity. Well, I guess opportunity creates history. Unfortunately, since this is more of a Met try-not-to-collapse than a true two-team fight-to-the-finish, the only way I see history really being created is if (Heaven help us) the Mets have to play in Philly Monday night for all the marbles.

  • Anonymous

    Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday we are red-hot Braves fans

    Now I gotta go take a shower…

  • Anonymous

    The good news is, we just have to be one game better than .500 the rest of the way to clinch at least a tie for the division.
    I respectfully refer you to the last week of September 1998. *shudder*
    I'm starting to realize why I had that inexplicable 1998 meltdown a few months ago. I'm psychic! I see dead [in the water] people!

  • Anonymous

    I'd like to point out that I didn't have to strain very hard to see their Expo roots last night. They're the Expos through and through. The names and the uniforms may change, but there they are again… f**king up our season at the worst possible time with their double-digit explosions. The only things missing are the 40-degree temps, pouring rain and extra innings… and two of those are still a distinct possibility.
    And of course my miserable butt in a seat at Shea, suffering through the entire endless debacle, is always a constant where Expo-ness is concerned. I'm sorry, I just hate their guts. Can we still contract them?

  • Anonymous

    Only if you can blow up their new stadium.

  • Anonymous

    HI Greg,
    Even though Joe Smith allowed those two runners to score in the sixth, I think Willie had already decided that last night's game could be sacrificed in order to win a few others. At least it seemed so since he kept Pelfrey in the game to start the sixth, despite having allowed a three-run blast by Kearns the inning before.
    With six days to go and a magic number of five, he might have taken a cue from Billy Martin (who was thinking ahead and saved his tired staff by starting a sore-armed Catfish Hunter and losing game 2 of the 1977 series). At worst, it gave Sosa and Heilman a much needed extra day rest (already trailing by six, he might have used Feliciano just to get some work – he's only pitched a total of one inning since the 20th) .
    The magic number to clinch a playoff berth (either division or wild card) is five. If Philadelphia and San Diego finish the year at 5 and 1, the Mets need only be 4-3 to make it into post-season. Willie needs to save whatever bullpen he has left.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately we'll be “trying this at home” next year. :-*(

  • Anonymous

    The Mets need to go 1-0 tonight.

  • Anonymous

    And on June 2nd who would have thunk that the Yankees would actually clinch a playoff-berth before the Mets?

  • Anonymous

    Ask me if I feel like experiencing another night like last night, right now… ugh. Shea is the last place I feel like going. It's just so ugly there. The booing, the hostility… if not for the fact that a friend invited me and will be waiting, I'd probably elect to stay home. I prefer to see hostility at Shea directed at the enemy, not my own team… especially when they desperately need the support of their so-called “hometown fans” as much as the Mets do right now.
    It's very disheartening. Mota may suck, but treating him like crap is NOT going to improve his performance. And we need him–and all of them–to improve their performance if we're going to win this thing. What's more important right now, people… letting them know we're displeased and angry and bitter, or them winning?? Why can't we, just once, get behind them when they're doing badly, instead of directing such hatred at them?? It's so counterproductive. Not to mention mean.
    I'm sorry to be such a broken record. But I'm just so worn down by the constant negativity and hostility in that place. :-(

  • Anonymous

    Interesting and true. Never before have the Mets and Phillies fought it out at the end of a season..This never occurred to me until now..
    I suppose Greg this would be the teams first true collapse? Or even choke, in a Bostonian sense?
    We're still in first place, we're still in first place…..Rich

  • Anonymous

    Those fans are still around..Lost in a sea of assholes I'm afraid. I've been to a dozen games and you are right about the negativity and hostility at Shea this year..
    Expectations way too high. No fun..