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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.

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Humber Time

There’s something magical about the first Major League start by a highly touted pitcher, particularly a highly touted Mets pitcher. He could be our next Seaver…our next Gooden…our next ace. News that a hot young arm is going to start a game for the first time in his big league career is undeniably exciting news.

I sure hope this is the right time of this season for that kind of news.

I’m not going to reflexively argue against using Philip Humber in the fifth-to-last game of the season even if the season is still very much up for grabs. Humber is highly touted because he is highly talented. Better yet, he’s highly healthy, which is more than can be said for Orlando Hernandez.

Not incidentally, Humber’s highly here. The only other potential candidate for this otherwise orphaned turn in the rotation (on a staff that numbers 18 active pitchers) was Dave Williams, who posted a few impressive starts in 2006 before the herniated disc in his neck got the best of him. Judging by his two 2007 cameos, he’s not fully recovered.

So Humber it is. At 24 and with four Met mopup appearances over two callups to his credit, he’s making his first start and he’s doing it when nothing less than solid will be an acceptable result. Nobody likes to grade first starts on anything less than a steep curve, but September 26 with a two-game lead collapses the curve. Humber has to not just worry about getting over his curve (it’s considered a very sharp one), but he must pitch like the first-round draft pick he was out of Rice, the Triple-A ace he became after Tommy John surgery, the top prospect we’ve been told he is right now. He has to do it right away, not against the Baylor Bears, not against the Nashville Sounds, but against the Washington Nationals. He has to not let Ryan Zimmerman or Austin Kearns or Ronnie Belliard or any of them beat him.

It’s something Mike Pelfrey, who’s made 16 big league starts, didn’t do Monday.

It’s something John Maine, who’s made 55 big league starts, didn’t do last Tuesday.

It’s something Brian Lawrence, who’s made 152 big league starts, didn’t do the night before that.

It’s something Tom Glavine, who’s made 668 big league starts, didn’t do last night.

Experience is apparently no prerequisite for pitching well against the Nationals, because it didn’t help any of those guys.

Still…first start…final week…high stakes…I’m thinking this, like so much else about this team this month, is not an ideal situation, particularly for a starter’s debut — regardless of touting. If he comes through and helps us gather in the monster pot that’s been lingering on the National League East table a little too long, then we will have reason to believe we have a keeper on our hands. If he doesn’t, Philip Humber’s long-term future will be pretty low on my worry list.

I can’t shake visions of other first starts at non-optimal junctures. The first one that pops to mind is Julio Valera, chosen by Buddy Harrelson to supplant Ron Darling at the beginning of September 1990. Valera was a Tidewater stud and Darling was maddeningly inconsistent. Valera would look OK his first turn (6 IP, 3 ER) and win. Five days later, he would get the call over Darling for a crucial showdown against the Pirates and be dreadful (2 IP, 4 ER on 8 H). It was one more shaky start and out for Valera from there. Julio didn’t cost the 1990 Mets the division, but he sure as hell didn’t help.

The other first start by a noted rookie in a pennant race I can remember is Craig Swan’s, against the Phillies in September of ’73. He was called on by Yogi Berra to pitch the nightcap of a Labor Day doubleheader (go ask your grandparents what one of those was). Swan did not pitch well: 4.1 IP, 4 ER, 9 H. The Mets didn’t win his debut. Said M. Donald Grant in the wake of his loss, “Send the fat kid back to Tidewater.” Unlike Valera, Swannie had a more-than-representative Mets tenure, albeit without any more real pennant race opportunities for the rest of his career.

Valera was 21. Swan was 22. Humber is 24. Plus Philip was around the team last September and, unlike his predecessors in pressurized situations, isn’t making his first ML appearance. But he’s also starting his first game far later in the schedule than Valera (9/1/90) and Swan (9/3/73) did. Whatever they did, there was still plenty of time left on the Mets’ side. After Philip Humber starts, there will be all of four games remaining in this regular season.

Nothing necessarily bodes anything about anything, but it sure feels awfully late for somebody who’s so early. As we can say about any scenario in baseball but as is most apropos when it comes to a pitcher making his first start, we’ll see what happens.

The subject of first starts by highly touted pitchers inevitably leads me back to the patron saints of Mets pitching prospects, Generation K. I was recently reminded of them even before Humber crossed the radar, a few Sundays ago, when their leading edge, Bill Pulsipher, reappeared with the Long Island Ducks and Jeff Gold of Newsday caught up with him.

Geez, I thought, Pulsipher’s a Duck again? Hasn’t he been a Duck already? Hasn’t he been everything already?

Pulse is still pitching?

Bill Pulsipher’s first Major League start, on June 17, 1995, is iconic in these parts. It was the occasion that provided the impetus for the two bloggers you know as Greg and Jason to meet in person and take in their first game. It was a winning debut for both of us, if not Pulsipher himself: seven earned runs in seven manager-mandated innings.

Jason Isringhausen would be up about a month later, a righty who was supposed to be even better than his pal the lefty. By the spring of ’96, they’d be joined and presumably topped by the cream of the Mets pitching crop, Paul Wilson, the No. 1 pick in the nation in the summer of ’94. Izzy. Pulse. Paul. The first Internet acronym I ever used regularly was not BTW or ROFL or LMAO. It was IPP.

It would be perfectly understandable if you were to LYAO at the notion that IPP were going to set the world on fire or at least anchor the Mets’ rotation for the balance of the 1990s and into the next millennium. For myriad reasons, none developed as Mets. Among them, they started 98 games as Mets. None was with us beyond 2000. The trio wasn’t even technically a trio for a single gameday; Pulsipher was injured during Wilson’s first Spring Training. By the time he pitched for the Mets again, the other two were out. When he briefly returned from exile after that, Isringhausen was gone and Wilson was going.

If the Cardinals are holding a lead in the ninth inning on Thursday (heaven forefend), we’ll reacquaint ourselves with Jason Isringhausen. Of the three baby starters of yore, he was the only one who would find lasting big league success, albeit as a closer and not as a Met. Paul Wilson persevered after injuries cost him what should have been his prime development years, grinding out a respectable if mostly losing career with the Devil Rays and Reds through 2005. And Pulse never quits. He started 2007 with Leones de Yucatan in the Mexican League and alighted in Central Islip for his Long Island encore at the end of August. He wound up 2-0 in four starts as the Ducks flew toward the playoffs.

Pulse is 33. Paul is 34. Izzy just turned 35. They have yet to lead the Mets to a world championship. They probably won’t.

In the final episode of perhaps my favorite television drama ever, Six Feet Under, David Fisher asks his mother, “Why do we so desperately cling to the past?” Ruth Fisher, despondent as all get out, responds, “Because that was when we had hope.” That’s the only reason I can imagine I still dwell, when given the opportunity, on Izzy, Pulse and Paul. Their statistical accomplishments added up to fewer than 100 Mets starts and a lot of broken dreams. Every dispatch from Triple-A in 1995 infused us with hope. That the hope amounted to not even a pitcher’s mound of beans is almost besides the point a dozen years later.

Our record, despite the battering its taken recently, is in far better shape at the end of 2007 than it was at the end of 1995. Now is indisputably better than then to be a Mets fan. Yet I was somehow far more hopeful about the Mets then than I am now. Contending is better than dreaming of contending. I understand that. But the way-out-of-it Mets made me smile more at the end of 1995 than the first-place Mets are inspiring me to at the end of 2007.

Generation K is recalled as one of the biggest disappointments in Mets history, yet I still feel a warm little tickle thinking about those three arms in their larval phase, constituting the building blocks of the first legitimate shot at a bright Met future in years. Your mindset is so different when all you’re hoping for is hope.

I can still see each pitcher wearing his cap pulled almost down to his eyebrows.

I can see Pulse and Izzy giggling like schoolboys on Dallas Green’s bench as ’95 begins to turn around a little and they’re two of the key reasons why.

I can see them and Wilson — Paul with a beard — staring out at me from the cover of USA Today Baseball Weekly the following Spring Training, hyped and headlined as the Next Big Thing.

Sometimes I hear Ace Frehley and I think of them. I directed a video in my mind that was going to be the theme of the 1996 season. With these three pitchers leading the way (and wicked ladies sittin’ by their side sayin’ “where are we?”), there was no doubt the Mets would be back!…back in the New York groove.

Just you wait, I told myself. It’s gonna happen.

It’s not just a long season, you know. It’s a long life if you’re a fan. Even if you do see something every day that you haven’t seen before, you’ve kind of seen it all after a while. Then you kind of see it over and over again. You get so immersed in arguing for or against the deployment of one pitcher or another that you might not notice the entire rotation, the entire staff, the entire roster has turned over again and again without your realizing it. It seems about twelve minutes ago, not twelve years, that we just had to bring up Pulsipher, that we just had to bring up Isringhausen, that we just had to bring up Wilson.

There’s something magical about the first Major League start by a highly touted pitcher. Julio Valera be damned: this is the time for that kind of magic.

28 comments to Humber Time

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I can see Izzy pitching a scoreless 9th on the way to his 32nd save of the year tomorrow night.
    On the mound that wasn't good enough for him but is for the likes of our piles of leaves and twigs.
    You bet this Sukk-ots.

  • Anonymous

    I, for one, am thrilled that Humber is getting this start.
    Willie would be asked, “Why didn't you use Humber instead of Mota in the 6th?” And Willie's answer would be “Well, I could have done that, but I wouldn't do that to a young kid, throw him in-into the fire like that..”
    And Willie would be asked, “Why didn't you start Humber instead of Lawrence in Washington?” And Willie's answer would be “Well, I thought about it, but I couldn't do that to a young kid, throw him in-into the heat of a pennant race…”
    So if he's not going to relieve and he's not going to start, he's here why, exactly?
    As a local sportscast likes to bloviate, “Time to take the Huggies off.”

  • Anonymous

    It's late, it's late, it's late
    But not too late.

  • Anonymous

    As we can say about any scenario in baseball but as is most apropos when it comes to a pitcher making his first start, we'll see what happens.

    Put that quote on a wall somewhere. Last night, we looked at Glavine in a big spot and thought we were good to go. Last Wednesday, off another 5-game slide, we looked at Mike Pelfrey and his win-loss record and thought we knew what would happen. Last October, we looked at Game 7 starter Perez and his 6.55 ERA and thought we could know what to expect. Tonight, we look at someone and honestly have no idea what to expect. 8 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs? Wouldn't be shocking. 3.1 innings, 7 hits, 6 runs. Could happen. That said, thank heavens the lead is 2, not 1.

  • Anonymous

    You've made a strong case Greg.
    But I'm still nervous about putting a rookie out there right now.

  • Anonymous

    I more likely see a rainout Thursday, with the way this forecast looks. Now that will add even more intrigue to this choke job.

  • Anonymous

    Rainout of a makeup game…intriguing indeed. Isolated t-storms probably wouldn't do it. Though a stray lightning bolt aimed at the Cardinal catcher…
    Yeah, I know he drove in the winning run against the Phillies, but you think that excuses Yadier Molina from eternal damnation? Last night's deed of repentance or not, Chipper's on the hook, too.
    Braves aren't out of the postseason picture completely, by the way.
    Well, they aren't.

  • Anonymous

    I'm beyond nervous…, it's turned into damn well fright! Don't forget, we're only one game ahead of San Diego in that wild card chase should we falter and the Phillies stop stumbling.

  • Anonymous

    Am I the only one that just doesn't think that Willie is taking this whole thing seriously? Say what you will about bullpen blunders and management errors over the last several weeks, fine.
    But really, I don't know, I just get the feeling that he has no urgency. I know that's always been a knock on him, but it rings true time and time again.
    Last night when Muniz was brought in, I was incredulous. Don't get me wrong, I knew very little about this kid before he came on. But all the same, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “hey come on man, we're still in this!” But he looked fine in the first inning. Then Willie trots him out there again and its just sort of like, you've gotta be kidding!
    I understand the bullpen needs rest, I understand the atrocities they've performed over the last couple weeks. But what it comes down to is that Willie is one of three things (or maybe all three):
    1. Insanely ballsy.
    2. Extremely naive.
    3. Stupid.
    I guess the fourth item on that list would be genius, but we won't know that until Mr. Humber's outing tonight. I understand there's pressure from the front office to keep Mr. Martinez on extended rest, but for the love of love, in the midst of a huge collapse, when he's so far complained of no pain after his outings, we can't just bump him back to his normal spot in the rotation?

  • Anonymous

    Did they lose a bet or something?

  • Anonymous

    I hope so, seeing how I lost my lunch.

  • Anonymous

    At that point, I don't think even I was taking it seriously. When I saw Carlos Gomez trot out there I was just excited that we had four Carloses on the field… had to be a record! I was pissed at Willie for taking Muniz out.
    Yeah, last night was kinda like that. And now I'm off to the belly of the beast again… see everyone about midnight.

  • Anonymous

    No, the fourth item on the list is “desperate”.
    As in, “he can't be worse than the other options”.

  • Anonymous

    am I the only one who wishes that Alomar Sr. had just shoved Zimmerman in the chest as he went to catch that game ending pop up? I officially don't care if this team makes it anymore…

  • Anonymous

    I've also had enough about hearing about “real” fans don't boo and support them to the bitter end. I will support the uniform of the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club and the franchise it represents until the day I die. That doesn't mean I have to offer unconditional encouragement and forgiveness to this particular collection of choke artists who happen momentarily to be wearing (and disgracing) the uniform. This is just sickening, heartbreaking and, yes, infuriating.

  • Anonymous

    I've never felt more miserable as a baseball fan. Is this what it feels like to root for the Cubs?

  • Anonymous

    Willie's gotta go. His inability to manage a pitching staff is made more clear on a daily basis. Websites have blogs discussing it since his first days as a manager.

  • Anonymous

    Real fans DON'T boo. Too bad. If you hate the team so much that you can't offer anything but insults, abuse and rancor, do everyone a favor and stay home. DUH. You're not helping matters at all by angrily spewing all night at Shea and turning the place into a seething bed of hostility and negativity that no one wants to be in. Ever wonder why the Mets have a better road record?
    I'd rather a half-empty house of real fans than 49,000 front-runners who are hostile and abusive unless they get a no-hit, no-walk, 4-4 game out of everyone every night. I'm tired of it. It's sickening and unpleasant and miserable to be in that place if God forbid the Mets don't win. It shouldn't be that way. It didn't used to be that way. I wish they'd all just stay home, get drunk and watch old tapes if a win is so vital to the baseball-going experience that they get so bitterly angry and hostile when they don't get one. I think anger-management classes are in order for some of these people. Either that or therapy to find out why they can't seem to find a way to not treat people–the team they supposedly “love” so much–like crap for not being perfect. I look at these hideous life forms and think how lucky I am that I don't live or work with such bitter, angry, hostile creeps.
    That's what I'VE had enough of.

  • Anonymous

    Anyway, it's a philosophical difference. Some people think that if they're unhappy with anything about their wife or their kids or their dog (their, ahem, “loved ones”), the logical way to express that is to hit them or angrily shout at/insult them. There will always be those people. I'm just getting a little sick of spending every night with 40,000 of them.

  • Anonymous

    Laurie,
    I don't resent the fact that the Mets lose. I do resent the fact that they don't seem to care when they do.

  • Anonymous

    Nonsense. We're not talking about booing guys that don't go 4 for 4 or pitch a no-hitter. How about just not losing 8 straight to their closest rival and 5 out of 6 to the Washington Freaking Nationals while blowing a 7 game lead within two weeks or so? This is the Major Leagues and this is New York, not a Little League in Omaha. If you don't want to boo, that's your right. A lot of Met fans — fans that live and die with this team and have done for decades — feel differently. They feel that they've earned the right in blood, sweat and tears to express displeasure — vocally — with players paid a lot of money NOT to disgrace the franchise by morphing into little piles of quivering jelly when the season is on the line. Does the booing help the team's performance? Probably not? Does it hurt? Probably not. The difference between road and home records has nothing to do with the readiness of Met fans to boo — if it did, they'd have a better road record EVERY year. (As, for that matter, would the Yankees, the Phillies, etc.). If you want to feel superior for not booing, feel free, but the angry and disappointed Met fan next to you is no less a fan for feeling and expressing that anger and disappointment.

  • Anonymous

    Bill Simmons has an interesting take on booing today. An excerpt that Laurie would agree with: “Our favorite teams are extended families. There's no way you'd boo a family member at a Little League game, so why is it okay to boo someone on your favorite team? What's the goal? To make him feel worse than he already does?”
    But Simmons then has some situations where he thinks you can boo your own. And I kinda agree with him. Everybody has his or her own code of conduct here, but I'd say you can boo in these situations:
    1) Moral turpitude. Vince Coleman gets booed.
    2) Obviously jaking it. Roberto Alomar and Richie Hebner get booed. Andruw Jones and Miggy Cabrera should get the shit booed out of them.
    3) Horrible mental mistakes, or not being mentally prepared to compete. Jose Reyes not covering second the other night was booable. (Continuing to boo him after that, on the other hand, would have been ridiculous.) Victor Zambrano was an interesting case — I always thought his failures were a product of insufficient preparation and timidity. Booable in my book. Or he may just had a busted elbow. Not booable.
    4) Repeated, horrendous failures. This is really booing management for not intervening. Benitez and Braden Looper eventually became booable. A close relative of …
    5) Booing by proxy. The GM is keeping some horrible stiff on the roster for no apparent reason. The GM doesn't make himself available for abuse, so you wind up booing his representative, even though he's trying and may be a perfectly fine person. Danny Graves and Gerald Williams are examples.
    6) The alternative is worse. You're so fricking furious you may smack your kid, kick your dog or get in a bar fight. It isn't nice to boo Billy Wagner, but better that than any of the above. On the other hand, I once booed Braden Looper so convulsively that I felt something give in my throat and could barely talk for three days. That was a lesson. Oh, and if you find yourself doing this a lot, anger management would be a good idea….

  • Anonymous

    Those who make noise are louder than those who don't. As my companion from last night put it:
    Next time you go to a game at Shea and somebody like Billy Wagner gives up a couple of runs and is taken out look around you and see what proportion of people are booing him. It’s never any more than 10%. It’s even less. But you hear them loud and clear.

  • Anonymous

    To which I say, vive le difference. No one in St. Louis ever boos a Cardinal. Then again, everyone in Busch Stadium has blond hair and wears a red shirt. Thank God we're not St. Louis.

  • Anonymous

    I was at Busch Stadium in 2006. Jeff Weaver was booed plenty. And unlike “everyone” in the stands, he is blond.
    But the red shirt part is very true.

  • Anonymous

    Jeff Weaver was an exceptional case. Before the post-season last year, his family would boo him when he came downstairs for dinner.