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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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Every Fifth Day

Less than an eighth of the season is gone, which isn't anywhere near enough time to draw conclusions about a player, team or pennant race. But we're fans — what are we supposed to do, turn off the set and take the long view? Nah, we draw conclusions every night, shifting our stances until eventually all is said and done and what happened looks inevitable. (And more often than not we say we knew it all along.)

The conclusion about the 2008 New York Mets, fresh from Game 20? It's that they're stupendously average.

Yeah, they beat up on bad teams — particularly teams as punchless and inept as the Nationals, who right now are trying Manny Acta's much-revered patience with their complete inability to do anything. Yet they then, in turn, get beaten up by better teams — witness the recent manhandling by the Cubs, and the earlier unpleasantness inflicted by the Brewers. That's a classic sign of an average team. So too is the complete inability to have any kind of momentum — the Mets went from playing tight, taut ball against the Phillies (albeit the Jimmy Rollins-less Phillies, who are a very different club) to looking mopey and confused against the Cubs. That too fairly screams “average.” And — again, like average teams since time immemorial — they make it all but impossible to think that all will be fine once Problem X is solved, because Problem X keeps mutating. One night it's the crappy middle relief. The next night it's the thin bench. The night after that it's all those aging regulars in extended spring training. Give it another night and it's all the nagging injuries. And more and more nights, it's thinking that moving Castillo and Delgado around in the batting order just obscures the real possibility that the best spot for them both is in someone else's batting order. (Except Delgado is untradeable and Castillo is untradeable and will still be untradeable in fucking 2011, when he'll likely be playing second base by dragging himself around on his hands in a box, like Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places.”)

Yet every fifth day things are different. Every fifth day we know there's a good chance Johan Santana will remind us how above-average baseball players can be.

Tonight while I was hustling Joshua through some part of his bedtime routine, I heard Emily yelp, “I love Johan Santana!” Why? I couldn't guess — because there were too many answers to that question. Was he cutting through Nationals like a combine? He did that. Was he making a superb fielding play? He did that too. Was he helping his own cause by cracking a double? Hell, he did that twice.

Watching Santana, you feel like Met fans of a different generation must have felt watching Tom Seaver in '67 or '68 — a great player willing a less-great team to keep up with him, daring and all but demanding they be great as well. Which is fine, except we aren't supposed to be watching the '67 or '68 Mets. The '08 Mets supposedly have greatness within them. They're supposedly the class of the National League. Maybe in the Lake Wobegon League, but not here, not so far.

This isn't to say the new season is without its pleasures. There's baseball on a warm spring night, which is one of the grander parts of life whether you're 11-9 or 9-11 or 3-17. (OK, maybe if you're 6-14. Let's not overdo it.) There's the sharp, smart play of Brian Schneider and Ryan Church, which hasn't erased wondering why Lastings Milledge was exiled, but has lessened the sting. There are the feel-good stories of Angel Pagan and Nelson Figueroa and Duaner Sanchez, though one hesitates before proclaiming the rest of the chapters will be so uplifting. There's Billy Wagner, literally unhittable so far. (Though you know one of the next three guys he faces will get a hit. He's a Met, ain't he?) There's watching David Wright become an even better baseball player than he was last year, and wondering just where his ceiling lies.

All of that is nice. But it's not the same here-we-go oomph of watching Johan — and there's the problem. Every fifth day may be something to look forward to, but the other four were supposed to be must-see stuff too.

(Too gloomy? Quite possibly. Greg will be along by morning with a first-person report from D.C., which might be more cheerful. Though I doubt he'll be able to shed any light on that weird home-plate camera angle we kept seeing tonight. Kind of like watching baseball from a low-flying plane or a Tom Clancyesque spy satellite, wasn't it?)

14 comments to Every Fifth Day

  • Anonymous

    This was a bit gloomy. This may be selective ignorance on my part, but I was listening to Willie's spot on mike & the mad dog today, and he said that the first third of the season is really just your team jockeying for position and trying to find a rhythm, and I somewhat believe him.
    Now, there have been too many things that've gone wrong with the Mets to chalk it all up to “hey, it's still early”. It doesn't explain a) the lack of power b) lack of timely hitting c) lack of pitchers not named Johan going deep into games or d) our bullpen not keeping us close after a good starting performance. But I think Willie is still right to some degree, and if this missing rhythm is explaining at least part of the problem, then I will be happy with a win while we wait, even if those wins come from the other team's errors or our big guys getting RBI's via groundouts 90% of the time. It won't hold up for long, especially against good teams as we've seen, but if it does take us a month or 2 to start clicking on all cylinders, then these wins are even more important for us to scratch out than we thought.
    Sorry for the rant.

  • Anonymous

    The full name of that guy on the Mets' bench – the one whose average has gone down steadily since his hit on Opening Day – is not Marlon Anderson.
    It's ” Marlon Anderson b-grounded out for pitcher in 8th inning”

  • Anonymous

    “Every fifth day may be something to look forward to, but the other four were supposed to be must-see stuff too.”
    Couldn't that be said about every other team in baseball?

  • Anonymous

    Here are the top 10 things that are going right for the Mets so far:
    1 – Wright
    2 – Johann
    3 – Church
    4 – Wagner
    5 – Schneider
    6 – Duaner's return
    7 – Pagan
    8 – Figueroa
    9 – Pelfrey
    10 – Joe Smith
    I shudder to think of the alternative…

  • Anonymous

    I think gloom is the right mood so far. We have an average team most nights, without a doubt; the fact that they so far have underwhelmed expectations is what makes it so gloomy.
    And I'm totally down with “veterans in extended spring training” as a real part of the problem. I mean, didn't it seem like this week in Chicago that the team was slogging through because it somehow knew its offense stood no chance until Alou got back? Its palpable with these guys.
    Casanova in the meantime wasted some very good shots to provide us a lift. But this in the big picture illustrates a failure of the Mets organization, who have screwed up our chances three years running by relying on the same fat backup catcher who cannot stay healthy. They need to stop pretending as if this is all bad luck and provide the team and their fans something reliable instead.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Considering that Delgado isn't hitting Jose Reyes' weight, Reyes himself has been hot and cold, Castillo is playing on bad knees, Beltran had been struggling at the plate and Heilman the same on the mound, we haven't done that bad. The Met bulllpen blew those two games in Chicago, however, they were close to the eighth inning. And, we might have won the Sunday night game in Philly (which Beltran almost tied up) had Schneider been in the lineup instead of Casanova.
    Despite all the criticism, Castillo is giving 100% on painful knees. Looks like 2008 is an extension of 2007 as far as Delgado is concerned but Alou is scheduled to return quite soon so we should have a good bat in the fifth spot (at least for a few weeks until Moises gets injured again).
    Just call me the eternal optomist.

  • Anonymous

    On the other 4 days, Johan should play first base

  • Anonymous

    I have to disagree with the notion that the failures in Chicago was the bullpen's; the offense didn't provide a chance to win either game. And it is not bad luck that Castillo's playing on bad knees, Alou is out, Delgado is old, slow and increasingly ineffective etc etc .

  • Anonymous

    Hey, one rant deserves another. Totally fair.
    I'm a firm believer in the old baseball saw that in April and May you figure out what you have, in June and July you figure out what you need, and in August and September you go for it. But I don't trust Willie and Omar to make the proper determination of what we have. I think they'll stick with Delgado all year, and they're stuck with Castillo for a lot longer than that, thanks to that insane contract.
    Delgado's just bad luck — he looks like he got old a couple of years earlier than expected, and I understand it's hard to stick that much money on the bench. But the decision to spend one thin dime on Castillo infuriates me more and more. Willie's determination to have him as a No. 2 hitter is particularly aggravating — any average Triple-A guy who could hit the ball to an outfielder would be an improvement over giving away at-bat after at-bat so high in the order. And we're stuck with this useless, broken-down player for four years? Just fantastic.
    So, to de-rant a bit, I'd agree with you if I thought we had the right guys to find a rhythm. But I don't think we do, and I don't think Omar will be in any position to go get the the right guys if he reaches the same conclusion. Hey, I hope I'm wrong. But I'm scared that I'm right.

  • Anonymous

    Actually Jason, Billy has already pitched a no-hitter.
    His last appearance in 2007 was a hitless inning.
    So we're at 9 and counting…Just took a little while to get there :)

  • Anonymous

    actually, santana reminds me more of seaver after 1969 — in those middle years when the team, despite a great starting rotation, just muddled along before they caught fire for that last 6 weeks of '73. but damn, isn't it good to have him? imagine the alternatives. that's right, i can't either.
    castillo — we'll have three more years to bemoan that contract. but at least he's sort of fixable, in that you replace him in the 2-hole, like willie did with church.
    delgado is painful to watch — i like the guy, but the dropoff is alarming, and i honestly don't think he's coming back. they need a backup first baseman, pronto, presumably someone not named alou. (heilman for shelly duncan, anyone?)
    and yet. and yet. i don't particularly want to get down today on the mets. after all, they won last night. i prefer to load up my gloom onto the bus following losses.

  • Anonymous

    Hey I hope you're wrong too. It's more than possible that Delgado is done, and that Willie will stick with him all year anyway. However, I think it's hard to believe that, especially once Alou comes back, that Delgado and Castillo will finish out the year hitting under .230; Castillo is already showing signs of coming out of it (he was 9-31 going into last nights game, and he had 2 hits last night I think). 4 years may have been ill-advised, but I think I would not call him useless just yet. He will still be a good #2 hitter.
    So assuming that I'm right (which, admittedly, can be a poor assumption) and Castillo continues to be the singles mcslappy #2 guy that he's supposed to be, at least this year, Reyes Castillo Wright Beltran Alou Church Delgado Schneider looks ok. Or switch Delgado and Church so Delgado has some protection. Either way, that's one guy that may not get it going. Beltran will get it going with Alou behind him and the other guys I'm not real worried about. So then even if Delgado does hit .230 for the rest of his life, it will be out of the 7th hole. A waste of money, maybe, but so his putting him on the bench. And then if you did, who's going to play 1st? Easley? Anderson? No thanks. And Carp/Evans aren't ready yet.
    So, a long story short, I agree with you about Willie/Delgado, but I also think that Willie doesn't have much of a choice.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah…what they heck is wrong with Marlon? At first he was having good at bats and you just figured, well, he's a pinch-hitting machine, he'll get back on track soon, but lately he's just looked awful. For a guy who's that good at pinch hitting to go hitless for this long–it's kind of unreal. And more than a little troubling.

  • Anonymous

    The story about Santana's undoubtedly his pitching, but I gotta say, it's refreshing to have a pitcher who can actually hit as well for a change. 'Cause let's face it, those have been few and far between for the Mets, at least in my lifetime. Mike Hampton I suppose, briefly. But I think Santana might even be better.