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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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The Portrait of Aaron Heilman

Dorian Gray had a portrait that aged so he didn't have to. Maybe Aaron Heilman could try that trick.

With every bad outing, the portrait would get a little more squinty, a little more hangdog, a little more slump-shouldered, a little more looking like it just built into an industrial-strength lemon or walked into class and got handed a pop quiz. The advantage, of course, is this would leave the real Aaron Heilman looking not at all that way. He'd remain broad-shouldered and impassive, even as batters strolled to first and balls found holes and boos rained down on him.

Heilman is by all accounts a smart guy (and not just because, gosh, he actually reads books — he was the one who noticed the Reds had batted out of order) and a good guy, but his body language has always been terrible, and right now his pitching is too. And we're kind of screwed because of it. He doesn't have options, so he can't work out his demons in New Orleans. (And despite our anger with him, it would be foolish to expose Heilman to waivers.) He can't be turned into the second coming of Mike Maddux, because there isn't an obvious candidate to take over his duties. When he's right, he can get lefties and righties out. The alternatives? Pedro Feliciano and Scott Schoeneweis (sick today, apparently) are lefty specialists who get torched by righties. Duaner Sanchez has already stepped into some of what used to be Heilman's situations, and it's not clear to me that his stamina's back, or that his pre-crash velocity will ever return. Matt Wise (tired today, apparently) has pretty decent numbers against lefties and righties but just returned — and it isn't clear that he's mentally recovered from beaning Pedro Lopez last year. Joe Smith did well cleaning up Heilman's mess tonight but is still finding his way. (On the other hand, think of the riot in the stands if the Mets had actually sent Smith down and Jorge Sosa had come on tonight and pitched like Jorge Sosa.) There's nobody in the minor leagues who's a compelling audition — calling on Carlos Muniz or Willie Collazo or Ruddy Lugo would be less about them than it would be about indulging one's desire for Not Aaron Heilman. Pulling a Hail Mary and summoning Eddie Kunz? That kind of thing never works for us.

No, we're going to have to work this out together somehow.

Aaron's latest failings erased a game that was fairly interesting, all things considered — you had Claudio Vargas's perfectly serviceable debut (of course, we were offering Nelson Figueroa hosannas not so long ago too), some wretched luck for the Mets (did Ryan Zimmerman even see Beltran's liner before it tore into his glove?), some good luck for the Mets that didn't matter enough (the fielding misadventures of Saul Rivera began as comedy and turned tragic for our side), some oddities (David Wright's bat disintegrating on a flyout to medium center), a helluva home run by Zimmerman, and Moises Alou cussing out an ump like a player half his age.

But above all it was another loss — the homestand that was supposed to get the Mets well against weak competition now stands at 3-3, with our hopes for a series split with the mighty Nats (not exactly the stuff of war cries and sounding trumpets, is it?) resting on the uncertain right arm of Mike Pelfrey. Our record since last Memorial Day: 74-74. Just another interchangeable chapter in the continuing misadventures of The Mediocre-est Team Money Could Buy.

11 comments to The Portrait of Aaron Heilman

  • Anonymous

    If you ask me, this L belongs not to Claudio Vargas nor even to Aaron Heilman, but primarily to Willie Randolph.
    Heilman has struggled this year. We all know that. Joe Smith, on the other hand, with the exception of a the occasional hiccup, has been money. Why, oh why, then, does Willie bring Heilman into a tie ball game with one out and a runner on? That is a brilliant spot for the sinker-baller Joe Smith and recipe for disaster for the recently melt-down-prone Heilman. Then, to make matters worse, he has nobody ready when Heilman starts collapsing until after it's too late. Smith manhandled the Nats after Heilman's fiasco 0.1 inning. What a waste when we could have and should have brought him in to begin with.
    Now, a 5-1 game with one on and two out? That sounds like a spot for Aaron to try and find himself. Not with the game on the line. As much as Heilman could use a magic portrait, he could also use some help from his manager not setting him and his team up for failure.
    Heilman really needs to stop getting ahead 0-2 and then throwing crap waste pitches to get to 3-2 though. That's no help either.

  • Anonymous

    again, i think this reflects poorly on randolph's in-game managing. he has given the players roles and sticks with them even when those players are miscast and the roles seem preordained for failure.
    while randolph might have appreciated that type of stability as a player, it's quite different for pitchers — the situations are very fluid. and, of course, it's a completely different responsibility for a manager to look at the whole game/team/season.
    i believed randolph when he said in an offseason profile that last year was a scarring experience that ate at him. but i don't think he's taken the essential next step of changing his behavior.

  • Anonymous

    I haven't thought this since '04, but I'm going to say it out loud now:
    This team needs an enema…

  • Anonymous

    Aaron Heilman is absolutely awful.
    I'm still pissed off about the Yadier Molina home run.
    His ERA is almost 6.
    And yet Willie has all the confidence in the world in him.
    If Heilman comes in to a playoff game with the series on the line, I'm turning the set off like I did last night when he came out of the bullpen.

  • Anonymous

    So there goes any hope of a 5-2 homestand against two last place teams. I was wrong, I thought they would definately go 5-2. Heilman is the worst. He can't close the door any more. But let's look at a couple of bright spots: Vargas may be a bona-fide 5th starter for us (I know it's only one start, but it doesn't hurt to hope). Philly and Florida both lost last night, so we are still just 1 game out in the loss column. And finally, we have an early game today, which gives us a chance to still be only 1 game out (tied in the loss column) of first place by the time this day is over.

  • Anonymous

    …and ANOTHER thing:
    Aaron Heilman is rapidly becoming Guillermo Mota, without the 'roids.

  • Anonymous

    This all started because of the rote, by-the-book management we've come to know and love. “Vargas is almost at 100 pitches, let's pull him”.
    This wasn't Pedro or Pelfrey out there. Extend the guy. If he throws 120 piches, what, it's gonna hurt his arm? So what, we're not paying him much.
    I wanted 6-1 on this homestand. 4-3 (or God help us, 3-4) against these dregs is not playoff team play. But I think we're all slowly coming to realize, this may not be a playoff team.

  • Anonymous

    If Heilman comes in to a playoff game with the series on the line, I'm turning the set off like I did last night when he came out of the bullpen.
    In which case Heilman turned it around and helped get the Mets to the playoffs.
    Which would be great if, at the moment, kind of unfathomable.

  • Anonymous

    There's the key question. I think it is a playoff team, but not with this manager.
    If I'm right, the question is when Fred and Jeff will reach the same conclusion — and once they do, if it will be too late.

  • Anonymous

    I've been trying to take up for Randolph as much as possible lately, but I've got to agree with you here. I cringed when he sent Heilman in last night. A 1-1 game where no one had been hitting? Put in a reliever that's been mired in one of the worst slumps of his career? Heilman's got to build his confidence back up, and obviously having him pitch in that situation was not the way to do it.

  • Anonymous

    I remain unimpressed by Willie's decision-making. The bigger question is what, if anything, a manager can be expected to do when: his slugging 1B ceases to slug; his 2B is a fragile singles hitter (or grounder-outer); his all-world SS and leadoff stud has become Mark Belanger; his best-hitting OF is a 41-year-old geezer; his CF is streaky to the point of distraction; and his bullpen is a farrago of question marks and mediocrities topped by one all-time great.
    I dunno if Vince Lombardi could motivate this squad. Is it motivation, or are they just not that good?