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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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Bookends on Balls

There’s one possibility nobody has brought up. I don’t think anybody ever said that maybe I just lost my control. Maybe your control is something that can just go. It’s no big thing, but suddenly it’s gone.
—Steve Blass to Roger Angell, 1975

It wasn’t a doubleheader per se, but there were two games for the price of one too many in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon. The one that began with a clever double play in the bottom of the third and ended on a less amenable version of the same in the top of the tenth was compelling theater. Unfortunately, that was merely the game within the game, as the bigger picture included everything Oliver Perez and Sean Green threw, most of which completely eluded the strike zone.

A Met was tagged out at home while 13 other Mets were left on base, but ultimately insufficient production seemed a secondary matter in this not-quite twinighter. The Mets’ failure to push across the one extra run that would have forgiven poor control was the stuff of the news crawl (and, to its damnable credit, Jayson Werth’s right arm). The headline has to be Very Bad Ollie and Not So Hot Sean, neither of them giving us any kind of chance to breathe, both of them continuing down an almost uninterrupted path of disaster. They bookended some mighty fine relief work — which in turn allowed a few clutch Met hits to gain relevancy in the course of the narrative — but separately and together they ended any realistic chance the Mets could grab this win.

And the win seemed pretty grabbable, what with Jamie Moyer showing his and my age; Ken Takahashi welcoming himself to the big leagues with a custom-made 1-2-6 DP (FYI, Jerry Manuel thinks his name is Takahishi); Daniel Murphy displaying a stroke Billy Squier could admire; and Ramon Castro emerging from the presumed dead. Alex Cora extracted the utility from futility, demonstrating why all bit players are not created equal. J.J. Putz was J.J. Perfect. There was even a Carlos Delgado sighting. Why, we may have been no more than a silly Omir Santos millimeter from winning this thing in the eighth. He made a nice slide but was cut down by a nice throw and a nice tag.

Yet so much for nice when Ollie Perez is burying you in the first and second and then driving the stake through your heart in the third with four walks, the last of them to Moyer. It’s no longer Good Ollie or Bad Ollie. It’s a made-for-TV remake of The Steve Blass Story every five days now. Steve Blass was a Pirate pitcher of some standing in the early ’70s who lost his way from the mound to the strike zone and found himself out of the business in an eyeblink of evaporated control. In his last full season as a Buc, 1973, he went 3-9 on an ERA of 9.85, walking 84 in 88 innings. You gotta believe he was a prime reason Pittsburgh didn’t nail down a fourth consecutive division title that year (not that we minded).

Ollie’s beginning to look, feel and tabulate eerily Blassily. Saturday’s line: 2-1/3 IP, 6 BB, 5 H, 4 ER, 41 balls vs. 36 strikes. The number you can’t hide from after five starts, four of them dreadful, is Perez’s ERA: 9.97. That’s just about 10 earned runs per game, fueled by a frightening 21 walks in 21.2 innings. No amount of clutch hitting, should it ever come consistently, can cover an almost automatic ten-run deficit.

After the game, all media questions asked, essentially, “Whither Ollie?” A trip to the minors (on which he’d have to sign off)? A stay in the bullpen? Another shot at the Phillies, the team he allegedly pitches well against, this Thursday? Actually, it doesn’t seem possible that he gets his next scheduled start, but five days is a long enough time to tinker with mechanics and mentality, so who knows? In the interim, Ollie withers.

And Sean? To date, Green’s major contribution to the 2009 Mets was throwing inside at Albert Pujols during the afternoon game in St. Louis when Gary, Ron and our inner Wally were crying out for somebody to Do Something. The horse was out of the barn like Mine That Bird that Thursday, but it felt right that someone in a Mets uniform was finally standing up to someone, anyone. Alas, it feels all wrong lately when Sean Green comes in and carries on in the tradition of Met middlemen before him. That tradition, it was thought, was expunged in the offseason. Yet like swine flu, apparently it’s one of those things that never quite leaves the atmosphere.

I’ve always harbored the notion that middle relievers are middle relievers because they’re not good enough to be starters, setup men or closers. That said, some do a very sturdy job. Green has yet to march regularly in that elite corps. An infield hit, such as that collected by Pedro Feliz with one out in the tenth, is just a bad break. But hitting Matt Stairs, then (after retiring the previously invincible Greg Dobbs) walking Chris Coste and human hemorrhoid Shane Victorino…not a bad break. Just more bad pitching from the guy who asked out of wearing No. 48 because he didn’t want to remind Mets fans of Aaron Heilman. I’ve got news for Sean: it wasn’t Aaron’s number that left us in hives. ERAs are not necessarily a leading indicator for relievers, but Green’s 8.76 is close enough to Ollie’s to make those of us sitting and rooting for the Mets squirm in Victorino-like discomfort.

The Mets made a pretty good showing between Ollie and Sean. Too bad only the whole thing counts.

If there’s going to be walking anyway, then walk to the most convenient venue possible and order Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.

Then, by all means, join Jason and me as we ride the Seven Train to Shea with Matt Pignataro, Sunday night at 7; catch a reairing of FAFIF’s closing spot on the current Mets Weekly; and check out this rousing in-depth interview with SportstalkNY if you’re not all plugged out already yet.

13 comments to Bookends on Balls

  • Anonymous

    It's not Steve Blass disease. It's first-year-of-a-big-multiyear-contract-itis.
    Hark! I hear Manny Acta approaching.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    Always wondered if the tragic loss of Roberto Clemente affected Steve Blass so personally as to cause that sudden, unexplainable problem with his control. They were team mates for seven years and I assume very close since he gave an emotional eulogy at a memorial service, a tribute with words similar to the one Lou Gehrig received from his mates in 1939.
    On the other hand, I don't believe emotional difficulties have been affecting Ollie since inconsistancy has been his trademark throughout his career. It just might be that Ollie's problems could be due to a lack of concentration, the inability to harness an explosive fast ball, over-rated talent or a combination of all three.
    But it has little to do with what happened to Steve Blass. Steve was a consistant, dependable pitcher who (prior to 1973) sported double figures in wins for all but one of his major league seasons (and that was due to injury). On the other hand, Perez has only given us glimpses of what he could be.
    It seems that Ollie might just become another major leaguer whose legacy was the inability to nuture his tremendous potential.

  • Anonymous

    Ollie has had more than enough time to 'find' his stuff..I would put him the pen until further notice..Really he's virtually useless to us now. But whats next with the starters?
    Putz was dynamite in two innings..
    Alex Cora has dignified himself nicely.
    It was a tough-if not ritualized loss that will rear itself again in some other Retro-venue..
    Rich P

  • Anonymous

    More than the side stories that need to be worked through..(It's looking more and more like Dan Warthen is out of his element, because he's gotta have at least a little part in Ollie's problems)
    You gotta beat teams that play poorly. The Phillies played poorly. This game was iconic for the last two years though; The Phillies are mediocre, but the Mets handed them success.

  • Anonymous

    Received an e-mail from a reader insisting Santos misread the situation in the eighth and did not break on contact, thus facilitating his throw-out at the plate:
    Santos should have scored standing up to give the Mets a 6-5 lead. I think you should revise your blog to get on Santos and the lack of communication on the Mets, not hail Werth's RF arm.
    I still think it was a good throw, but after watching the 2000 WS highlights on MLBN because of the rainout and apparent disregard for my well-being, I can very much believe a Met didn't run hard.

  • Anonymous

    I've been wishing for Jayson Werth under our Christmas Tree for 3 years now…

  • Anonymous

    Why, so we can call him Werthless?

  • Anonymous

    Now louder, more incessantly and drop the “a” and you'd be close. But I doubt you could ever perfectly mimic The Guy Sitting Behind Me.
    And thank you for that.

  • Anonymous

    From the image I have in my mind, the guy sprays plenty of spit when he shouts, particularly “bullPens'a PigPen”
    Am I correct?

  • Anonymous

    My wife could attest to that. I think it was the lack of article, however, “BULLPEN'S PIG PEN!” that made it so memorable and horrible.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, a certain future hall of fame pitcher is still available to fill this hole in the rotation. Pretty bad form at this point, but it makes me dream.

  • Anonymous

    Jerry must have read my post..What else-at the present time-could you do with Ollie!
    Great win last night..Beltran is locked in.
    Parnell has great heat, but that control concerns me..JJ is kid dyn-o-mite again..I love seeing these young guys all hungry and trying to prove themselves..
    I just love beating the Braves……
    Rich P

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, sometimes it's just a slight abnormal variance that can make all the difference. I was at a game last week, and was driven to lunacy by an otherwise unoffensive guy who kept repeating “C'mon, hit a ball” over and over. Had it been “hit THE ball”, it probably wouldn't have even registered, but every time he said “C'mon, hit a ball”, I died a little more inside. As if there were multiple balls to choose from.