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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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Don't Think, It Can Only Hurt the Ballclub

So perhaps I’ve been unfair, and the Mets had a Plan B for their starting pitching all along: “If, somehow, John Maine’s chronic injuries don’t disappear and Oliver Perez doesn’t stop pitching like Oliver Perez, we’ll just substitute a knuckleballer who’s a dead ringer for the Cowardly Lion and a 35-year-old who had a good but not great career in Japan. OK, we’re done here — wait, Beltran did WHAT?”

At least for 48 hours, Plan B has gone swimmingly.

I first really appreciated Hisanori Takahashi watching him battle Javier Vazquez to a standstill: He’s a done-with-mirrors location/finesse type, which doesn’t give you enormous hope for the future — every discussion of those guys begins with Greg Maddux with a local detour to Rick Reed, but ignores how few of those guys get Greg Maddux/Rick Reed results. Still, guys in that mode are enormous fun to watch when they’re on and showing you how pitching is supposed to be done — changing speeds here, putting the ball there, and either being one step ahead of the guy with the stick or having been so consistent about being one step ahead of the guy with the stick that he guesses what’s coming but still can’t hit it solidly. I wonder how long that double hesitation in Takahashi’s delivery — the tiny pause at the top of the windup and the freeze frame with one leg high — will keep scrambling hitters’ timing, but even when it becomes familiar he’ll know what he’s doing out there. I wonder if Oliver Perez has ever been able to say that.

Unintentional bringdown note from ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin: “Takahashi became the first Mets pitcher since Grover Powell in 1963 to allow no runs in either of his first two major league starts.” Who was Grover Powell? Not someone whose career path Takahashi would be advised to emulate. Powell was a Penn econ major who got thrown off the baseball team, agreed to sign with the Mets for $8,000, saw his bonus cut to $2,500 and signed anyway. (Wonder if they covered that at Wharton.) He was called up in 1963, beat the Phillies in his first start (wearing No. 41) and had logged four scoreless innings in his second when Donn Clendenon smashed a line drive off his cheek. He retired shy of 50 innings pitched and that first win was his last. In 1985 Powell drove to the hospital after his son was in a near-fatal crash, wound up seeing a doctor himself, was diagnosed with leukemia and died the same year. His tombstone bears an image of his baseball card — the only one he ever had.

But for now, let’s not worry about what might befall Hisanori Takahashi in 2032. In fact, let’s not worry at all. I’ve done plenty of that about the 2010 Mets, just as I’ve done a bit of pinching myself and thinking they’ll turn out just fine despite their various flaws. Either way, every time I find that I’m a lagging indicator: The Mets have either looked unbeatable or hapless, which is one way to be average but puts a lot more mileage on stressed-out fans than repeatedly winning one and losing one. Is the current run of good starting pitching a fluke, or guys who figured out how to pitch getting a chance to prove it? Are the statistical cylinders lining up favorably at the moment, or has Jason Bay relaxed and Jose Reyes returned and Angel Pagan matured — which might give David Wright the peace of mind to ease up on himself? Have the Mets caught the Phils and Yanks in a lull, or found a formula that should work for a while? Who knows. Tell me when to tune in and I’ll hope for the best.

And maybe I’ll even see some of it. Last night I put Joshua to bed with my eyelids already trying to stay above half-mast and trudged upstairs to the couch. I fell in and out of dozing, but sat bolt upright when I saw it was the sixth and the Phils had runners on first and third with one out and Ryan Howard at the plate. Takahashi sliced away at the strike zone and erased Howard on an evil low-and-away changeup. I sank back into the couch, but struggled up to one elbow as Jayson Werth and his ridiculous facial hair arrived. Werth promptly hit Takahashi’s first pitch to the moon, but he was too early, so more accurate to say his drive went harmlessly left of the moon. Takahashi, chastened, went back to work, got Werth to hit a harmless fly to Jeff Francoeur, and I let my eyes close. It was only 2-0, but something told me it would be OK, and it was.

17 comments to Don’t Think, It Can Only Hurt the Ballclub

  • The Jestaplero!

    We just won four straight from the reigning baseball champs. Hopefully this will embolden Jeffie and Freddy to go and get Roy or Cliff and make a run for it.

  • Kiner's Coroner

    Obviously, the way to beat the Phils is to throw knuckleballers (e.g., Wakefield, Dickey) and Japanese imports (e.g., Dice-K, Takahashi). As for the Mets, I just wish they could find a way to play even mediocre baseball on the road.

  • Even if Takahashi’s cup of coffee is shallower than we hope, I’m comfortable in declaring him the best Takahashi the Mets ever sent to the mound to replace Oliver Perez.

    Sorry, Ken.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    What I like most about Takahashi is that he throws strikes and unlike Maine and Perez, won’t help opposing teams beat him. Whether or not the league catches up to him and his delivery remains to be seen. But it’s refreshing never-the-less not to give up when the count goes 3-0.

    After being called up, the Mets gave Grover Powell a full page spread in the millionth or so edition of their “final” revised yearbook for 1963. Now don’t take that too seriously for when they came over from St. Louis, both the not-so-mighty Duke Carmel and not-so-quite reliever extrordinaire Ed Bauta received the same full page treatment. Only Ed Kranepool (who signed for 34 times more money than Powell eventually did) and Don Rowe were regulated to a half-page (and in an earlier edition, Ed also had a full page devoted all to himself).

    Haven’t seen the 2010 yearbook yet, but if Takahashi got less of a spread than Grover Powell did, take heart that it’s not an indication of what the Mets deem his value to be.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Jason Fry. Jason Fry said: Don't think, it can only hurt the ballclub. Plus: Hisanori, don't be Grover. Faith and Fear in Flushing. […]

  • Last night I was lamenting that we don’t play in the 1987 AL West–but then I looked at the Phillies battery of Figgy and Schneider in the 8th and said, “if they’re using THAT battery, they’re no lock to win this division.”

    Will the Phillies take the East with 90+ wins? Probably.

    Is it also possible that they’re one major injury away from an 85-win finish? Perhaps. Could the Mets end the season on top with a win total in the high-80’s? It’s not impossible.

    But god knows I’m not ready to have another single-digit lead on the Phillies come September.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Takahashi reminds me of Mark Bomback, another good-control slowballer who started off like gangbusters in the first part 1980 until the league caught up with him. Unfortunately, I think the same thing will happen to Takahashi, just not enough stuff there once the hitters catch on to the pauses.

    • Guy Kipp

      The fact that Takahashi is lefty with a deceptive motion alone makes him more unique and someone with a greater upside than Mark Bomback, who was just an ordinary righty with ordinary stuff and, for a little while, extraordinarily lucky run support.
      I don’t ever remember Bomback throwing six shutout innings in consecutive starts–let alone doing it against two of the best offenses in MLB.

      • Guy Kipp

        Actually, I checked, and Bomback actually shut out the (eventual) World Champion Phillies early in the 1980 season. But I still believe Takahashi has more upside based on his K/BB ratio. Bomback had very poor strikeout rates and allowed 190 hits in 160 innings.

    • Kiner's Coroner

      Mark Bomback gave up the home run to Leon Durham that cleared the home bullpen at Shea, and smashed the windshield of Jose Cardenal’s car. The Mets released Cardenal a few weeks later. Talk about adding insult to injury!

  • Joe D.

    Some comparisions between the NL champs and the team that last year could only muster up 70 wins.

    ERA: Mets 3.70, Philly 3.84
    Runs allowed per game: Mets 3.97, Phillies 4.15
    Runs scored per game: Phillies 5.04, Mets 4.46
    Differential allowed/scored runs: Phillies +.89, Mets +.49

    Differential between teams: Phillies +.40 runs scored per game than given up. Considering their explosive batting order and amount of blow-outs, the competitive gap is closer than that half-run per game appears.

  • When you have a primarily offensive team (and the Phillies fit that in both ways) and youre offense slumps, because all offenses slump, you look flat and lose games. This is why the Phillies will not reach their 93 win total of last year in a stronger division. It’s why they won’t run away with anything. It’s why the Mets have plenty of opportunity to win this.

    Let’s really get this thing going. We generally own Hamels, he’s a head case, we’ve got Pelfrey going. Hamels numbers do suggest that it’s a fair amount of luck and small-sample that he’s doing this well. Let’s expose him, and show the league the Phillies have 1 pitcher and are very, very beatable. Take away the fear factor, and punish them. Maybe they’ll revert into the mediocre team they had been, and would’ve probably remained, had the Mets gotten a call or a bloop or just one more win in 2007.

  • CharlieH

    Here’s a possibly apocryphal story, courtesy of Maury Allen’s 1969 cash-in book, The Incredible Mets about Powell’s shutout.

    After the game Casey Stengel hid himself amid the gaggle of reporters, grabbed 1 scribe’s hat and borrowed his notebook and asked Grover — in his inimitable and un-diguisable Casey-voice — “Was you born in Poland?”

    And for the next several years, anytime a phenom flamed out, the inevitable question was “Was you born in Poland?”

  • dmg

    takahashi gave notice when he pitched a couple innings in the 20-inning game against the cards and held serve, especially when he had runners on second and third and no outs and got out of the inning.

    i like to think that’s when he sort of earned his spurs with the rest of the team, or at least the pitching staff. you started seeing his number being called more after that.

  • […] coming in a universal sense, but their shutouts over the Phillies on the last homestand, 8-0 and 5-0, respectively, felt pretty much in the bag all the way (dude). Though the final score was close — […]