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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 Beautiful Game

It was a canyon of zeroes along the top line of the Citi Field scoreboard these past three nights. Read ’em, per sweep:

000 000 000
000 000 000
000 000 000

That’s what your defending National League champion Phillies left behind, thank you very much. More to the point, that’s what your homestanding New York Mets gave them.

Twenty-seven goose eggs — the perfect gift for the team that has everything. Or maybe used to.

The Phillies have been an outsized nightmare almost every day of our existence since late August of 2007. Prior to this week, we had actually beaten them some seemingly important games, including 11 of 18 in 2008 when we worked all year to put the year before it behind us. Those wins no doubt served their temporary purpose, yet it was the losses to Philadelphia that defined our relationship to our newest blood rivals. Obviously the four defeats at Citizens Bank Park that presaged The Collapse of ’07 and the three at Shea Stadium that kicked it off in earnest stand out most glaringly, but the single Mets-Phillies encounter that I think probably hurt us most in terms of timing and tonesetting was the Friday night in September 2008 that ended, just as Thursday night at Citi Field did, with a score of 3-0.

That night was about as unspecial as it got. And it shouldn’t have been. That night should have crackled with tension. We held a three-game lead over the Phillies with 22 remaining. We had Mike Pelfrey going for us against Brett Myers. It was our first game at home after a 6-2 road trip that took us through Philly (1-1), Miami (2-1) and Milwaukee (3-0). Shea should have been crackling or roaring or something. Instead, it was flat, just like the Mets. The Phillies scratched out a first-inning run (single, steal, errant throw, groundout), allowing Myers to nurse a 1-0 lead through six. In the seventh, Pelfrey, who had stymied the Phillies after that first run, gave up a two-out, two-run fence-scraper to Greg Dobbs.

And that was the game, 3-0. The Mets stirred in the ninth — a Wright double, a Delgado single — but Brad Lidge retired Carlos Beltran and Ryan Church on fly balls that landed in gloves and the Phillies were winners. It was a tight game, and the Mets were still in first, but the ultimate outcome of that season felt predestined. Over the last 22 games of 2008, the Mets went 10-12, the Phillies 16-6.

Like I said, the Phillies were winners. In any one game and, for that matter, any one division (Wild Card considerations notwithstanding), there can only be one winner, which left the Mets to be something else that year…same as the year before…same as the year after.

Now it’s a different year. It would be a bit hasty, unconscionably premature and overwhelmingly presumptuous to declare in the giddy aftermath of what Gary Cohen instantly dubbed The Goose Egg Sweep that it is a different era altogether, that it is the Mets’ time to be winners and the Phillies’ time to be something else. We shall see what the balance of 2010 holds in store for us, for them and, within the realm of an N.L. East in which all teams are presently all right, for the rest of the division.

But I gotta tell ya: The Phillies didn’t look champs of anything in this series. By the ninth inning of its third game, their dugout was filled by haunted faces, as if each of them had just come back from the morgue to identify each other. They looked dead and they knew it. Even for a Mets-Phillies game that felt more like September than that Mets-Phillies September game from two years ago, we must remind ourselves it’s only May, and that a three-time divisional champ that holds a 1½-game lead with four-plus months to go isn’t exactly what you’d call down for the count.

Yet the Mets…they look pretty good. They may not have looked this good since another September 2008 affair, that bittersweet final win at Shea over the Marlins authored almost solely by Johan Santana. This wasn’t exactly that, but this was, for late May, incredibly special, maybe beautiful. It was also a dandy group effort.

Mike Pelfrey was obviously the instigator, a pitcher so matured that he seems to be a different person from even his alleged breakout year of 2008. On radio and TV, it was noted the change in the rule that dictates when, where and how a pitcher can go to his mouth — which sounds vaguely pornographic — might have something to do with his relaxation and the results that have followed. If that’s the case, then get Big Pelf a bucket of KFC, because he was finger-lickin’ good Thursday night. Not spotless (not with five walks), but totally poised. Like Myers two Septembers ago, Pelf was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first and wasn’t bolstered further until the seventh.

Didn’t matter to the Phillies’ starter on September 5, 2008, and it didn’t much matter to Pelfrey on May 27, 2010. He put a runner on in every inning from the second to the sixth, and it was almost of no consequence. Maybe it wasn’t predestined, but Pelf threw five ground balls to end those five innings, the middle three of them for double plays. That’s using your noggin and your fielders, something I never believed Mike Pelfrey could do on a consistent basis. That’s also the group effort at its dandiest.

5-4-3. 4-6-3. 1-6-3. Three innings. Six outs. Everybody where they were supposed to be, everybody playing a part. The pitches were made. The throws, like Henry Blanco’s to nail Raul Ibañez, were made. The catches, like Angel Pagan’s perfectly timed dive and grab off Carlos Ruiz, were made. The adjustments, like Pagan sliding feet-first at second to steal successfully two innings after his head-first slide led him to an out, were made. Little things that impressed the hell out of me happened: such as Jeff Francoeur playing Shane Victorino’s sinking liner perfectly so Wilson Valdez couldn’t score from second in the second; such as Francoeur questioning Andy Fletcher’s strike three call in the bottom of the eighth, but knowing when to quit questioning so he would be able to go out to right for the top of the ninth and be the right man in the right place to track down a deep line drive from Chase Utley; such as Fernando Tatis running every step of the way to first so that Placido Polanco’s bobble would not go for naught. One batter later, Jose Reyes was doubling him and Blanco home. Reyes himself had been doubled home in the first by Jason Bay and spent most of the evening along some segment of the basepaths.

Even the one thing that I thought was going to blow up this beautiful game, Jerry Manuel’s ritualistic removal of Pedro Feliciano in favor of the paycheck of Frankie Rodriguez in the ninth — even though the first two Phillies due up were who Feliciano lives for getting out — didn’t go against us. At the end of the evening, with Utley, then Howard, then Werth going down, it was comforting to be reminded that Frankie, his touch of Benitez notwithstanding, is actually a pretty effective closer.

It wouldn’t be fair to say the Phillies were no problem to the Mets for the last three nights. It would be more accurate to say they were a challenge the Mets accepted and handled with aplomb. The Mets were breathtaking in their efficiency, actually. The Mets just played 27 innings, scored 16 runs, allowed none and committed no errors. They didn’t exactly kick the Phillies’ ass; it’s more like they tidily swept it to the curb.

That works well, too.

After the Yankee series, I had a grand time referring to us as the Kings of New York. After the first win of this series, I was dying to declare us the Kings of the Northeast. Now that it’s five in a row over two defending league champs, I don’t think I’ll do that. That’s the stuff you do in May when you have nothing else to look forward to. I look forward to Milwaukee. I look forward to the Mets.

***

Somebody please get Gary Cohen a Met no-hitter to call. All that was at stake tonight, besides the bottom-line result, was a third consecutive shutout. Of course it’s significant and symbolic and, with the tidbit that the Mets hadn’t done it in the same series (against the Phillies, no less) since 1969, historic, but all that truly mattered was a win. Didn’t matter if it was 3-0 or 3-1 or 3-2. Yet Gary amped me up exponentially for that 27th zero, investing it with the kind of reverence Vin Scully lent Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game — right up to including the time of night that the Goose Egg Sweep went final. At seven minutes to midnight, Gary tingled my spine every bit as much as K-Rod’s strikeout of Werth did.

SNY offered wonderful production all night (save for not being able to show us Jose’s two-RBI double landing fair), but geez, I wish they would stop doing things just because they can. The tosses to Chris Carlin are brutal. Chris Carlin is brutal. The only upside of a Met loss is the unlikelihood that I’ll stay riveted to the postgame show that he hosts and infects with his relentlessly sour disposition. But he’s not the worst part of the SNY ephemera. The worst is when they direct our attention away from the game and to Kevin Burkhardt at the wrong time of night. Kevin is a fine reporter and a generally welcome presence in these telecasts (his early-inning tour of the realigned bullpens represented value-added substance), but I wish they’d deploy him more judiciously. I as a viewer do not need to see and hear him interviewing the departed starting pitcher while the game is still in progress — not if the game is still very much up for grabs. I can wait until the postgame show to hear Mike Pelfrey’s aw-shucksiness. The more interviews they have during the postgame show, the less Chris Carlin there is. But with Feliciano pitching to Wilson Valdez and Ben Francisco in the eighth, I want Gary and his analyst buddies commenting on the action. I don’t need gee-whiz drop-ins. I don’t need SNY to prove it can get an interview with a player during a game. The novelty of that feature is long worn-off.

Why throw it to Kevin Burkhardt at that moment? I couldn’t say for sure, but I noticed his spot is sponsored as a “Business of Baseball” segment. Yes, I guess the business of baseball is to intrude on the live action with bells and whistles so long as somebody’s paying for it.

Dear SNY: Less business, more sports, particularly when the sports you’re telecasting are this exhilarating. No need for you to step on your own storylines. Thanks.

25 comments to The Beautiful Game

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Greg Prince. Greg Prince said: When the Phillies lay 27 goose eggs at Citi Field, it's a beautiful night for the #Mets. http://wp.me/pKvXu-1tx […]

  • Andee

    Too bad you don’t get to watch on MLB.com like I do. We don’t see the cutaways to Carlin or most of the ones to Burkhardt, either. (Possibly MLB.com considers the cutaways to be advertisements and that’s why they’re blocked.) And you know what’s really rad about MLB.com? Condensed games with no announcer noise at all. Just key plays and crowd sounds, the way you’d see and hear them in the ballpark, with the boring and annoying parts cut out. Bliss.

    Yeah, when there IS a Mets no-no, it had better be Gary Cohen who gets to make that final call, not Joe Buck or Jon Miller or any of the other network tools ‘n’ fools who have either seen better days or are as tooly-fooly as they’ve always been.

    I tuned in with three innings to go, and I could barely breathe the whole time. I kept thinking, the Phillies are going to erupt any minute now, they’re going to score 87 runs and it will be terrible…but like you said, they sure didn’t look like a team that was capable of that kind of outburst. I mean, obviously they’re not this bad, but they did seem rather…undead. Do they miss Rollins that much? If so, maybe their fans can put a sock in it about all our injuries last year. Today, I dare dream. Yessss.

    • Guy Kipp

      The Phillies, without Rollins, facing the Mets with vintage Jose Reyes, look a lot like the Mets did without Jose Reyes, facing the Phillies with a healthy Jimmy Rollins.

    • Matt from Sunnyside

      Miller: A no hitter! How many is that for the Mets Joe?

      Morgan: This is their first, and what is interesting about no hitters is that most teams have had a few, but the Mets have never had one.

      Miller: And there you have it! A no … hitter. Saved by the diving glove of Leweis Casteeeyo. The first …. for the Mets.

  • James Allen

    Re: Chris Carlin

    It’s even worse for me, being a Rutgers alum I have to be subjected to this doofus on the radio. They fired the great Bruce Johnson for this asshole? Who in sports media thinks this guy is so good that he has to have 15 jobs?

  • dmg

    jumping on the bash-carlin bus: i don’t understand his sny/fan ubiquity, unless he works for free, or on a discount (give me three gigs, get the fourth one free). he’s becoming the mets’ jon sterling, and that’s saying something distinctly unkind.

    and yet, he’s irrelevant, especially now. this is a great time to be a mets fan. it’s just fun to anticipate the games again, tune in that evening, savor the post-game. remember how you’d look forward to every at-bat by reyes? that’s happening again. the lineup looks more solid by the day, the rotation and bullpen have something going on, the defense, dare i say it, looks crisp.

    is this latest run just another stretch of false hope? if it is, it’s also proof that a false hope is better than no hope at all.

  • Black Country Met

    Wow!! Is this season a rollercoaster or what? We’re either moping and down in the dumps or bouncing and happy as Larry(NOT Chipper!!) Superb performances over the last week, I’ve always felt the Pelf Meister(as us Black Country Mets fans call him) COULD be this good and Tak is proving a great addition. 5 wins over 2 of our most bitter foes is just great. However, in this uncertain season, 1 thing IS certain….more lows BUT hopefully…much more highs ;-)

  • oogieball

    My name is oogieball, and I am in serious danger of believing.

  • Dak442

    Maybe Rollins takes most of the season to get back, and Ibanez continues to show his age, Polanco doesn’t quite get the hang of a new position, the non-Roy rotation remains ordinary and the closer disabled. Why should WE get all the bad luck every year?

    Apropos-of-nothing: SNY had a postgame shot of the guys all coming in from the dugout, making their way up a hallway towards (presumably) the locker room/clubhouse. At the end of the hallway, each player handed his hat to a clubby, or threw it into the bin in front of him. I don’t recall ever seeing that before. Any idea what that was all about? Do they turn in their hats every night and get a fresh one next game? Did the Mets buy a bunch of those hat-shaped cages from Harriet Carter that allow you to clean your baseball hats in the washing machine?

    • That bit with the caps was fascinating. I have no idea if that’s standard stuff or what. Those are the production values that have made SNY famous (and worthwhile).

      • Ness

        I am so glad I’m not the only one who was completely fascinated by the players handing in their caps! Didn’t Keith Hernandez say in “If At First” that he only goes through 2 caps in a whole season?

    • cropseymonster

      Maybe they gathered up the blue caps in order to store them while the commemorative Memorial Day caps are put in play for the weekend series

    • vertigone

      Did anyone notice that instead of handing it to the clubhouse guy, or merely dropping it in, Johan chucked his hat into the container swiftly, and deftly, from a few away with absolute precision? A true master of life, that Johan.

  • oogieball

    Here’s another bit of trivia to ponder: what’s the latest in a season that an entire division has been above .500?

    • Guy Kipp

      In 2005, the entire NL East was .500 or above at the end of the season. Washington finished last with an 81-81 record.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Count me in as another one against those “Business of Baseball” interviews with the starter on his way to the clubhouse. Not only is it distracting, but I’m so afraid it eventually turn against us into bad luck. Also, imagine the starter being interviewed as the reliever is in the process of blowing his win!

    Changed my mind about Citi Field dimensions – keep those fences back! Despite their 27 consecutive goose eggs, Citi Field provided me an extra security blanket against a late inning Philadelphia home run. The Mets are now taking advantage of their home park and leveling off their swings so not to waste at bats with high and deep fly balls. Their pitchers are letting opponents do that instead (which Phillie flied out to the left field warning track with Gary Cohen noting it would have gone into the 15h row at Citizen’s Bank Park?).

    Note that doesn’t change my mind about the way Citi Field was designed. A friend at the office was at the game last night and sat in field level behind the third base dugout (lucky her). However, she couldn’t see Jose’s seventh inning fly landing fair in the corner for a double – neither could anyone else between home, along third or in left. It was also blocked from the view for us watching SNY. Eliminate some seats in each of the corners and that problem is resolved without changing the dimensions. It will also make it much safer for the outfielders running hard toward the line. But then, that would reduce the daily revenue and while the fans, players, coaches and most everyone else in the organization wouldn’t mind, the Wilpons would.

  • When you look at all those 0’s together… wow. Add on the last 2 games of the Red Sox series and it’s just truly remarkable.

    And how about that JUST-foul bomb from Jason Bay?! Is that the first ball to reach the Acela Club during a game?

    • I wanted it to go fair like anybody would, but it’s almost as if Bay homering after Reyes’s double would have made this too easy. I wanted it to be a bit easier, but when it didn’t go fair, I figured it figured — y’know?

      Forgot to mention in the post how impressive Ike Davis was in making adjustments in the seventh, when Bastardo, a lefty, threw him the 3-2 pitch away and Ike didn’t bite. He didn’t look great against Cole Hamels, but he learned as the game went along. He keeps doing that.

      I also love that he’s not shy at all to engage the veterans. After Pagan was tagged out at second, Ike came over to him on the bench. I don’t know what he said, but it was a very veteran-appearing move. If it were Gary Matthews, Jr., I’d be thinking that’s the least he could do (and that it’s a sorry excuse for keeping him around). It was Ike Davis. There’s more he can do, and I believe he will.

  • March'62

    Up until recently Jason Bay was only the answer to the question: How do you say BJason in Pig Latin. But now he is really earning his keep both at bat and in the field. All of a sudden, this Mets team has speed and defense and pitching. Who woulda thunk it? And why not us? Now we just have to convince the rest of the league to move their fences back and let the Mets bat last and maybe there will be a road winning streak in the offing.

    As for the Phillies, word has it they believe the Mets pitchers were stealing the third base coach’s signs. How else to explain the shutouts?

  • cropseymonster

    Had comped seats 10 rows back of Mets dugout last night . . . awesome night, with crowd serenading Werth with hilarious chant of “Werth-less, Werth-less” which grew louder with each pitch in each at bat made even better by his night of futility (5 outs in 4 AB’s; DP and 3K’s) capped off by his K to end the game

  • Lenny65

    That Friday night game vs. Philly in 2008 was my final ever visit to Shea. Oh how I wanted to go out on a winning note. I haven’t attended a Met victory since (wait for it) July 1995, so I was due. I believe it was July 17th, it was vs. Philly, JR Phillips dropped an easy fly ball leading to the run that made the difference. Since that game I’m oh-for-13.

  • CharlieH

    I’m starting to believe.

    This season has a distinct ’05 vibe to it right now: we all “know” it’ll end up with the Mets out of the money, but it should be a supremely fun ride, and of course…ya nevah know…

  • Wheaties54321

    Months from now, with the Mets fighting tooth and nail for the NL East, maybe we will look back to Jerry Manuel’s hasty first inning removal of John Maine as the turning point in an unexpectedly joyous Mets season.

    I think the important thing to take note of is how THE METS are playing. It’s excellent to see the team playing crisp, mistake-free, agreessive, clutch, winning baseball. The Phillies are going to wake up eventually, but the team we root for is playing a much-improved brand of ball in 2010. Even when they stumbled in Florida, I didn’t get the feeling the sloppy, losing play was emblamatic of who this team was. The losing play in that series was more of a case of un-clutch hitting and very poor and ill-fated pitching performances dooming the team.

    Jerry’s done a pretty good job here, folks. Consider that the Mets record in games NOT STARTED by Oliver Perez or John Maine (by my count) is now 21-12. The Mets need to say “sayanora” to those losing players.