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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 Short, Unhappy Life of Middle Relievers (and Others)

Mike Pelfrey’s ERA is 15.63. He’ll get another start tomorrow. And another one four days after that. And so on for a reasonable distance into the future.

Blaine Boyer’s ERA is 10.80. He threw 119 pitches this year. His Mets career is presumably over: He was designated for assignment after yesterday’s debacle, a 3-2 Mets lead turned into a 7-3 Nationals win.

This isn’t exactly a cosmic injustice: Boyer was ghastly today and not much better earlier this year. But every player on every big-league roster is going to be ghastly for the majority of a five-game stretch sometime this year. If you’re an established player, it means you’ll have to face a wall of microphones, offer penitent platitudes, and talk of making adjustments, which really means futz with little things while waiting for a regression back to the mean. But if you’re a fringe guy — a middle reliever, a pinch-hitter, a fourth outfielder, a fill-in starter, a backup catcher — a bad stretch instead of a good first impression means you’ll be hitting the bricks before you can say “Frank Catalanotto.” Was Catalanotto really hopeless, or did he just fail too often before his first equally lopsided run of success? Go back in Mets history and you could ask the same question dozens and dozens of times, from Jon Switzer to Jon Nunnally. If R.A. Dickey had taken the mound for his first Mets start in frozen conditions that left him with no feel for his knuckleball, he could easily be a fitfully recalled funny name instead of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

I won’t particularly miss Boyer, particularly since his departure means the arrival of prodigal pitching son Jason Isringhausen. Nor am I surprised: There’s always a middle reliever (or two or three) who’s somewhere else before you put the winter jacket away for good, with his cause of death ill-timed ineffectiveness. And hey, fringe guys know this — it’s part of the job description, unfairness and all. Screw up and the next look will be at another guy. But when the 2011 Holy Books are assembled and Boyer gets his snarky/pithy summation, I’ll try to remember that while it would be certainly accurate to write something like “ginger-bearded ex-Brave sucked, disappeared,” it would be a lot more fair to write something like “ginger-bearded ex-Brave sucked at the wrong time, disappeared before getting a chance to not suck.”

* * *

As for the rest of yesterday’s unhappy affair, we should all give praise to Chris Young, the hulking, good-humored-looking pitcher who certainly deserved a second Mets win for maneuvering National after National into sending balls airborne on short, harmless arcs. (It was particularly fun to watch Jayson Werth stomp away from the plate with a sour look on his face.) In the early going it sure seemed like Young would wind up smiling and trading high fives (medium fives in his case) with his teammates. While obviously taking his craft very seriously, Young somehow always looks like a man who’s thinking of something amusing and about to betray himself by twitching the corners of his lips; that’s quite a contrast to Jason Marquis, who pitches as if he’s being shuttled between identical lines at the DMV, stalking around and muttering to himself. But Marquis hung in there, the Mets stopped hitting, and then the bullpen … did that.

Over the life of this blog there have been a number of run-ins about booing the Mets. When is it acceptable, assuming it ever is? What’s the threshold for booing? Can you boo by proxy? Are there physical errors so hideous or ill-timed that you can boo them, or should it be reserved for mental mistakes? And so on.

I’ve always felt that booing is acceptable for painfully boneheaded or lazy play, for a string of failures so metronomic that the mere sight of a player sucks the life out of the crowd, or for when a player is so consistently misused that booing him is obviously aimed at the stubborn GM or owner who’s refusing to do what everybody knows has to be done. I suppose it’s also acceptable when you’re so upset that not booing might cause you to turn around and claw the face off the drunk guy behind you who’s been loudly broadcasting his idiocy since the top of the third. But whatever the case, booing is the fan’s tactical nuke, to be used only in battlefield conditions when peril seems existential.

Which means if you’re booing, you damn well better know your baseball enough to justify it. Which is where I part company with a good chunk of today’s Citi Field crowd, who sent D. J. Carrasco dugout-bound with plenty of ill tidings. Yes, Carrasco let in two runs and turned Young’s W into an ND. But how did that happen? You’ll never know by looking at the play by play; if you were watching the actual goddamn game in front of you, on the other hand, you have no such excuse.

Ivan Rodriguez led off the top of the seventh with a drive to right field that a natural right fielder would have caught on a loping run; unfortunately, Lucas Duda isn’t a natural right fielder, so a bad route and Duda’s plodding strides let Pudge’s ball go over his glove for a double. Carrasco got eventual villain Laynce Nix to fly out, walked Matt Stairs (not a horrible outcome under the circumstances), then watched helplessly as Ian Desmond dropped a meek but perfectly placed pop-up between Brad Emaus and Angel Pagan. After Desmond stole second, Rick Ankiel grounded to second, with the fielder’s choice bringing in the tying run and sending out Terry Collins. BOO, said too many of the fans, ignoring the fact that if not for a misplay and some ill luck, Ankiel’s grounder would have been the fourth out.

In a situation like that, boo physics, fate or God if you like; unless you loathe high socks to an unhealthy degree, booing Carrasco was just stupid.

On the other hand, those of you who chose to boo Blaine Boyer an hour or so later probably didn’t notice my objections, quiet and perfunctory as they were.

7 comments to The Short, Unhappy Life of Middle Relievers (and Others)

  • Andee

    All hail the Flammable Five! Boy, when I said this year felt like 1997, I guess I forgot to add, “And all the relievers taking Toby Borland lessons early in the season.” Picking your bullpen out of spring training performances, you’d be better off pulling names out of a hat. I remember in 1997 thinking the relievers looked great in the spring and the starters sucked; as soon as the bell rang (and after Pete Harnisch got his opening-day suckfest out of the way), the reverse turned out to be true.

  • Rory

    Can someone please sit Mr. Young down and explain that his choice of warm-up music causes a strong viseral and negative reaction – side effects include vivid flashbacks to a clear September Sunday where a certain pitcher started off the game with that music and then promptly allowed 7 runners to score in the first inning?

  • Lenny65

    The bullpen looks….uh, “raggedy”, let’s say. Hopefully, as the season shakes out, someone (anyone?) will end up emerging as a legit option/inning-eater. Don’t be too tough on the “boo-ers” out there, recent Met bullpens have left the fan base a little (or very) shell-shocked where relief pitchers are concerned. What we need right now is to have Pelfrey go out there and deliver a nice solid 7 innings of work and get himself back on track.

  • March'62

    Why is everyone focusing on the bullpen? 17 strikeouts against the Nats’ pitching staff? Really? C’mon, a few timely hits and Boyer can implode all he wants but the game is still in the win column. I was half expecting/loathing the Mets to score a couple of runs in the bottom of the 11th but fall short with the tying run on 2nd. What is it with these guys when there’s RISP? Maybe we should ask Cole Hamels?

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