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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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Frank You Very Much for Coming

“He slept, he stole, he was rude to the customers. Still, there goes the best damned employee a convenience store ever had.”
—Apu, on Homer, “Lisa’s Pony”

I doubt there’ll ever be much nostalgia for the Francisco Rodriguez era of New York Mets baseball, an epoch officially declared over in the minutes following the National League’s second consecutive All-Star victory in Phoenix. Rodriguez and his harrowing vesting option are on their way to Miller Park, transferred from Queens along with a reported $5 million in exchange for two Milwaukee Brewer minor leaguers to be named eventually. Not as excellent a way to end an era as the third out of a ninth inning of a fourth win of a World Series would have been, but definitely classier than locking the guy in the clubhouse after he finished his 54th game of the year in the middle of September.

Our closer of 2009-2011 recorded 83 saves as a New York Met. Can anyone describe any three of them in any kind of detail? Not the games he blew or let get tied, but big Mets wins preserved by the dominant and/or courageous pitching of Frankie Rodriguez, possessor of the seventh-most saves in Mets history?

As Dwight Eisenhower told a reporter in 1960 who wanted to know what “major idea” his vice president, Richard Nixon, contributed during his administration, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.”

Granted, I can recall a save here and a circumstance there, but not that many and few that were compelling, considering there were 83 of them and they all took place within the past three seasons. Part of that is a function of the times we live in. Met times haven’t offered compelling competitive circumstances since K-Rod arrived, and even though Met times have become better times of late, they didn’t exactly rise to the baseball version of crucial as the Francisco Rodriguez era drew to a close.

The irony here is Francisco Rodriguez was signed to close New York Mets games because that’s what the Mets perceived they needed more than anything else in the aftermath of 2008: someone to slam the door that was left disturbingly ajar down the stretch in the absence of Billy Wagner and throughout the August and September presence of Luis Ayala, Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, Brian Stokes, Joe Smith, Duaner Sanchez, Eddie Kunz for five minutes, Ricardo Rincon for five seconds and Pedro Feliciano before he became lovably perpetual. Those names give you chills and not the good kind, don’t they? Plus, it’s not like Billy Wagner was a serenely calming presence before he went out, either.

So in came K-Rod, he of the more saves than any closer compiled in any one season ever. And in came J.J. Putz, a closer in his own right, to smooth the access road to K-Rod. And, oh yes, Sean Green, with the live right arm and no culpability for what went wrong in 2008. He came in, too.

None of them is here any longer, you might have noticed. Green was atrocious, Putz was mostly injured, and K-Rod…well, we’ll get back to him before letting him go in a moment, but the fellas brought into renovate the bullpen had a fairly benign impact on the overall fortunes of the post-2008 Mets. There were nights when the late innings blew up, and those occasions surely added to the sense that the Mets couldn’t do anything right. But that was the thing: the Mets of 2009 and much of 2010 and the earliest stages of 2011 really couldn’t do anything right. It was a team effort. Now and again you could blame your relievers (their mistakes do tend to stand out), but it didn’t seem like the Mets were doing everything right except for pitching near the end of a given game.

That may not have been immediately discernible in advance of the great Met implosion of 2009, but I think we learned that the Mets were probably destined to head downhill as a unit, and not just because they lacked a dependable closer and set-up crew in August and September of 2008.

Of course, you do have to win the games that are there for the winning, even if all they’re determining is fourth place, and from that perspective, I thought Frankie Rodriguez did OK by the Mets. His disasters were, naturally, disastrous, but no worse and no more pervasive than any of his predecessors from the previous two decades. John Franco, Armando Benitez, Braden Looper and Billy Wagner all gave away games in cringeworthy fashion. They didn’t do it as often as memory insists (which is to say almost always), but when they did, it was horrible. When K-Rod did, it was horrible, too, and a little showy, not to mention scarily inefficient the way he fell off the mound and practically into Little Neck after just about every pitch…but it wasn’t worse. I’d dare say he was the best, most consistent, least nerve-wracking closer we had around here since Randy Myers.

That’s not to say he was fantastic. He wasn’t. Or that he couldn’t be erratic. He could be. Or that blood pressure medication claims didn’t spike at insurance companies all over the Metropolitan Area when “Sandungueoso” played. They did. Yet for one big Met ninth inning, I think I’d take him over Franco, Benitez, Looper or Wagner. It’s just a shame he didn’t have too many big ninth innings to test such confidence.

As for the elephant in the bullpen, the one who had to be led away in handcuffs by the cops last August, enter a plea and undergo anger-management, that’s hard to forget, though most of us managed to exile it from our minds when three outs needed to be nailed down this year. As sports fans, we make those types of deals all the time, probably, yet don’t know it. I’m sure I’ve rooted hard for real jerks over the years; they just managed to keep their jerkdom out of the papers and weren’t necessarily violent about it. K-Rod, on the other hand, gave recurring indications that he was quite the a-hole and then he left no doubt when he punched out his girlfriend’s father (whether he was goaded into it or not). He underwent his rehabilitation, he got in no more trouble, everybody vouched for his latent good-guyness and we moved on. Like Putz pitching eighth innings in ’09, it didn’t make for an ideal set-up, but Rodriguez seemed to have saved himself there, and good for him on that count.

I wasn’t actively wishing Frankie traded away, though like any sentient Mets fan, I knew the meter was running on that ludicrous 55-games-ended clause, and as much as I liked (or at least didn’t mind) having him around, I didn’t want the Mets on the hook for $17.5 million in 2012. It’s to Frankie’s credit he himself didn’t feel like the kind of albatross Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez each became, but his contract status loomed as far more onerous than theirs upon their respective departures. Kudos to Sandy Alderson for playing this one as well as he played those two. Alderson had to delete Castillo and Perez physically from the Mets organization (have you even once this year missed either of them?). Even with the ugliness of the assault episode hanging over Rodriguez’s head entering Spring Training, the Mets didn’t need to devour another contract. They didn’t, and it paid off. The Mets got valuable mileage out of Rodriguez, made him more attractive on the trade market and now, unlike with the pariah twins, they’re not stuck paying him for nothing.

Maybe the Brewers to be named later will amount to something useful. The more significant amount, though, will be the $17.5 million (minus whatever had to be sent to Milwaukee to make this happen) the Mets save next year. One can only hope Mets ownership — including, soon enough, Brewers/Mets fan David Einhorn — will work with Alderson to include that sum in an offer to Jose Reyes. But that’s for later.

For now, who closes? The temptation is to say “who cares?” Who closes should be whoever Terry Collins deems capable of getting the next three or four or five guys out as situations dictate. That doesn’t seem likely, however, because in contemporary baseball, somebody winds up closing on a basis so regular it could be mistaken for obsessive-compulsive. As silly as it seems that one man is designated for a particular inning, this is the business of the sport in 2011 and has been for about as long as Randy Myers has been an ex-Met. “I just want to know my role” is the common refrain of the reliever (and his agent), and perhaps you’d have to be in the bullpen trenches to appreciate that. Pitching the ninth is a skill unto its own self, one Frankie Rodriguez mastered in Anaheim, one that got him paid in Flushing, one that now has him warming up in Milwaukee.

Some pitcher will take his place here. The one who gets the hang of it will do it most often and then be assigned to do it exclusively. He’ll be good most of the time, a little too terrible some of the time and make us nervous all of the time. It comes with the territory.

30 comments to Frank You Very Much for Coming

  • Andee

    It’s all Tony La Russa’s fault.

  • He will be remembered for being totally forgetible… One of the most overrated players of recent vintage..He would get two quick outs, and then load up the bases for one of his typical 30 pitch saves..I love that they got rid of him, my Armando Benitez flashbacks can finally be treated..

    Rich P

    • richie

      I don’t think he is anything like Armando Benitez. The Mets have just not had the health and the talent to take advantage of a closer that has been one of top five in baseball.

  • 9th string catcher

    Much more often than not, he could close a game without a whole lot of drama. You pointed it out perfectly – one of the most consistent relievers since Brett Myers – I HATED everything about Franco’s game, Benitez was great except for games that mattered (and then everything was a rollercoaster), and everyone else in between was a myster (kind of where we’re going now). I do believe the automatic 9th inning guy is a pretty annoying concept anyway, and maybe Collins and Co can address this new situation as creatively as they’ve handled everything else. In any case, it’s good to start addressing the financial health of the organization – this was a good step in that direction. Just hope they leave Beltran around for a little longer.

  • Every fan always imagines that every closer but his own breezes through every ninth inning.

    But to me, the idea that there are guys who can get people out in the seventh, but not the eighth or ninth, and guys who can get people out in the eighth, but not the ninth, and guys who can get people out in a save situation, but not when the team is six runs ahead, has always been as ridiculous as the idea that a big strong six-five, two hundred pound man can’t pitch nine innings.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Lets give Parnell the ball and see what he has. Isn’t this what it is all about, giving the young guys a chance.

    We were going to finish in fourth place with or without K-Rod.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    Good first move!….Let the fire sale begin!

  • JoAnn

    I think K-Rod is a ticking timebomb, but not because of his temper. It’s his pitching form. I think he’s about 20 saves away from blowing out that elbow.

    Trading him while he still has value was a good call.

    • 9th string catcher

      Totally agree. They got out of the Pedro Feliciano business at exactly the right time and probably doing the same thing with KROD as his velocity diminishes more and more. It seems like management more or less knows what they’re doing, probably for the first time since 1984…

  • Richie

    If you could erase August and September of 2010 of of his dossier, then I think his Met’s tenure was a successful one. I would trust him more than just about any reliever not named Mo. If we had him closing games in 2007 and 2008, I think it would be safe to say we would have made the playoffs. While some may not like the intense personality he brings, I personally think the guy has big time guts on the mound. Unfortunately, we are not at a place where we either can afford him or realistically need him to pitch in important September games.
    Interesting note…..The Mets have had some big time closers (or closers in waiting) pass thru the system.
    They are as follows (with save ranking on the all time saves list in perentheses and Ws…meaning they won a World Series Ring).
    Tug McGraw (55th)-WS, Jeff Reardon (7th)-WS, Jesse Orosco (76th)-WS, Randy Myers (9th)-WS, Rick Aguilera (15th)-WS, John Franco (4th), Jason Isringhausen (24th), Armando Benitez (25th), Roberto Hernandez (12th),(Billy Wagner (5th), Francisco Rodriguez (24th)-WS.

  • March'62

    You have to love Alderson for this one. He knew that once Scott Boras got involved it was going to be trouble. The Mets were going to be stuck paying $17.5 million for a closer with diminishing skills. Parnell can fill the void. And if the Mets get in return, the Bratwurst and Frank to run races at Citifield, it’s a win-win.

    • Matt from Woodside

      I’m still shocked that he fired the agent who got him that huge $17.5 million option. And then he hires Boras, who immediately facilitates a trade to a team that will probably use him in the 8th inning.

      Not that I care at this point, but what was Boras thinking?

      • March'62

        Actually Boras came out and said that closers don’t make good setup men. He was hoping that teams that wanted to use KROD in that capacity would stay away. I’m assuming the Brewers were on KROD’s list of acceptable teams and therefore couldn’t exercise his no-trade clause. Of course, when Boras was shopping Siriano around to the Skanks, he talked about how great it is to have a closer in the setup role. That’s what makes him the player’s cherse.

  • Guy Kipp

    Incidentally, how is Tug McGraw NOT in the Mets’ Hall of Fame yet?

  • Lenny65

    The talk-radio/online comment chatter about how this means the Mets are “waving the white flag” makes me sick. K-Rod was a relic of the Omar “one player away” mindset, a guy they signed to (supposedly) shore up what was an awful, awful relief corps in 07 & 08. By the time we’re seriously contending he’ll be in decline, an expensive luxury standing in the way of progress. Better to be rid of him a few seasons too early than a few seasons too late IMO. There’s some talent in that pen right now, time to see what that talent can do.

    • richie

      If my memory is true, people loved it when Omar landed Krod and J.J. Putz to shore up the pen in 2009. Krod had his issues, but was a pretty gutsy and dependable closer.

      • 9th string catcher

        K-Rod is a good closer with a bad contract and a luxury the Mets can’t afford. The Mets most likely will not do as well without him (in terms of unblown saves), but will get the flexibility they need to move forward.

  • Joe D.

    In this case, it seems cash is indeed more valuable than assets. The Brewers reportedly already traded their top prospects for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke.

    I can’t believe there were not other teams willing to part with prospects in order to rent KRod for two and a half more months. The Red Sox? Minnesota? Detroit? Texas? Tampa Bay? Arizona? These contenders all rank in the bottom half of overall bullpen ERA and Arizona, Minnesota and Texas have had at least 12 blown saves this season – and as we know, many teams look beyond getting into post season as they do strengthening themselves for post-season.

    None of these teams could use a KRod and did not have better young prospects than the Brewers to offer even as a rental? And could offer us now? Did Milwaukee simply present the best cash incentive instead?

    • Andee

      Krod’s contract figured to be an enormous headache for any team that took it on. Use him in the closer role and you’re stuck paying him 17 big ones next year; stick with the closer you have (and most teams do have one, unless he’s injured or a total rag arm) and use him in setup to avoid the vesting option, and you have both Bora$ and the union all over your tuchus. Not to mention that having two closers means a big territorial pissing match in the clubhouse. That Sandy got anyone to bite is a miracle; he obviously knew it was no accident that Krod switched agents when he did, and dumped while the dumping was good.

  • richie

    I think this trade doesn’t signify the waving of the flag. I think it was the most prudent move based on Krod’s impending salary for 2012. The list of prospects in this move is secondary. I think Pedro Beato will be the cream that will rise to the top. I actually feel that the Mets will keep Beltran unless someone is willing to give up a top shelf body from the minors. The 7 or 8 mill in savings would not be worth losing him from the lineup.

    • Joe D.

      The Mets got rid of KRod to reduce payroll and that savings will not be re-invested in other players. Alderson’s goal is not to retain the current payroll and spread it around for more players than one or two superstars but to reduce what was of opening day at $138 million to between $100 and $120 million for next season. That has been achieved by eliminating the $20 million for Perez and Castillo plus the $12.1 million for KRod (minus what was paid to Milwaukee). And if that $138 million payroll figure only pertains to active players (and not Perez, Castillo, Bonilla and Thronberry) there is more to be skimmed away which will not be used for re-investment.

      The selling of KRod, Beltran and others should be for players as well as cash. If not, then it is no different than what Harry Frazee, Connie Mack and Charley O (which was nullified by MLB) did to raise cash and not to improve their teams.

      Beltran’s salary gives Sandy $19 million to use. That will not be enough to re-sign Reyes. And don’t forget that Pelfrey and Pagan will be eligible for arbitration this winter.

      • Andee

        Pelf’s days as a Met are numbered. Boras client + mostly mediocre numbers + arbitration eligibility = Oliver Perez 2.0. They’re not doing that again. No need to pay someone 8 figures a year just to “eat innings,” they can call up Chris Schwinden for that.

  • [...] Faith and Fear in Flushing would like to thank Frankie for the memories – if they could think of any. [...]

  • open the gates

    I’m actually excited at the prospect of the Mets finally attempting to break in their own major league closer. The last time they did that successfully was Orosco/McDowell. And yes, I know – Aguilera and Myers and Bell and Dotel – notice how none of those guys stuck around too long? The Mets seem to have a talent for developing good closers, giving up on them, trading them to some lucky team for a couple of hot dog vendors, and giving their ninth innings to the Braden Loopers and Neil Allens of the world. Maybe it won’t happen this time.

    Look, Parnell (or Beato, or Byrdak) may become the next Tug McGraw. Or possibly the next Royce Ring. We won’t know until we try ‘em. That’s scary, but it’s also kind of exciting. It’s called taking chances, which is something the Mets haven’t been often accused of lately. It’s about time.

  • [...] rubbed under his nostrils. So long, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and now Francisco Rodriguez. As Greg noted earlier, K-Rod performed a lot better than either Castillo or Perez, but in none of the three cases do I [...]