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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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Neither Here Nor There

When the Wild Card was introduced into baseball in 1994, the Mets were mostly hopeless, yet this extra playoff spot allowed me a touch more hope. So I invoked the 14th Amendment (or perhaps it was Rule V) and decided that if the Mets were five out of the Wild Card at the end of July, they were a contender. This was back when the Mets were nobody’s idea of a contender, so the idea that they could be judged one, by whatever standard you could reasonably apply, was an intoxicating one.

The Five Games Out/End Of July rule did not come into play for several years. The Mets were Nowheresville in 1994 and 1995 at that stage of those seasons and they peaked a touch too soon in 1996 (if being two games under .500 and 4½ out, sixth in line to the Wild Card on July 17, could be said to involve peaking). Then came a bunch of years, 1997-2000, when the Mets played well above the minimum criteria I had set for them and there was no need to split half-game hairs. They were legitimate contenders.

2002 was the first time I had to apply FGO/EOJ in earnest. The Mets had fallen prohibitively behind the Braves in the N.L. East and were generally sluggish in their approach to their jobs, yet I looked up from their Alomar/Vaughn morass and there they were: four games above .500 and 4½ out behind the Dodgers, with the Giants the only other team ahead of them on July 31. That certified them more or less contenders — more, really — so I was forced to take them seriously. So was Steve Phillips, who acquired four playoff-chase reinforcements (giving up, among others, an anonymous minor leaguer named Jason Bay in the process, proving, perhaps, that Steve Phillips possessed extraordinary long-term vision). Thus fortified by the presence of John Thomson, Mark Little, Jason Middlebrook and Steve Reed, I settled in for a spirited run at the National League Wild Card, and…the Mets went poof! They lost five straight to open August and soon dropped a dozen in a row besides.

In 2002, Keith Hernandez, then of MSG Network, wrote that the Mets “quit,” which was too tough a word for those Mets’ delicate sensibilities. To borrow the nomenclature of the cuddlier Keith we hear on SNY these days, it was as if they had applied “vanishing cream” and disappeared. However you framed it, the Mets of nine years ago only looked like contenders on paper, and then not at all after July ended.

Following that bracing experience, I kind of forgot about FGO/EOJ and went with my best available read of the subject. When the Mets were kind of close with a decent interval of schedule remaining, was there any reason to believe they were contenders? Could I picture them hanging on, gaining ground, compelling me to care about them more than habitually or nominally?  Would I…should I get sucked into obsessing over their remote chances enough so that when a likely letdown occurred, it would be worth the anguish I would endure?

That’s where I am now, at the question mark.

I never — never — dreamed that 2011 would ask me to give this matter any thought. Once the Mets stopped being 5-13 in April, I took that as the victory. There were ups, there were (as I saw it) inevitable downs and there were surprising rebounds. And then there’d be downs, and I’d tell them, that’s OK, I know you’re not really any good, whatever you do the rest of the way is fine, I know it won’t be much.

Then, suddenly, there are more ups, a few downs, another rebound. The funny thing about the downs is they don’t last long and they don’t seem to be keyed to what you’d assume would be fatal setbacks.

Injury after injury…not that much of a factor.

More inexperience than experience…experience simply gathers the more the inexperienced play.

Expulsion by trade of accomplished mainstays who were doing very well for themselves and for the team…now that’s really interesting, because the Mets have voluntarily removed two genuine All-Stars from their roster in the past two weeks, and those who continue to be Mets seem to have taken their absence as almost a personal challenge.

Management took away their closer — a perfectly understandable business decision — and it’s hard to say it’s hurt them tangibly. Then the slugging right fielder, by everybody’s account the bulwark of the operation, was sent away via another perfectly understandable business decision, and they haven’t lost since it happened.

All right, you might say, it’s been a whole three games since Carlos Beltran was traded, which is no sample size at all. Except if the Mets had lost their first post-Beltran game, we would have probably taken that as a terrible sign of what was to come. Or if the Mets had lost the second game, particularly after building a formidable lead, we would have begun the writing-off process in ink. Now that it’s three games after Carlos, and the Mets are 3-0, and they’re hitting almost without pause, and they’ve squirmed out of uncomfortable situations and emerged essentially unscathed…

…well, I tell ya, I’ve begun to look at the standings as if there’s a point to it. And I’ve begun to glance ever so subtly at the schedule ahead. And for the first time since the 2011 season began, I thought of October and us in the same hypothetical paragraph. I mean, not really, and not seriously, and not without rolling my eyes a little…but it’s almost the end of July; and we’re almost five out of the Wild Card; and we’ve won five straight, the last three of them without Carlos Beltran; and though torrential offensive tears inevitably subside, we have players who tend to get better instead of get worse, so the net-net, as sharp people in boring meetings like to say, conceivably veers to the good.

David Wright is back and smoking. Jose Reyes is still on his feet. Daniel Murphy has gone from sub to grinder to hero and continues to sandwich base hits. Dillon Gee has ten wins. Jason Isringhausen hasn’t melted. Johan Santana recently used his left arm in a game of some sort. D.J. Carrasco used his right arm in an inning of great import. The Mets have the exact same record they did at this stage of the 2002 season, but bring an exponentially better vibe to the ballpark every day. They’re ahead of where they were in 2009 and 2010, late Julys when they were statistically viable for the Wild Card but substantively done for the season. And they’re way beyond what they were when 2011 shaped up as a lost cause at worst, an exercise in head-patting place-holding at best.

They’re 6½ in back of Atlanta, with Arizona, Pittsburgh and St. Louis also ahead of them — but each of them only by a couple of fingers. The Nationals demand their attention for two more games, then the Marlins for three, but the Braves materialize at Citi Field on Friday night. That, like the Mets’ tenuous status as a cusp-contender, is neither here nor there. All that matters is the next game to be played; I’ve always said that and I’ve always believed it.

Still, it’s July 30. Frankie Rodriguez is gone. Carlos Beltran is gone. Ike Davis is long out and probably won’t be in. Johan Santana has yet to make like General MacArthur and return. It’s a reach to think about the Mets and October, or the Mets and September, or maybe even the Mets and six days from now.

Yet here I am, wary of letdowns, cognizant of anguish, understanding fully the definition of long odds…and I’m kind of, sort of thinking about the Mets on the fringes of a context I didn’t anticipate, don’t fully buy into, and can barely believe.

Holy crap, they got me again.

23 comments to Neither Here Nor There

  • Just when you think you’re out…they pull you back in!!!

    Be happy Greg, the Mets won, the Mets won…the COMEBACK HAS BEGUN!

    LGM. BELIEVE!!!

  • “Daniel Murphy has gone from sub to grinder to hero and continues to sandwich base hits.” It’s lines like this one that make FAFIF a fun, as well as insightful, read.

  • Andee

    Yeah, after the last couple of years, I’ll be happy if they’re not just sleepwalking through August. It’s just plain old not fair (waaah!) that if we were in the Central or West we’d be right there in it, and that in the East, even if you’re pretty good you’re still looking up at the two-headed monster, and it’s going to take 95 wins to even be in the running, and you have to do it while playing 38 games against the two-headed monster, as opposed to your counterparts in the other divisions who only have to face them 12 times. Blegh. Now I know how Rays and Jays fans feel.

    • mikeski

      Don’t forget we also get the Evil Empire 6 times a year while the THM – and everyone else – doesn’t.

  • Andee

    (Or maybe that’s 14 times. Stupid work computer won’t let me edit my post.)

  • Enjoy and dream..But forget about that wildcard thing..

    LGM

    Rich P

  • jon

    i’m feeling about the same way, but would really prefer Seaver, Koosman and Matlack were in the rotation before invoking McGraw. If we don’t, it’ll be pitching depth that gets us, looks like.

  • DonHahn1

    As Tug said, “Ya Gotta Believe” and I am trying, but the new evil empire called Philadelphia continues to drape the hopes and aspirations of all fans of teams ending in ETS in curtains of doom and gloom. I enjoyed the win last night but somehow felt like all was lost after the Jets debacle and Ed Wade’s continued restocking of the Phillies organization several years after getting fired as the GM. I believe he has done more for the Phillies as GM of the Astros than he ever did as GM of the Phillies. Here’s hoping that 10 years from now we are able to look back at all this and laugh!

    • Andee

      You know, if you look at The Good Phight, the fans there don’t feel that way about the Hunter Pence trade, for whatever it’s worth. They think it’s a waste of prospects that will cost them dearly in the future. The Phillies are built to go all in before their window closes up; they have an aging team and almost no prospects left. It’s the Braves who look like they’re set up for the next 15 years.

      • DonHahn1

        I guess, but it seems no matter what Philly does it comes up roses. They have not experienced any problems or setbacks from any of the deals made over the last several years. Meanwhile, Mets have had issues with injuries and players (Bay) not living up to contracts etc. It would be nice to see them have something come back and bite THEM a few times.

        • Andee

          Well, think of how long they were snakebit before that, though. Does 1964 ring any bells? How about 28 years between championships (and before 1980, a whole lot of bubkes)? These things go in cycles.

          And unless they’re willing and able to spend like the Yankees, buying one expensive superstar after another, they are going to be in big trouble in a few years, I am telling you. Ryan Howard has a $125 million, 5-year extension that starts in 2013, at the age of 35! Talk about your zillion-dollar paperweights.

          Long term, they’re not the problem. Atlanta is.

  • pfh64

    Isn’t that always the case with this team? They drag you in just enough to give you doubt/hope of your brain says.

  • From here on the best mornings shall be those that immediately follow a Mets victory and a Bravos loss.

    LGM!!!

  • JetsgoMets

    “Holy crap, they got me again…” wow, my sentiments exactly! Too funny. Great article!

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Great tim ing of this story, as I thinking this morning that “I so want to believe”!

    They put the GM and the front office in a little conundrum. I thought they would continue to make a few more trades, maybe Izzy or Byrdak, since I don’t expect either to be here in 2012.

    But being a business and wasnting to keep “Butts in seats” almost creeping bcak into the WC I can see them standing pat.

    They really make you want to believe again, but there is alway that “Heartbreak” waiting in the wings!

  • Joe D.

    I was afraid that the Mets would be caught in the same circle game as other clubs that developed some good players but because there were no others to accompany them, would rid themselves of the Greinkes, Pences, etc. as they matured into stardom in exchange for potential new talent for the future. It’s like the old Soviet Union five year plans that failed – simply start all over again with the same five year plan.

    On the surface it appeared Omar was stripping our minor league season to accumulate veterans with maybe one or two real productive years left to bring home a championship. And thus many thought we too were facing a bleak future as the Willie Randolph era ended with so many rating the talent in our minor league system being weak and citing all our teams had losing records.

    Fortunately, they were wrong. Under Omar, as much was put into our minor league operations as with the big club and thus we now have hopes of a bright future with Davis, Gee, Niese, Murphy, Turner, Duda, Parnell and Thole to go along with young veterans Wright, Reyes and Pagan who otherwise might have also gone the Beltran/KRod and Hunter Pence route (Houston sent the 28 year old to Philly last night for prospects).

    2011 has been more fun than any of us could have hoped for. It’s a joy that most of the key players came through the system. Except for Jason Bay (who started out as a Met farmhand) every three of five games the starting lineup could be an all-Met organization team (starters Niese, Gee and Pelfrey, infielders Davis, Murphy, Turner Reyes and Wright, Pagan (with a brief exile) and Duda in the outfield and Thole catching.

    It has indeed been a transition year as Sandy Alderson predicted but far more successful than any of us hoped. For that, we must give credit to Omar and the organization he helped develop. He’s already got a bad rap for outrageous contracts for undeserving players (which he deserves) but we now see that he was indeed looking out for the future as well.

    I’ve seen it happen before not to believe in miracles for this year. No miracles will be necessary after this year for we now have the young talent to carry the this team in the years to come – despite the Wilpons caring more about profit than victories. I just hope Sandy changes him mind about payroll restraints as these kids become closer to free agency.

    • Rob D.

      Joe D. My sentiments exactly. People that know I am a Met fan will ask me how I am liking the season. In my typical glass half empty outlook, I’ll say, At least I have a season. 2009 & 2010 I bailed by the 4th of July and kept track on the outskirts. This team has been really fun to watch (I didn’t experience this weekend as I had son’s baseball all weekend, which is almost as maddening as the Mets), but on the wholw, one of the more fun seasons (so far) to witness.

  • BlackCountryMet

    Great comments from Joe D. I really can start to see a positive and succesful future for this team

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