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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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As the Curtain Closes

For a from-the-seats perspective on Closing Day, I’ll bow to my partner, who was actually there.

I saw it on SNY, and like a lot of you wound up with emotional whiplash: My euphoria at Jose Reyes’s hit was followed in uncomfortably short order by bafflement that his day was done practically before it began, which curdled into fury. Those at the ballpark booed in confusion and then fell silent — for the next inning or two it sounded like the stadium had been evacuated. On TV, Gary and Keith and Ron were dumbfounded — struggling, for possibly the first time ever, to get their bearings. I vented my anger with a mildly embarrassing though undeniably cathartic Twitter meltdown.

Having tired myself out, my first thought was to get some work done and listen to the rest of the game on WFAN — with Reyes gone, Closing Day was devoid of interest to me. (At the end of a long season, even I have trouble working up much enthusiasm for watching Josh Satin try and solve Edinson Volquez.) But then I remembered that a) WFAN would soon have Mike Francesa in its booth; and b) in two more hours I’d be staring down the barrel of six months without the Mets. So I stuck around, and was grateful that I had. Mike Baxter hit his first home run for the hometown fans, Miguel Batista was terrific in what might have been his final big-league appearance, and baseball is a pleasure, period — on further review, watching Josh Satin try and solve Edinson Volquez is pretty cool. The Mets won, tossed their caps and we were done.

Regarding L’Affair Reyes, my anger was misplaced. As it turns out, Reyes had wanted to protect his lead in the batting race and make his final day a cameo, and Terry Collins was accommodating him — in his emotional postgame presser, Collins seemed to basically admit that it wasn’t the way he would have preferred to handle it, but he had been backing a request from one of his veteran stars.

Honestly, I have no particular gripe about Reyes protecting his lead. I know, I know, rather than sit on a .400 average, Ted Williams played both games of a doubleheader to close out the 1941 season, a feat that unfortunately came 70 years to the day before Jose’s cameo. But while that’s an ideal for how we’d like athletes to compete, the episode lives on in baseball lore because it’s exceptional — it was baseball practice even back then to sit on statistical leads, and leaders from Willie Wilson to Bernie Williams have not played or abbreviated closing days since then. (Shock your Yankee friends: Yes, Sainted Yankee Joe Torre aided and abetted such behavior before his current noble service as Bud Selig’s chief hat inspector.)¬†Reyes is so much fun to watch on a baseball diamond that we imagine him playing the game on off-days, at night and possibly while he sleeps, but that isn’t true. It’s his vocation, and a long season of daily grinds, injuries and contract chatter had undoubtedly worn him down far more than we would guess.

I’ll put this one, reluctantly, on Terry. Looking ahead to next year, he needs to work on the pageantry of player exits. The shame of Reyes’s departure was that the Citi Field faithful got no chance to give him a proper farewell, a problem compounded by the fact that many of them were there primarily for that reason. Terry should have acceded to Jose’s wishes and given the fans the moment they craved by having Jose run the bases, take his position for the top of the second, and then sending Justin Turner in to replace him. The fans would have had time to realize what was happening and cheered Reyes off the field.¬†With the exception of his fetish for bunting, Terry’s done most everything right, so there’s no reason to make this A Thing. I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did, and the absence of Jose (hopefully for 18 weeks and not forever) and more Mets games to play dictates that we’re moving on, whether we like it or not.

We never really go dark around here, so there will be time to assess the 2011 Mets, and how they may shape the 2012 club. I head into the off-season quietly hopeful — yes, the Mets won two fewer games than the final team commanded by Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, but I still feel strongly that this group was better constructed and better led. (Honestly, two games is significant if it means the difference between the postseason or going home, but not so much in the dregs of the second division.)

Collins had to contend with a horrific run of injuries that rivaled what befell the 2009 team, and kept his charges focused and competitive far longer than I thought was possible. He arrived with a reputation as a Napoleon type who would burn his players out, but seemed to have outgrown whatever mistakes he made back in his Angel days. His guys played hard for him, and seemed to like and respect him.

A number of players — most of them, in fairness, brought in by Minaya — improved significantly this year, going from maybes to credible parts of a much better team. Most guys Ruben Tejada’s age are Brooklyn Cyclones, but Tejada seems poised to become the spiritual successor to my beloved Edgardo Alfonzo. Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Manny Acosta all made strides. Ike Davis was having a promising sophomore season before being felled by an out-of-the-blue injury, while Daniel Murphy had a breakout campaign. Josh Thole had a curious year that might prove a learning experience. Statistics suggest Angel Pagan’s poor campaign was largely a product of bad luck. Stats all but shouted that the same was true for R.A. Dickey. And Johan Santana will be back.

Sandy Alderson was far better in choosing complementary players: Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, Scott Hairston and Willie Harris all had pretty good years. Sandy spared us final obligatory seasons from Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez, got free of Frankie Rodriguez’s horrid vesting option, brought back some value for Carlos Beltran, and yet opted to hold on to Reyes, which might prove short-sighted from a cold baseball perspective but I think was the right move for our sensibilities. It’s not a good thing if your best potential ticket buyers are jumping off New York City bridges; that might have happened if we’d been shorn of Jose along with everyone else.

The fences are coming in, which I think could help Jason Bay and David Wright more than we might realize. And it looks as if the Wilpons won’t be put out of business by the Madoff scandal — while predicting such things is a fool’s business, it’s possible they’ll have to pay out somewhere around $80 million, which while a nasty check to write is a lot better than the alternative. (It’s also in line with what the Mets are expected to lose in 2011, meaning it can be fit into the framework of normal business.) If you’re disappointed because you wanted them to sell the team, I hear you. But look at it this way: The real enemy for 2012 and 2013 is uncertainty, and there’s a chance the next couple of months will end it. Or, to break it down another way, the chances of re-signing Reyes might now be a lot better. Perhaps we’ll get to give him the standing O that went missing yesterday against the Reds on April 5 against the Braves.

With winter upon us, that’s a comforting thought.

16 comments to As the Curtain Closes

  • Ryan

    Good stuff Jason.

    The fact that the record for these Mets went largely unchanged from the past couple years reminded me of the metaphor of the duck that looks calm on the surface but underwater its legs are rapidly churning. (I thought that was nice and poetic, then I did some googling and realized it was something from that Keanu Reeves “The Replacements” movie). The results aren’t there yet but it does seem as if this new front office has made tremendous strides in remaking the Mets’ entire baseball operations.

  • Lenny65

    The Reyes move was undeniably bogus; however it definitely didn’t merit the degree of fury and rage it received from the various “pundits” out there (aka Tubs Francesca). Fortunately the Red Sox broke our “biggest collapse ever” record and distracted the masses before the story became completely irritating. Thanks again, BoSox! Now do it again next year and you’ll really appreciate what Met fans go through.

  • Schneck

    If I’m Terry Collins, and for whatever reason I’m willing to give in to this request, I bring him in as a defensive replacement in the 8th and make sure he bats in the 9th. He gets his one at bat, controversy (somewhat) avoided, I sign my long term extension.

  • Stavros

    What are the details on the Torre/Bernie Williams thing you referenced? Thanks.

    • In 1998 Williams departed after 2 AB to protect his lead over Mo Vaughn. Baseball history is littered with other examples. Which is why I was far more annoyed about how Terry blew the opportunity for the fans to give Reyes a proper sendoff.

      • kd bart

        As Deadspin pointed out this morning, even St. Derek Jeter bolted early a few years ago in order to preserve a .300 average for the season.

        Leaving the game the way he did is the annoying part. I never expected Reyes to bat more than twice in the game. I thought he’d be pulled around the fourth.

      • Joe D.

        Even though Fred and Jeff won’t be in the financial hole they thought they might be, we still must remember that the debt looming over their heads was anticipated, not actual. Keeping that in mind, what was the reason they needed to be bailed out by MLB last November in order to meet operating expenses? That was immediate, not down the road. It is doubtful that the wasted contractual obligations to Perez and Castillo was the main source of all that financial chaos.

        They didn’t have the money then, they still don’t have the limited partners now and they weren’t helped by all the lost revenue from all those empty seats in the season that just concluded. And Sterling Enterprises is still rated as junk status. So the change in the Madoff situation might have little effect on how the Wilpons operate the team next season and in that sense, they might still be running the club the same way ownership does in Pittsburgh.

        So we might still be subjected to another season of not spending to improve the team just as it was in July when (before the injuries to Murphy, Reyes and Niese) we had a legit shot at post-season and rather than allowing the team to try it’s best, they sent off their closer and top hitter. Even though we slid badly, the reasons for those moves in July when things were better can be explained in purely financial terms and not that of baseball. It happened because they were still in too much of debt – otherwise, the $20 odd million they saved would have been considered marginal for a team whose assets rank up to almost three quarters of a billion.

        One cannot expect to make money when they charge so much that the average fan cannot even afford the price of admission and businesses won’t buy season tickets at $200 per game.

  • Joe D.

    Derek opted out of the all-star game despite being voted in by the fans yet still didn’t opt out of receiving his bonus by being elected. For all the criticism (including from me) for bowing out yesterday, an injured Jose still wanted to be there and be part of it even though he could not play. That’s more than could be said for Jeter.

  • Lenny65

    Wait, you mean Jeter once did something that WASN’T bathed in the sacred golden glow of all that’s pure and holy about baseball? No…no, I cannot believe THAT ever happened (eyeroll). Just don’t tell Mike Francesca, I wouldn’t want to see WFAN’s radio equipment ruined by the Diet Coke spraying from his nose.

    Don’t get me wrong: I wish he’d stayed in there and there’s no doubt he’s been one of the most dynamic and thrilling Mets ever, but there is something oddly familiar about Jose leaving a game early, you know what I mean? Congrats to him on the first-ever batting crown won by a Met!

  • Will in Central NJ

    I, along with many of you, have endured, either in real life, via reading, or on YouTube, all of the following:

    A 120-loss inaugural season; Otis for Foy; Ryan plus 3 for Fregosi; Yogi not starting Stone; Kingman spraining his thumb during his chase for 61 HRs; Seaver to Reds; Grant’s Tomb; Mettle the Mule; the strike of 1981; Pendleton’s crushing HR; Foster’s inane accusations of racism; Darling spraining his thumb in late 1987; Scioscia’s blast into the night; Darryl and Keith scuffling on team photo day; the embarrassing Jefferies fiasco.

    Also, the Worst Team Money Could Buy; Cone for Kent & Thompson; Gooden’s final drug suspension, leading to his banishment; the strike of 1994; Burnitz run out of town by Green; the mini-collapse of 1998; Kenny Rogers allowing a walk-off walk in 1999; the Skanks dancing on our mound in 2000; Franco and Benitez imploding in 2001; the horrible signings/trades prior to 2002; Grant Roberts’ recreational habits; the deer-in-headlights Kaz Matsui; Kazmir plus another for Zambrano; Wainwright’s 12-to-6 curve; the collapses of 2007 and 2008; Minaya’s and Bernazard’s missteps; the CitiField wall controversies; concussion follies; Bernard Madoff.

    Given all of the above, I firmly believe that neither I, nor any of you Met fan brethren should apologize to anyone for the way Jose Reyes won the 2011 NL Batting Championship. It should be celebrated. He won it fair and square for us, the Met fans, within the rules established by MLB. Decades from now, the way he left the game will be gradually forgotten; the records will forever show Jose Reyes, New York Mets, as the champ. Given our team’s history, I’ll take it.

      • Will in Central NJ

        Thanks, Jason. I come up with something occasionally. You and Greg do so, eight days a week.

        I might’ve also added: drafting Steve Chilcott over Reggie Jackson; letting Director of Player Development Whitey Herzog walk away, c. 1972; Staub for Lolich; inking Rich Rodriguez; and Steve Phillips’ adulterous ways.

        I better stop now.

    • Z

      Nice. No one ever seems to remember that mini-collapse of ’98.

  • Joe D.

    Putting aside the question of whether Jose was right or wrong with what he did, his act does raise the issue of his ability to react and come through during pressure situations.

    Yes, he put the pressure on Braun by forcing him to get three hits that night but didn’t Jose have the self-confidence to feel he could get another hit or so to pad his lead even more?

    That gives me less confidence about him having what it takes to rise to the occasion in a pressure situation with a game on the line, especially during the closing weeks of a tightly contested playoff race. Reminded me of his performance down the stretch in 2007 when he hit only .135 in his last 37 at bats, not to mention hitting just .248 for the month of September the following season.

  • […] going to cheer myself hoarse, giving him the ovation he deserved and didn’t get because of Terry Collins’ final-day pooch-screwing. I mean after that. I wish Jose the best, but the best for Jose means our task is even harder for […]