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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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The Human Pelfing Bag

Mike Pelfrey’s still here, isn’t he? And if he’s still here, he’s going to be Mike Pelfrey, isn’t he?

It’s a fact of life. Pelf’s gonna go out there and drive us nuts. He’s gonna put somebody on the twelfth pitch of a 3-2 count that he started ahead 0-2, he’s gonna balk him over to second, he’s gonna wander around behind the mound wondering if he left the stove on, he’s gonna contemplate the dryness of his fingers and…

That’s the thing. You just don’t know. Pelf is very capable of building himself a mess yet attaching a secret exit we can’t believe he had the sense to include in the blueprints. He might throw thirty pitches in that inning, yet escape relatively unscathed. Or he might remain in that inning long enough so that it swallows the entire game whole. He might kill us or he might save us. It’s rarely neat and it can be as agita-inducing as any Met closer’s ninth, except with Pelf, it can come in the first as easily as the third or the fifth.

If he sees the seventh, it usually means he’s left trouble behind him. Or it didn’t seem worth the trouble of getting Elmer Dessens up a third time.

We’re talking about 2011’s Opening Day starter here, a guy who flirted with All-Stardom in 2010 and seemed practically corner-turned as far back as 2008. Mike Pelfrey is not unskilled, untalented or wholly unsuccessful. But boy can he suck the life out of a day or night at the ballpark.

He doesn’t even need to wait for the season to start. Just a couple of days ago he was eminently uninspiring in one of those games that doesn’t count. I heard it dissected by two gentlemen of advanced age as I stood in the checkout line at Waldbaum’s that very night.

“Didja see it today?”
“No. What happened?”
“They lost. Pelfrey was terrible.”
“If it wasn’t for Pelfrey in the first inning, they would’ve won.”

As enamored as I am of the concept of being allowed to cancel out the inning of our choice so as to promote better results for your team (as long as others can’t do it to us), I was more impressed that Mets fans aren’t waiting for the regular season to be discouraged by Mike Pelfrey. And it ain’t just Waldbaum’s talking. Promenade Reserved groans as Pelfrey struggles. Twitter shifts into oversnark. Eyes everywhere roll.

At age 28, Big Pelf has found his niche. He’s our pitching scapegoat, our figurative punching bag, our default reason (besides ownership) why things aren’t better around here. Jason Bay, too, I suppose, but they’re lowering and bringing in the fences for Bay, so reasonable judgment must be reserved at least another couple of months on his behalf. Plus he runs hard and once took on a wall with his face.

Pelfrey? His thoroughfare to rational forgiveness is closed to emotional traffic every fifth day. For example, consider those shorter and closer fences. Batters in non-Mets uniforms get to swing at them, too. Theoretically it shouldn’t matter that much to a sinkerballer like Pelf, but wait for the one grounder that eludes the combined efforts of Tejada and Murphy. Experience as empathetically as possible the spiritual journey that unfurls as the pitcher tries to come to grips with the unideal situation at hand. Watch him with digits tensed (yours, his) until he gets one up to Hunter Pence or some other divisional irritant.

Yeah, the fences’ll matter. Everything’ll matter. And unless Pelfrey has harnessed his command while quelling his his doubts, he will make us all nuts.

Pelf’s blame niche is not one to take lightly. It’s different from being simply reviled the way Oliver Perez was or derided as Steve Trachsel was or wearing out his welcome as John Maine did. The critical mass for Pelfrey is different, befitting someone who has come up through the system, carried large hopes on his broad shoulders and largely left them unredeemed. It’s not that Pelfrey is an object of hatred. He’s too likable to inspire genuine vitriol. But he does demonstrate a knack for inviting blame.

When strikes aren’t thrown and outs aren’t collected, who ya gonna blame? Before ya start throwing bodies from the bullpen, I mean?

You can’t blame Santana. He was Santana before he got here, and whatever’s gone wrong is presumably more the fault of the Mets being the Mets than Johan ceasing to be Johan.

You can’t blame Dickey. Dickey’s entire Met oeuvre is thick, fascinating gravy, and it comes accompanied by a half-dozen beguiling biscuits besides.

You can’t blame Niese, because Niese is a lad of 25 and lefthanded and maybe has been held back only by not being able to breathe correctly, a situation to which he’s apparently tended (with an assist from an old teammate).

You can’t blame Gee, because honestly, you barely knew who Gee was before September 2010 and you only noticed Gee was faltering by late summer 2011. Give the kid a chance! He won’t be 26 until April! It’s not like he’s Pelfrey and 28!

Somebody’s inevitably gotta blame somebody. It’s the nature of the fan-beast. And Pelfrey’s perfect for the assignment. He’s taller than almost everybody. He was drafted higher than almost everybody. He’s been here longer than almost everybody. He’s almost broken through to the point of consistency but keeps backsliding to the point of madness. Not a few of his outings have shared the Seaver quality of “you’re gonna get to him, you’ve gotta get to him early,” yet they never feel the least bit Terrific, even those you look up from during and realize it’s the sixth, he’s still in there and he’s not losing or at least it’s not over.

Pelfrey’s career trajectory reminds me a bit of the last homegrown righty of extended tenure, Bobby Jones’s, except Jones was dependable when nobody expected much out of him, a fright to watch when we assumed he had taken the next step and then delightfully surprising just after we gave up on him altogether. Jones also had the good sense to get out of town two starts after his signature 2000 playoff one-hitter. If Bobby Jones comes up among Mets fans a dozen years later, it’s to be toasted for shutting down the Giants and instigating a celebration. It’s not to mention what a frigging disappointment he had been for most of the previous three-and-a-half years when not falling apart might have meant at least one more playoff spot, possibly two.

There has been no defining great start in Mike Pelfrey’s career. He beat the Braves in Turner Field at the dawn of September 2007 but was otherwise implosive the rest of that accursed month. He was outpitched by Brett Myers in one of his must-have games in early September 2008 and made like Mike Paltry the final weekend of the season versus his unyielding Marlin nemeses. There haven’t been many occasions to which to rise since, and Pelfrey’s made the least of those, too.

If you’ve gotten used to blaming Pelfrey, you may have to go in another direction soon. Slated to be the fourth-highest paid Met on the 2012 roster, he’s signed to a one-year deal worth not quite $5.7 million, about 44% more than he was paid for 2011. If he makes it through another year making his starts and piling up his innings (a compensable skill set unto itself these days, regardless of the caliber of the innings), he’ll be up for a substantial raise heading into 2013. Free agency looms beyond that, as do — it is hoped — Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Zack Wheeler and the second coming of Jenrry Mejia. Even if Big Pelf rekindles his 2008 or 2010 best, he might be on track for the Big Squeeze in terms of payroll.

There’s always the chance that the man makes himself indispensable this year. It’s March, so that’s perennially a pleasing conclusion to broach before a season has yet to commence. But we’ve been here with Big Pelf a whole lot since 2006. If the revelatory grip or arm angle or boost of confidence comes and sticks (instead of comes and goes), then swell, of course.

Otherwise, uch, per usual.

12 comments to The Human Pelfing Bag

  • InsidePitcher

    I read Pelfing and think Barfing.

    And then I shrug.

  • But the Big Squeeze may never come if there are new owners in place or on the horizon by the end of 2013.

    Uch, indeed…

  • Joe D.

    Well, at least Pelf is letting us forget all about Aaron Heilman….

    But since Mike is a man of patterns, 2012 might be a good year for him. He has been good in the even years (2008, 2010) and bad in the odd years (2007,2009, 2011). That’s sabremetric hoping LOL.

    Saw our old friend Joe Smith pitching in relief for the Tribe yesterday. He’s developed into a good reliever. Both Joey and Mikey were drafted by the Mets. Possible case of including the wrong draft pick (along with Aaron) in that blockbuster three way trade a few years back?

  • Will in Central NJ

    Mike Pelfrey reminds me of that old Harvey Comics character Baby Huey. Look it up in Wikipedia if you don’t remember this old cartoon duckling.

    Unrelated, but for what it’s worth: I can’t help but wonder what would go through LHP Scott Kazmir’s mind if the Mets do sign LHP C.J. Nitkowski, as reports suggest.

  • 5w30

    At least his name isn’t Felcher. Or Santorum.

  • Bobby F.

    Greg, Great job on the 10 best list posted on yahoo! Side note: I have high hopes for Josh over on FAN. Cheers!

  • Guy Kipp

    The spiritual successor to Steve Trachsel. Works slowly, eats innings, never gets hurt*, never really impresses. But you can’t get him out of the rotation.

    *At least until he takes a line drive off the thigh and comes out of a game your team desperately needs to win.

    • open the gates

      I never had the antipathy for Trachsel that others did. Sure, each game he pitched lasted a few years, and he did have that stretch where he was simply awful. But, unlike another pitcher whose name sounds like Smolliver Smerez, he was willing to go down to the minors to work out his issues, even though he could have contractually told the Mets to shove it (as Smolliver did). And it wasn’t his fault that he was the ace-by-default of one of the most woeful rotations in Mets history. He looked much better as a Number 5.

  • […] He’s replaced Luis Castillo as my personal Mets scapegoat. Greg ably summed him up as the Human Pelfing Bag. Patrick Flood, in a great post of his own, compared him to a rock neurotically licking itself. […]

  • […] as he sometimes does, confounded his detractors as well as his defenders, perhaps because that way he can annoy everybody. He hung in there, somehow striking out eight despite Todd Tichenor’s smaller-than-a-breadbox […]