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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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Yikes, Ike

Somehow, I imagined that seeing my favorite team play a doubleheader that included two big-league debuts and began with David Wright poised to claim the club record for RBIs would be more fun.

After 10 days far from home, the idea of my own couch and the Mets on my own TV was pretty close to heaven. But the seven-odd hours of baseball presented on a clammy afternoon and evening were far more fit for that other place. I watched in annoyance, then aggravation, and finally in glum resignation. Joshua eyed the proceedings for a while before finding better uses of his time. Emily went off to Citi in time to catch the tail end of Game 1 and returned in the last innings of Game 2, chilled and dispirited. By then the Mets faithful were so few that my wife’s exit from the stadium ticked the percentage of enemy fans in attendance notably higher. And why not? It was certainly Candlestick weather.

But miserable as I was and miserable as Joshua was and miserable as Emily was and miserable as all those faithful, outnumbered Mets rooters were, it’s a safe bet that none of us ended the evening feeling as miserable as Ike Davis did.

We all still like Ike, of course, and have faith that this too shall pass. But until it does, yikes. Ike got caught looking by Tim Lincecum to lead off the second, then again with two men on to end the third. Lincecum — the elastic-armed Freak whose motion and backstory I adore — didn’t look quite himself, as he hasn’t all season, but against Ike he was more than good enough. His strategy in the third was worthy of a baseball time capsule, as he pushed Ike into a corner with fastballs, tried to get him to chase pitches out of the zone, disrupted his timing with change-ups and then erased him on an evil curveball — a third shoe dropping, if you will.

In the bottom of the fifth, Ike got another chance with the bases loaded and one out and Lincecum clearly tired. A long hit there might have made things interesting, or at least gotten our long, lanky first baseman to relax a bit. And Ike did smack a ball hard up the middle — but, alas, said middle was occupied by the glove of Emmanuel Burris, who flipped it into Brandon Crawford’s bare hand high above second, from which it traveled to Brandon Belt’s glove at first, well ahead of Ike’s arrival.

Ike got a last chance in the seventh, against Jeremy Affeldt, this time with two out and the bases loaded again. He grounded out, less dramatically this time.

But wait, here’s one from the Insult to Injury Department: He was charged — unjustly, we should add — with an error in the third when a two-out grounder off the bat of Pablo Sandoval shot upwards over his glove. With the inning extended, Buster Posey walked and Nathan Schierholtz ripped a home run over the right-field fence. Oof.

That’s eight LOB — two-thirds of the Mets’ total in a horrible game — and a key error. And how was your day at the office, honey?

Ike, mercifully, was excused for the nightcap — only to be pressed into service as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth against Clay Hensley. Once again the bases were loaded, a setup either for sweet redemption or torment worthy of the denouement of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Ike battled Hensley and Dana Demuth’s random strike zone, fighting back to 3-2 and then … getting caught looking.

Make it 11 LOB.

(The rest of Game 2? Dillon Gee was terrible, Sandoval hit one to Setauket and Jason Bay dropped a ball. Let’s just move on.)

As a ballplayer, Ike Davis has something of a split personality. In the field he generally looks serene and collected, ably corralling errant David Wright heaves with minimal fuss. At plate, though, his most pleasant expression could be described as vaguely irritated — and he’s awfully quick to bark at umpires, particularly for a guy who just turned 25. Still, the seething, temper-prone Ike would be better than what we’re getting these days: Ike’s timing is shot, his mechanics are a mess, and you can see the hopelessness of it all etched on his face. He looks like a guy stumbling across an unfamiliar room in the dark, or locked in a foreign country’s DMV with an exploded ballpoint in his pocket.

Every player has been there, and feels a deep sympathy for those trapped in that terrible dark country. But at the same time, there’s nothing to be done for the lost and slumping but to wait for them return from exile, bewildered by what’s befallen them and tortured by the inability to explain it, let alone do anything to ensure it never happens again.

Come home soon, Ike.

* * *

As a postscript, welcoming not one but two new Mets to The Holy Books wasn’t as much fun as it should have been, either. Batting just ahead of Ike in Game 2, Jordany Valdespin popped up the first big-league pitch of his career, going from on-deck circle to Baseball Encyclopedia to dugout in what has to be near-record time. Relatively unregarded Jeremy Hefner did far better, cleaning up Miguel Batista’s mess in Game 1 to keep an embarrassment from becoming a farce.

The melancholy part, for me, came from Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez discussing Sean Ratliff. In 2010, Ratliff — a fourth-round pick out of Stanford — hit 20 homers and 80 RBI between St. Lucie and Binghamton. Near the end of 2011′s spring training, he was in the on-deck circle when he was struck in the right eye by a foul ball off the bat of his friend and fellow Mets farmhand Zach Lutz. The ball broke six bones in his face and partially detached his retina. Four surgeries followed, but Ratliff was able to resume his career this year with St. Lucie, raising hopes that his rise to the majors might have been merely delayed.

It wasn’t to be — Ratliff had problems with his depth perception and his night vision. He was forced to retire.

An unhappy percentage of baseball is luck, or the lack of it.

That screaming liner disappears into a fielder’s glove. That little roller goes through an infielder’s legs.

A team avoids trips to the DL, gets help from the minors and sees a summer’s worth of curving drives kick up chalk. A team sees its starting lineup decimated, discovers its kids aren’t ready and watches ball after ball land foul.

A ball just misses you in the on-deck circle. Or it doesn’t.

Jeremy Hefner hung in there, made it to the big leagues, and opened eyes by saving the bullpen on a raw and chilly day in an otherwise dismal game. Maybe that will be enough to give him a long and useful career — or maybe he’ll soon confused with Josh Stinson. A good spring training turned Jordany Valdespin from organizational problem child to potential sparkplug, and earned him the chance to wear the number once donned by Mookie Wilson and Lance Johnson. Sean Ratliff might have been a star, or an intriguing Lucas Duda type, or at least, say, Val Pascucci. But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now we’re the only ones who’ll remember him, and maybe not even us.

It’s thoughts like that which make baseball as haunted as it is glorious.

8 comments to Yikes, Ike

  • Steve D

    I first noticed something wrong with Ike 2 weeks ago…he lifts his front leg in the middle of the pitcher’s windup on every pitch. I understand some hitters have triggers to their swings, but I had never seen a player commit so early. Keith has mentioned it a few times as well. I cannot fathom a hitter ever being successful doing this. I looked at video from last year and suprisingly saw something similar. Maybe he always did this and now pitchers are exploiting it. He has to trust his bat speed so he can get a better read on a pitch. Is this the valley fever? I don’t know…the other guy who had valley fever was affected for a long time. If this is not corrected soon, he is going to be back in the minors. Right now, he is about the worst hitter in baseball with a .190 OBP.

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/sort/onBasePct/order/false

  • BlackCountryMet

    I erroneously thought the postponement of Sundays game was a bonus, as I would have been uanble to watch and was able to watch the 1st game of the dh, starting 21 10 UK. WRONG WRONG WRONG!! Citi Field was empty which never assists in the look of a ballgame and what followed was really poor.

    I’m sure i’m not alone in this but I have no confidence when we have RISP and Ike,Jason coming up. I’m almost resigned to them striking out and the runners failing to score

    I still have faith in Ike,at least, but this is now a LONG slump and there is little sign of improvement

    Team wise pitching appears on the whole pretty good, but the bats are now sleeping big time

    Good time to play Marlins, hopefully with big crowds in, the atmosphere will assist the Mets

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Excellent desription of Ike’s facial expression lately while at the plate. It certainly seems like he’s gotten a rep as a “griper” with the umpires, and as a consequence his strike zone his been noticeably expanded.

  • vertigone

    I masochistically endured all 18 innings in person.

    - Bumped into John Franco coming off an elevator.

    - It was so cold that I spent a half inning in one of those clubs watching the game on the monitor to regain feeling in my extremities. As cold as it was, I still saw a few people in shorts.

    - I really dislike Guillermo Mota

    - After Ike’s game 2 strikeout, Wright went over to the home plate ump to express his displeasure with the call. Murphy was griping too.

    - You’ll be relieved to know that even in the 8th inning of game 2, with less than a couple hundred people remaining, the ushers guarded the Field Level seats with hyper vigilance.

    - Saw Keith Olbermann leaving the game on the 7 train.

  • Flip

    I just reread your post about Lincecum from two years ago. I remember reading it at the time and thinking it was some of your best work. My thinking on that hasn’t changed and it’s still fun to read someone else’s take on what has been a fascinating story. Tim has been all too human the last year or so, so many of us have had to hope that he would find his stride eventually, just NOT against the Mets. Well, there goes that. Still, you gotta root for this guy and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the SF Giants. After all, we’re still wearing one of their colors on our store-bought Mets paraphernalia. As for the other color, well all bets are off when you reside in L.A. I can’t STAND that place.

    Just about every time I see any ball player get his first major league at-bat, Valdespin included, I think about all the things that could have gone wrong for this guy and the unbelievable luck and hard work it took for him to come to this very moment. Really, it’s only slightly more likely than winning a lottery. That’s why when you hear about a guy like Ratliff, it hurts so bad. He had gotten that close, but not as close as he got to that foul ball. Baseball, like football, and all sports for that matter, is a game of inches, and sometimes the consequences of those inches go far beyond the outcome of a double-header.

    And you’re right, last night’s was really hard to watch, probably because it was NOT a matter of inches, but showing us just how many yards away the Mets are from their hot start. Ike’s poor mechanics are catching up with him. Bay shows little flashes, but we all know what we’re in for there. Ahhh, to be a Mets fan. Thank god for this blog. Sob.

  • T-push67

    Regarding Lincecum, Jason put it well last year when he said he was “too good too quickly for anyone to fuck him up.” But that also carries some unreasonably high expectations and scrutiny. Nice, though, to look at the rotation and see a 22 year old like Bumgarner penciled in for the second game (with Matt Cain on his heels.)

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    Didn’t it seem that the Mets weren’t much motivated yesterday, playing in front of a small crowd on a cold, damp dreary late afternoon and evening? That’s the impression I got. Even though both starters got us in a hole early, that’s no excuse for letting up – or giving up. Four very sloppy games against the Giants and we were lucky to have come out with even one victory. It’s not a good sign, especially after the 4-0 start we have since gone 4-8.

    I’m not worried about mistakes made by the kids for those are simply growing pains. But I am concerned about the lack of motivation we saw the last two months of the 2011 season (and some of us also thought we noticed during the spring) appearing to be slowly spouting itself once again. If ever the kids needed some veteran leadership to help them get out of this mini-funk and back on the right track – especially with Duda and Davis regarding the confidence factor – it’s needed now.

    I honestly don’t believe the veteran leadership is really here for when it comes to David he simply doesn’t know if he will be out the door come this July or beyond and not knowing where he stands, who knows what affect this has on his psyche. Taking into account the lip service Sandy gave Jose last season, his citing it wouldn’t be good to lose both David and Jose in the same year, plus the Mets indicatng David’s contract is not a priority at the moment

    Based on that past track record, combined with the Mets not even as yet having contacted his agent, I don’t see how David could not avoid feeling he’s unwanted. Thus, I could see David still be the professional he is and playing hard but simply placing more priority on his own performance than with his concern about being a strong clubhouse leader at this time. Uncertainty can do that to an individual.

    See ya Saturday.

    Joe

  • I dunno about that, Joe — SNY caught an interesting incident after Ike’s Game 2 strikeout. Wright planted himself between Dana Demuth and the Mets dugout, talking quietly and monopolizing his time and attention while Ike stewed and steamed on his way out to first. Gary and Ron identified it as the kind of thing team leaders do, and I’m inclined to agree. Nice to see from a guy who sometimes seemed too deferential when leadership was ready to be handed to him.