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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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I Love Baseball, I Hate Baseball

For a minute, let’s turn off the car in the closed garage, unknot the noose and descend the ladder, and drop the plugged-in hair dryer on the floor beside the tub instead of between our knees in the water. We’re going to try to gain some distance, and assess a certain recently concluded debacle from an outsider’s perspective.

OK. You with me?

That really was a heck of a baseball game.

No, really — it was. It was two pretty intriguing games in one, in fact.

The first one was tense and tight and grinding, a staredown between Jon Niese and Ross Detwiler in jungle heat. Niese was in line for the loss because Tyler Moore (who’s been tired of your jokes for many years now) snuck a liner just over the right-field fence, with Scott Hairston poised for a carom that would never arrive. Detwiler was in line for the win chiefly because Hairston kept coming out of his shoes trying to hit pitches that weren’t strikes and Jason Bay was remarkably feeble — even by post-Omarpalooza standards — in his first night back in the lineup. And OK, because Mark Carlson badly blew a fairly obvious call. But then baseball’s umpires seem to do that on a daily basis now.

The second game within a game was something else — wild and unlikely and entertaining before it turned hideous, as I think most of us sensed it was going to. Down 2-0 against the Nationals’ closer, the usually reliable Tyler Clippard, Jordany Valdespin whacked a pinch-hit three-run homer, lifting the Mets from goats to potential heroes in an ear-popping ascension. Say what you will about Valdespin — and when cloaked in anonymity various Mets seem to say a lot — but he has a way of showing up in big spots. (Which is undoubtedly a reflection of a very small sample size, but let’s not be unfun.) The only problem with the uprising against Clippard was the Mets’ horrific bullpen and its shoddy defense would have to collaborate to protect a one-run lead.

Predictably, they couldn’t. Bobby Parnell threw fastballs over the fat part of the plate and the lead was gone. On to extra innings.

Unperturbed, the Mets grabbed the lead again, with Josh Thole guiding a double up the gap. Oh, how resilient of them! The only problem with the uprising against Mike Gonzalez was the Mets’ horrific bullpen and its shoddy defense would have to collaborate to protect a one-run lead.

Predictably, they couldn’t. Tim Byrdak surrendered a one-out triple to Bryce Harper (no little dunker in front of a sliding Vinny Rottino this time) for a tie game, the Mets walked the bases full, Adam LaRoche grounded into a fielder’s choice to give New York a puncher’s chance at escaping to an 11th inning … and Pedro Beato uncorked a wild pitch to lose.

Well, of course he did.

This was the flipside of six weeks ago: Then Valdespin led a late comeback and the defense (mostly Jordany himself, playing shortstop for probably the last time ever) did horrible, horrible things that made you half-wish the hitters had just expired quietly. Tonight, the defense was blameless, but the bullpen was spectacularly awful, which led to the same result. It was Death by Unga Bunga, to quote the terrible old joke understood by any baseball fan who’s seen an unexpected late rally morph into a demoralizing disaster.

I don’t know what to say. This feels exactly like the last three years, with the Mets rounding the halfway point looking tough and gritty and resilient and all those other things we reflexively say about teams that win more often than they lose, then quickly going into a death spiral that makes all those good feelings distant memories by the time October mercifully arrives and it’s time to watch other teams play in the playoffs.

I guess one thing to say is that it’s pretty hard to disagree with Sandy Alderson that the bullpen is what most needs fixing. But what kind of fix is possible when everything is broken? Soon after this one ended, I tweeted that I’d be in favor of releasing the whole lot of them, which should have sounded crazier than it did. Terry Collins told the assembled reporters that he was sticking with Parnell and Byrdak because “they’re the ones who got us here,” but where exactly is here? It’s two ticks over .500. Here isn’t a place any of us want to be.

Answers? Ya got me. Jon Rauch has been better on Twitter than he’s been on the mound. Frank Francisco gave us typical closer nightmares. Ramon Ramirez was the only reliever who was blameless tonight, and he’s been mostly awful. We all wanted Josh Edgin, we got him, and now he’s got an ERA over 10. We wanted Beato back, and he managed to lose tonight’s game in horrifying, Kenny Rogersesque fashion. Miguel Batista didn’t have a chance to be awful because the Mets are deluding themselves that he won’t be awful as a starter on Saturday. The Bisons’ bullpen is mostly made up of guys who failed up here earlier and got shipped out. The closer, Fernando Cabrera, hasn’t gotten a call-up, but before you start beating the drums for him, here are his ERAs from the last five years he pitched in the majors: 5.19, 7.21, 5.40, 8.44, 20.25. Ay Cabrera!

I know — let’s bring back Manny Acosta! What’s crazy is that no longer seems so crazy.

The best of the relievers have been frustratingly uneven, and as a group they’ve been horrible — so horrible that the best answer might be remembering that statistics suggest this group is unlikely to be more horrible than they’ve already been.

No, that doesn’t sound like much of a rallying cry to me either.

Maybe Sandy should do what the judge in “The Untouchables” did, when he swapped juries with the courtroom next door. He could put together a megatrade with, say, the Phillies — our terrible bullpen for theirs. Two fan bases get rid of bad relievers they can no longer stand, followed by a lesson in not trusting new bad relievers.

Since that’s unlikely to happen, we’re back to perspective: It really was a great game. Full of twists and turns and drama. The kind of game you hope will be a newcomer’s introduction to baseball, because it will go a long way to making him or her a fan.

Of the Nationals.

20 comments to I Love Baseball, I Hate Baseball

  • Barry Federovitch

    NYM in July no longer stands for New York Mets. It’s Now Your Masochism. When they come apart, it’s painful, like emotional blow-out-your-knee painful. And yes, how is this trainwreck of a bullpen any different from its 2007 and 2008 predecessors? They teased us until July 5, the Philly win that was the highwater mark of the season. And now they’re back to being pumpkins again, while the cocky, haughty Yankees prepare for championship number 28. Even the Phillies are hot, now only six behind us. What a shame. It was all a mirage. I feel like Tom Veryzer in 1982 could walk out of the dugout at any moment or Bruce Boisclair just got a big April hit in ’76 against the Braves. Rod Serling has arrived and all we come up with is sand.

  • Andee

    I propose that every time Tyler Moore comes to bat at Citi Field, the fans all do that kitten meow sound. He won’t get the joke until Davey explains it to him, which will make it even funnier.

    Meanwhile, in things that are not funny: When is Dan Warthen going to get his one-way ticket to Chuck E. Cheese already? Not only have we never had a decent bullpen since he’s been in charge, we haven’t even had one consistently good reliever for an entire year since he’s been in charge. He borks ‘em all, regardless of prior track record. How else to explain that we’ve had such a revolving door of yuck in that pen? Warthen is the one constant!

    Also: This front office has made remarkable strides in increasing run production over the last two years, by emphasizing patience at the plate and OBP. Now they’ve got to apply that innovative thinking to developing relievers. It’s just not true that any old schlub in the minors can learn to consistently record high-leverage outs, especially with runners on; that is a specific skill set that should be cultivated starting in the lower minors.

    I agree with the SABR set that paying top dollar for saves-qua-saves is largely a waste of money (because saves are a silly statistic to begin with). I also concur that constructing your bullpen around a “closer” who can rack up saves is a fool’s errand unless you’ve got an Eckersley or a Rivera, who are rare birds indeed. But if you don’t have those guys you can call up who have proven themselves to be able to do such a thing in the minors, you’re stuck with trying to get lucky with the scrap heap. Which especially won’t work if your pitching coach is a dumbass. Get them doing it the right way in the minors, and then they can just laugh off Warthen the way the Nats pitchers do Steve McCatty.

  • dmg

    ok, this sounds like a joke, but i’m serious. as long as we are stuck with this pitching model — of starters going six or seven innings, bullpen goes the rest — and these players, why not REVERSE the sequence?

    Have the bullpen start the game, the first three innings, and the starters come in after that. whatever sins the bullpen visits upon the scoreboard, the lineup would still have enough innings to recover — an end to walkoffs. the starter would close down the scoring, or minimize it. starter still gets the win, too, i’d imagine.

  • Jim Haines

    A baseball game? More like a quick kick in the nuts.

  • Steve D

    This is a cheap team, with too little talent, with a good manager who gets them to overachieve. If you just enjoy being a loyal Met fan, watching (and paying) for this type of baseball, fine. If you think in the NY market, we should at least be in the same universe over the last 20 years as the Yankees, blame the Wilponz. It is really your choice fans.

  • boldib

    The Wilpons gave Alderson a decent chunk of change to fix the bullpen this winter. He trusted the Alderson brain trust to come up with some decent talent for his money. A miserable failure – not Wilpon’s fault.

    (Just curious: what does a bullpen coach do? These guys come out lloking scared shitless)

    This is a good team. That’s why it’s so frustrating. If they sucked all around it wouldn’t be as painful.

    • Steve D

      The team pays $56 Million to three players…Santana, Wright and Bay. Since Bay has done nothing since coming here, they basically pay $56 M to two players and $40 M to the whole rest of the team. That really makes them a small market team in the biggest market in the world. Who would you blame for that? HMMMMM….

  • kjs

    Tired old Alderson is in there on Selig’s behalf to protect the Wilpons’ interest in retaining (aka “holding hostage”) the lone NL baseball franchise in NYC (welcome to Cubsville in the Wrigley era, kids!). Maybe when they recover some monies lost—doubtful, as the Mets are 16th in MLB in attendance with a “gritty team” and a no-hitter and Dickey, and even their All-Star Hustle to sell seats for 2012 and 2013 has gone kaput.

    The Wilpons have already divested tickets to freelance sellers at the face value of $5 for September. I bought a few a month ago off of my friend, who sells them. It’s the type of “dynamic pricing” they never want to reveal.

    They had no interest—going back a month—to compete in September.

    BTW, mega kudos to the gentlemen who stood outside the SNY window during the postgame last night with a sign: NEED BULLPEN HELP. Your message would read and clear to other franchises that actually do want to succeed. I hope in your lifetime you find happiness.

    Me? Forty-two years of this. I’m older—I’ll be dead by then.

    LGM!

    • Tom in Sunnyside

      If some local homeless guy held up a sign behind Ojeda and Carlin that said, “Will Pitch Relief for Food”, the front office would call the studio to get him out of there… and into the bullpen for a Shackburger and a Box Frites to be named later.

  • Tom in Sunnyside

    Right now this bullpen couldn’t get three outs if you spotted them the vowels and two t’s. Can we designate an entire bullpen for assignment? We all knew it was going to be a huge weakness coming into the season and that it’s been made worse by injury, but by God, these guys look like frightened children on the mound. During the Braves game Saturday you could tell what pitch was coming and which hole the batter would shoot it through. Last night you knew the Mets relievers couldn’t hit their spot. You could only hope the ball wouldn’t A) be grooved over the plate or B) be a wild pitch. Both hopes were dashed too often.

    I think I’m going to start turning off games when the relievers come in with less than a five run lead. It’s too disturbing otherwise.

  • SJGMoney

    The thing is Parnell did NOT just try and throw fastballs, he threw a shatload of curves. The two out tying run hit he gave up was on a perfect pitch, perfect in that it was right where Thole wanted it, very low and outside. The problem is that, according to Ron Darling, Espinosa (or whoever the hell hit it, I’m too aggravated to look it up) is a low ball hitter and the pitch should have been up in the zone. So either Ron Darling is making it up or Thole/Warthen don’t know how to read a goddamn scouting report!!!!!!

    • Jacobs27

      You’re right, SJGMoney. It was a weird inning for Parnell. On the hit that tied the game, it wasn’t just that Espinosa is a low-ball hitter, it’s that a high fastball was absolutely The-Pitch-to-Throw, after all those curves. Change his eye-level, like they did so well to Hairston.

      The fact of the matter is though, Bobby Parnell is just an eminently hittable pitcher who throws 99 miles per hour. I don’t know how to explain it, except in part by location mistakes, but for a guy who throws as hard as he does–he gets hit hard an awful lot.

  • Barry Federovitch

    So Thole doesn’t hit much and can’t call a good game either? Not good.

  • Tom in NY

    We had an eminently hit table flamethrower named Armondo Benitez. Parnell is much like him, just not as good.

  • Lenny65

    Sigh. Well, it isn’t as if we didn’t know that Santana and Dickey wouldn’t be tossing gems every time out, or that Bay can’t hit anymore, or that our catchers are hitting a collective .125 or something, or that our bullpen was so bad it’d make us yearn for the glory days of Tim Burke and Mike Maddux. It was bound to catch up to them eventually. Doesn’t make it suck any less though.

  • Jacobs27

    Love baseball, hate Baseball.

    LOATHE the bullpen.