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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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Inches and Miles

We didn’t miss winning Friday night’s ballgame by much. Another inch or so batwise, and either Wright or Davis gets much more than a sacrifice fly in the first and we’re tied at three. The pitcher’s glove that deflects Jerry Hairston’s grounder away from Ruben Tejada keeps a runner off base in advance of Luis Cruz’s first-ever home run in the third. And a more generous, possibly more accurate call at second by the revered Jim Joyce when Andre Ethier was probably tagged out by Daniel Murphy (who did his job a helluva lot better than Josh Thole) means a runner who becomes a run is erased. Oh, and throw in however close Terry Collins came to writing VALDESPIN on his lineup card but failed to as another measurement by which a game of inches inched into the Dodgers’ column.

But even had the Mets gotten the microbreaks they needed to effect a grand-scale comeback or prevent the need for anything overly dramatic, a theoretical win against L.A. wouldn’t have felt free-and-clear fabulous, not when Johan Santana was pitching as he was pitching.

Dreadful was how he was pitching. As dreadful as he’s pitched in a Mets uniform, probably, and that includes those horrible Yankee Stadium starts and the last two games when he also surrendered six earned runs. Those six-packs weren’t as resolutely flat as this one. You could kind of blame the ankle tripping him up against the Cubs at Citi Field right before the All-Star break and note that until C.B. Bucknor brought his inept magic to bear in Atlanta he was doing pretty well at Turner Field.

Nothing, however, was doing here against the Dodgers. The game of inches — even the inches to which Johan contributed with his glove on the “other” Hairston’s ball — didn’t reflect the miles that were missing from his pitches, particularly that home run to Cruz. Changeup or not, a Johan Santana delivery at 73 MPH, by SNY’s reckoning, is too slow to be believed or to be of any use. No wonder Luis Cruz looked like Matt Kemp…who, unfortunately, looked a lot like Matt Kemp when he took Johan over the wall on another pitch that appeared thrown in Super Slo Mo.

One pet theory of mine is Johan could have pitched better, but he was showing solidarity with Miguel Batista in advance of the kind of outing we all expect Saturday. Another wishful thought is Johan wanted to boost his bullpen’s confidence by setting the bar low and then giving them plenty of innings in which to stretch out. What a perfect teammate he is! But no, I’m pretty sure Johan’s night of misery was genuinely unintentionally wrought. That was really and truly bad pitching, and the postgame interrogations of Collins and Santana didn’t yield much in the way of understanding beyond “something’s wrong” and “we’ll try to figure it out.”

One explanation I will not accept is the 134 pitches thrown seven weeks earlier were lethal. Hogwash. As the handy chart printed here illustrates, three starts after Santana’s nine innings of no-hit, shutout ball versus the Cardinals on June 1, Johan threw six innings of four-hit, shutout ball against the Orioles; the start after that, it was six innings of five-hit, two-run ball dropped on the Cubs, blemished only by the evil Joe Mather; the start after that, these very Dodgers — or a Kempless, Ethierless facsimile — were subject to eight innings of three-hit, shutout ball. Santana’s had his downs since the night of The First No-Hitter In New York Mets History, but he crafted several legitimate ups along the way.

If something’s wrong, it isn’t from an extra 15 to 20 pitches seven weeks ago only now truly getting the best of him. I’d have bought it if the lousy start against the Yankees and the lousy start against the Rays had been followed by this lousy start. But he looked very good twice, pretty darn good (save for Mather) once and good enough to have escaped, save for ankles and Bucknors, another two times.

But if you’d like to use 134 pitches as your crutch (and I’m not a doctor, athletic trainer or pitching coach, I just play one on Faith and Fear, so how would I know what’s right and what’s wrong?) and tell me oh dear, that extra inning worth of exertion was too much strain for the surgically repaired shoulder, there goes the man’s career, there goes our season and present irrefutable evidence to support your assertion, I’d have nothing to say except what Lyndon Johnson had to say in 1963 in response to fears that he’d expend too much political capital too early in his unforeseen presidency if he attempted to push controversial civil rights legislation through a recalcitrant Congress:

“Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

Except replace “the presidency” with “a great pitcher” and switch out “controversial civil rights legislation” for “long dreamed of franchise milestone whose fruition is as cherished in its existence as it was in fantasy”.

He’s Johan. He’ll figure it out.

If you need me for anything else, I’ll be in 405 this afternoon, cradling Edgardo Alfonzo’s bobblehead so it doesn’t fly off with Miguel Batista’s real one. Come say hi if you’re in the vicinity. I’ll be wearing No. 13 and loudly inquiring of Terry, should his lineup be yet again lacking the Human Thunderbolt, “Well, what the hell’s Jordany Valdespin for?”

9 comments to Inches and Miles

  • Andee

    The no-no by itself probably didn’t do him in. Like you said, he had effective outings after that. But this is a surgery that is notoriously difficult for pitchers to come all the way back from, and Johan is 33 years old and has gone deep into games on multiple occasions. And now he looks shot. Probably the only reason they haven’t DL-ed him yet is that that would make it two starters in one week, and also, he’s not the kind of guy to admit he’s hurt, it has to be yanked out of him. But if this is how he’s going to pitch for the next year and a half, we’re really hosed. So I very much hope you are right that this is a blip.

    Heck, a week from now, we could be seeing Harvey and McHugh being called up. (Wheeler got pasted on Friday, so probably not him.) Maybe it would be better to have them both come up at the same time, to dilute the attention. I don’t know how much Poetry Man and Playboy Hefner I can take. Of course, watch them both be way better than Johan. The bar’s not all that high.

  • Dave

    Thank you (and love the analogy)…Valdespin should at the very least be playing LF against righties. And while I suspect Johan will or already has figured it out, the post-surgery arm might only have so many innings in it for 2012, he might have to be Strasburged pretty soon. Face it, been fun and will continue to be, but this ain’t the year just yet.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    I was chatting with somebody who said that the velocity was still there, that it hadn’t changed at all, but rather it’s the location of his pitches. So it’s not physical, at least according to one’s observation.

    Guess it could just mean Johann is in a pitching slump. Has anybody noticed any change in his mechanics? Also know it’s hard to see anything even on a 72 inch HD monitor so we don’t know if he’s gripping the ball different as well.

    Greg, am sure you will be one of the first to get to Citi Field to insure being one of the first 25,000 fans to get that Fonzie bobblehead (knew you would want to get one – is Steph coming so you will have two?).

    And enjoy the game — we’re all hoping your theory about Batista works!

  • Joe D.

    Greg,

    IT’S AN ANKLE INJURY. METS JUST PLACED JOHANN ON DISABLED LIST!

  • Steve D

    I did see Johan favor his foot last night after a pitch…I expected Collins to race to the mound, but he didn’t. After the game Collins said he wasn’t hurt and he needed more energy in his arm. I think it is more than just an ankle and they are obfuscating the truth as usual.

    • Joe D.

      Hi Steve,

      “Obfuscating the truth as usual”?

      Watch out – that would imply the front office not being honest with the fans and could open up a can of worms. :)

      This is again not trying to knock Sandy Alderson in any way because he too is working for a living and has to do – and say – what the ownership tells him. So I’m thinking of what he said last fall upon releasing Capuano, that the Mets were very pleased with his performance in 2011 but that he just didn’t fit into their future plans. Perhaps 2012 is just one of these career years for Capunao, who knows? But if his release didn’t have anything to do with not being satisfied with his performance, than what did? Certainly not because Santana’s return was a given or that Pelfrey was still seen in the Mets’ future.

      Again, “obfuscating the truth” has to at least politely address the question what a “vision” which still needs at least three years more to even begin reaching fruition has to do with the two or three years before that? Can’t both roads be taken at the same time, the present and the future?

      One does not need conflict with the other. Nor does one have to repeat the mistakes of the past to think in terms of both.

      Injuries have hurt us this year, definitely, but then, what would our position be if we still had Capuano (which was not my call because I thought he pitched poorly – different than the front office’s), Pagan, KRod, Takahashi and our old friend Isringhausen? How many more wins could they have added to our record before this slump began so we would not be falling back as far as are now doing?

      Also, how would having them hurt any long-term vision? Trading Pagan got two older players for the price of one. Not re-signing Cappuano meant saving ten million over two years. Carasco cost one third the salary for two years as Takahahsi., etc. The other 2010 and 2011 signings other than Byrdak and Hairston (a relief specialist and bench player) have all been busts. And notice, I didn’t mention anything about Beltran since that is more with 2011 and Wheeler.

      The players we let go would not have taken up slots for youngsters when they become ready anymore than the ones we signed to replace them. So, if one wants to say the Mets are in such a position to which they couldn’t even afford these players at this time, I’m fine with that. I just don’t believe it could be argued that discarding them with the talent that we do have was the first step of a well thought out of and sincere vision for the long-term. Both are separate issues for the reasons stated above.

      That’s why I ask those who like Sandy handling the front office to at least say the moves he had to make were forced on him by circumstances beyond his control, rather than say they were the the calculated first steps in a long-term vision.

      That’s why I enjoyed your reference about obfuscating the truth, even if it didn’t apply to the points I make.

  • I’m goin’ to the Tavern, Greg. If there’s anything I can do for you there, let me know.

  • Lenny65

    I was expecting a bit of a “return to earth” but I didn’t really expect the wheels to completely fall off like this, either. It’s pretty alarming, I’d hate to see all the good work they’ve accomplished this season just be forgotten in a blaze of massive second-half failure.

  • Joe D.

    Lenny,

    Was afraid of this happening because of the moves made just last year alone. We have to be fair and admit a lot of the sudden drop is due to injuries now to three of the five starters we counted on and nobody could foresee that.

    But we still could have had a younger and more productive center fielder in Crazy Horse, a starter in Capuano (I said I thought he was awful last season but Sandy liked him) a closer in KRod and a better set-up man in Issringhausen.

    Forget that KRod was overpaid. Despite the injuries, the Mets would still be in better shape if they retained those four players.

    Always contended the best deals are often the ones you don’t make. Just on paper, which side of the composite equation looked better based just on 2011 appearances – KRod, Capuano (based on consensus opinion LOL) Pagan and Issringhaussen or Torres, Francisco, Ramirez and Rauch?