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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.

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Ten Years Ago...

… the Mets went 0-for-August at Shea Stadium.

I remember it all too well. They were 0-13 for the month, with game after game a despairing, infuriating question of when, not if. They then lost the first two home games in September, making the home futility streak 15 straight. The final loss was a 3-2 defeat in 12 innings at the hands of the Marlins, in the first game of a doubleheader. The Mets won the second game 11-5 and the disaster was over — in fact, that win was the first of seven in a row, a streak that came too late to matter and so mostly just aggravated us further.

If you weren’t around for it, well, this current stretch is an excellent re-creation.

This time around the Mets can’t go 0-for-July, as they beat the Phillies (twice!) and the Cubs before the All-Star break, but otherwise things feel awfully familiar. The team looks variously listless and overamped, losing by doing too little and losing by trying to do too much. Should the scenario repeat itself, the only surprising thing would be for this year’s Mets to somehow rebound and win seven straight. Seven more wins before everybody packs up their lockers at Citi Field? More plausible, but let’s not get cocky.

Today’s matinee offered relatively few pleasures. If you’re a Mets fan, there was Ike Davis’s line-drive homer into Utleyville, a fairly courageous start by Jeremy Hefner marred by a couple of gopher balls, and some nice plays by Davis and the recently spiked Ruben Tejada. Otherwise, well, it was all Nats — particularly the work of 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg.

At least on some level, any good pitching performance is a pleasure to watch, whether it’s R.A. Dickey redefining a pitch dismissed as a sideshow or Greg Maddux making the sum of average but perfectly located pitches far more than the sum of their parts. But Strasburg is something else — a classic power pitcher, with thunderbolt fastballs and knee-buckling curves and the power pitcher’s assurance that the game is in his hands. When Strasburg’s on you may not get the done-with-mirrors glee of a solid Dickey outing or the head-shaking thrill of watching a Maddux outthink everybody, but what you get definitely has its pleasures: the sight of a superb physical specimen making a very difficult game look easy. Which is what Strasburg did, from the three pitches he needed to fan Tejada leading off the game to the five required to erase Kirk Nieuwenhuis closing out the seventh. It was a clinic, with no confrontation more impressive than his showdown with David Wright at the end of the sixth. Wright was the tying run, and he got to 2-0 on Strasburg, but the Nats hurler dueled David to a 2-2 draw and then left him looking at a perfect curve settling at the knee. If you’d told Wright it was coming, maybe he’d have been able to flick it into the seats behind first or pop it up. Maybe.

It will be fascinating to watch what the Nats do with Strasburg as he approaches the innings limit mandated for young pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery. On the one hand, Strasburg is obviously a rare talent, one who might be a 15-game winner for a generation if his golden arm is treated with the TLC it deserves. On the other, one should never assume a good club is the beginning of a dynasty — sometimes the tumblers never again align, and if you don’t go for it you’re soon left with a bunch of Plan Bs and what-ifs. Just ask the 2006 Mets about that one.

If only the 2012 Mets had such dilemmas to ponder. They’re looking at two weeks of bad road — off on a long trudge west, playing at strange hours and in distant cities, with the fresh memory of a winless homestand, Tim Byrdak barking at Josh Thole and Dan Warthen in front of Mr. Met and everybody, and a manager incandescent with frustration. As baseball fans, if nothing else we can say “ya never know” — that incantation is all that keeps the darkness at bay sometimes. But while it’s true that ya never know, there are times when you’ve got a pretty good guess. One shudders to think what the Mets’ record will be on Aug. 7, when they return home to the suddenly unfriendly confines of Citi Field. 2013 may have always been the target year for turning things around, but 2012 was fun until it turned to ashes — and all of a sudden there’s a lot of ashes left to wade through.

16 comments to Ten Years Ago…

  • Andee

    OK, this is really bugging me. Warthen is calling games from the bench? He gets final say on every single pitch? Is this now standard practice in MLB? I realize the bench gets some input, but is that a thing now, for the pitching coach to overrule both the pitcher and the catcher? I remember back when BV was manager, he made a big deal about the fact that the catcher was a member of the pitching staff, that the pitcher and catcher were “dance partners,” and that good game-calling by the catcher was critical. Have things changed that much in the last 15 years, or is Warthen being given some kind of special ruling scepter because he’s tight with the owners?

    I never thought I’d see the day when I said, “An 11-game West Coast swing is exactly what they need now.” But it is.

  • In 2002 they traded Jason Bay for a decent (if superfluous) relief pitcher. If only they could pull off such a deal in 2012.

  • I feel sorry for those who have to follow them every day..Sportswriters, bloggers,etc..
    It was a nice little ride while it lasted..

    Rich P

  • Interesting that there’s been debate about Warthen’s coaching ability, and how strange it is that the starters do better than the relievers. How could a coach be adept at one area and not at another. Now that I think about it, though, it’s probably easier to coach good players and harder to coach mediocre ones. Starters come in with a specific game plan which includes a week of prep, video review, pitch counts and targeted innings – 6-7 in this case. Relievers are a different animal, need to be managed in the moment and could throw 4 pitches or 25 depending on situation. It’s just a harder thing to do.

    I’m not saying can Warthen, but I do think bullpen management is Collins’ weakest area of management and I don’t think Warthen is helping. I mean, the bullpen is not laden with talent, but I have a hard time believing guys like Parnell, Byrdak and even Ramirez can’t be more successful. There are a lot of teams with substandard bullpens that have better success than the Mets do. (Come to think of it – all teams have better success in the bullpen than the Mets do).

    I haven’t thought of NY as a home field advantage for the Mets since the 80s, so I think it’s good for them to get out of town. Even when the Nats were terrible, they were always tough on the Mets.

    • Steve D

      Great point about starters and relievers…starters also generally are more experienced and have track records. Byrdak seems to be strong-willed, which is good for a pitcher…not a guy you want to tell what pitch to throw and not be flexible.

    • Matt from Woodside

      I was thinking the same thing for a while, and then I decided that it’s kind of tough to give Warthen too much credit for the success of a two-time Cy Young Award winner and a guy who personally reinvented the knuckeball. So, I guess he’s done good work with Niese and Gee and nobody else this year?

  • Barry Federovitch

    I find it particularly irritating that the Brewers’ bullpen just HANDED the Phillies three straight games. It was as if we’re being sabotaged by DOUBLE bad bullpens. Now the Phillies have life and that miracle comeback suddenly has legs. I knew all along they’d catch us, but I thought in September, not July. The optimism level for 2013 went down about 10 notches with this meltdown. No one will believe how good we are in 2013 until it gets about two-thirds of the way into the season. So the Wilpons can market their hearts out, try and snow us, but they’ll find a lot of empty seats deep into the season. Not spending money NOW will have a deep carryover effect. This doesn’t feel like ”we’re almost there.” It feels like we’re several seasons away.

    • sturock

      What if this takes another five years? Yikes!

      I remember when Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks came up back in 1980 and they brought so much hope after the moribund late 70′s teams. It still took until 1984 (1985, really) for those Mets to fully develop. It took great drafts and really smart trades– and how many truly trade-worthy commodities do we even have right now?– and most of all, a lot of luck– acquiring Keith for nothing, drafting two potential superstars who actually panned out in Doc and Darryl.

      These Mets need to get a little lucky, but Alderson also needs to have the kind of plan Frank Cashen did. I still have faith in him, but it wavers. That sure is one toxic bullpen he’s assembled, it’s not just Terry’s management of it that sucks.

      I worry because, aside from Wheeler and maybe Harvey, there are no big-impact stars in our farm system. At best, we may be developing more of the same group of nice complementary players who aren’t going to lead us anywhere. That’s a big problem. Where is our Bryce Harper? Mike Trout? Andrew McCutchen? Cole Hamels? David Price? Jason Heyward or Justin Upton, even? Where are these guys? Do we have them? It may take five years for Brnadon Nimmon or Gavin Cecchini…if they blossom into anything at all. Where’s our young talent? David Wright can’t keep doing this all by himself.

      • Andee

        Funny you should mention McCutchen. He wasn’t an instant superstar by any means; he was drafted in 2005, called up in 2009, and didn’t start putting up megastar numbers until this year. So, 7 years between draft and fully blossoming.

        That’s actually a much more typical career trajectory for a star player than that of Trout or Harper, who were called up unusually fast and were great right away. I worry that players like them and Strasburg are ruining it for everyone else; now people are going to be disappointed if they have to wait for their fruit to ripen, like the Pirates did with McCutchen. But that’s the danger of win-now-now-now thinking. We just had to have K-Rod, and because of that, we lost the chance to draft Trout.

  • open the gates

    Did you hear that sound?

    It was the other shoe falling.

  • 5w30

    I think Hank Hill’s father [whom TC is a dead ringer for] is going to blow his top off camera sometime soon. Don’t know where or when, but it’s going to happen. Almost did Wednesday.

  • Guy Kipp

    I’ve always been dubious of Warthen’s effectiveness as a coach. How many hitting coaches have the Mets gone through now since Warthen has overseen one unreliable bullpen after another, and one starting staff after another that performs decently for half a season before wearing down or breaking down after July?
    Has Jonathan Niese made it through August and September standing yet?
    Anybody expect him to this year?
    Anybody expect Santana to actually throw another effective inning in 2012?
    You wonder what someone like Bobby Parnell or Niese would have been able to accomplish under the tutelage of someone like Dave Duncan instead of Dan Warthen.
    Calling pitches from the bench? That’s a callback to the Jeff Torborg years, when every movement on the field was tightly controlled from the dugout, but nothing that happened in the clubhouse was controlled at all by who was at the helm in the dugout.

    • Will in Central NJ

      If we’re talking about cutting Warthen loose, who do we bring in? Anyone know if Leo Mazzone is available?

      • Guy Kipp

        I don’t know who they should bring in. There are plenty of pitching coaches out there with a body of work more convincing than Dan Warthen.
        What can he really point to in defense of his job? The fact that Mike Pelfrey threw a 95-mph fastball, but couldn’t strike out 5 batters per 9 innings?
        It could well go deeper than Warthen. An organizational thing. Who was the last pitcher the team developed who had any kind of longterm success?
        How about two good seasons in a row for any individual pitcher (who doesn’t throw a knuckler)?

        • open the gates

          I doubt that Dan Warthen has anything whatsoever to say to R.A. Dickey. “Keep throwing that knuckler!” Heck, I could say that too.

  • Johnny L.

    It’s getting as pathetic as the 15 game losing streak of 1982. I was a teen at the time, and I guess I was less jaded than I am now. I just remember being star struck and just thrilled to be at Shea. The past few weeks however, I’ve just had the annual gut punched feeling. Let’s go Mets. They’re gonna take time off my life, but their a safer vice than heroin.