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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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Giving Us Something We Can Feel

Each Matt Harvey start transports me to a better place — a better place than third, even if the Mets have been stuck there since well before he came up and will have to keep what’s left of their act together to remain there. (Hard-to-believe fact: the Mets, despite losing 20 of their last 28, still have a better record than seven National League teams.) Four starts into his major league career, Harvey is technically on a downward slide, having gone from 1-0 to 1-3 since his splashy debut in Phoenix, but by any reasonable assessment, he’s getting better and better.

Friday night, he mapped out an ideal trajectory for his future: get the struggling out of the way early, persevere through the inherent challenges he will inevitably face and then shift into cruise control. Granted, the six-inning microcosm of what we’d like to take as a metaphor didn’t do the Mets much good in the face of Mighty Paul Maholm, master of the offspeed and invincible to the tune of a three-hit shutout. When was the last time Maholm pitched as well as this? Measured by Bill Jamesian Game Score, never.

Maholm chose MercyMe Concert Night to be at his most unmercifully effective, though perhaps there should be an asterisk attached to his performance as the Mets’ lineup included .152-batting Jason Bay, who was presumably playing as part of some Make-A-Wish arrangement. Old hat for Maholm, who once faced a New York team whose leadoff hitter for a day was 60th-birthday boy Billy Crystal.

So Big Bad Paul, who couldn’t have looked like a better pennant race pickup for Atlanta, rendered opposition irrelevant, but that didn’t stop Harvey from making the rest of us feel at least a little Metfully good once he honed his location and stopped walking Braves. Control wasn’t an overriding issue in Matt’s first three outings, but as long as he’s serving up a smorgasbord of starts (dominant vs. Diamondbacks; hard-luck vs. Giants; shaky at San Diego), why not this kind? Why not the kind where he looks hopeless early and reverts to hopeful for the duration? The five walks were not pleasant, but except for his pitch count, the only harm came from Jason Heyward homering with the first base-on-baller, Michael Bourn, on base. That made it 2-0 after three batters.

Four walks awaited between the first and the third, but no more runs. For that matter, only one more hit materialized after the first inning en route to retiring his last nine in a row. That old chestnut about getting to great pitchers early if you wanted to get to them at all floated by in my mind. Matt Harvey isn’t a great pitcher yet, but he continues to show signs he can be and he continues to comport himself like he expects to be. “I don’t like to lose,” he said, in an echo of his San Francisco self-assessment. “I don’t like to give up runs. Tonight I didn’t do my job very well [...] I’ve got to do better.”

Nothing there about not getting breaks or going up against a tough opponent or, thank heaven, making his pitches but they just found holes. Even the Freddie Freeman sizzler that smacked off his right thigh before becoming a third-inning putout wasn’t about to get the best of him:

“I’m going out and walking people. And then I go out and get smoked by a line drive. It pissed me off, to be honest with you.”

That response reminded me of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows, Six Feet Under — when David Fisher (Michael C. Hall) tells his hunky cop boyfriend Keith of the first time he noticed him:

“I just noticed how you locked your car. You pointed the button at it like, ‘Fuck you, car, now you’re locked.’”

If I’m swooning over anything regarding Matt Harvey, it’s his implicit attitude that nothing — not wildness, not Heyward, not a car alarm — is supposed to be an unscalable obstacle. It feels like he insists on winning. The Mets, as a rule, don’t insist on winning. I’m sure they prefer it to the alternative, and I don’t doubt they strive toward it with hard work and diligent preparation, but even when they were going well for a third of a season, I didn’t get the sense they expected to win to the point of not accepting losing. Their bouts of success, which never added up to a record better than eight games over .500, always seemed laced with amazement that, Gosh, we did it! We won a game! Maybe we’ll take two of three! Let’s dress up like cowboys and hockey players for the next road trip!

Then two out of three became one out of three (if that) and it was back to Terry Collins explaining yeah, we got beat, but the game was close and the other team deserves credit; and David Wright mournfully issuing respectful quotes in deference to the victors; and one youngster after another, once the blooms receded from their respective roses, essentially admitting, “I’m sorry, I’m lost.”

Unlike my friend Howard Megdal, I don’t intuit that this is 1977 incarnate talentwise. Howard made an intriguing case on Capital New York that this August’s square one shares uncomfortable similarities with that August’s square one, yet having lived through that August — Friday was 35 years to the day since I lived that August most tangibly — I will attest bringing your kids to see these kids is a damn sight less horrifying than bringing oneself to see those kids. Nevertheless, having framed this year early and often as the year when we needed to see meaningful steps forward by the eight homegrown players under 28 who’d been around here for parts of the last three to five seasons (Thole, Davis, Murphy, Tejada, Duda, Niese, Gee, Parnell), it’s rather disappointing to realize their collective net progress has been barely positive, and that’s if you’re grading on a generous curve. 2012 doesn’t feel like 1977, the beginning of the dread times, but I don’t believe it feels like 1983, when the light began to flicker fitfully but convincingly at the end of the tunnel.

Most nights for the past five weeks, 2012 hasn’t felt like anything at all. Except when Matt Harvey pitches. Then it really feels like something.

10 comments to Giving Us Something We Can Feel

  • joenunz

    “Their bouts of success, which , always seemed laced with amazement that, Gosh, we did it! We won a game!”

    Even when the Mets have ACTUALLY had success, it’s been amazement laced…”God took an apartment in Shea”; “gets by Buckner”; “the top of the wall to Jones to Garrett to Hodges” and “Benny Agbayani”…

    When the Mets kick ass, they kick ass when the other guy isn’t looking – it still counts as an ass kicking, but don’t expect it to happen too often.

    • Amazement-laced for the rest of us, but the guys in the middle of it seem to believe in themselves. Even Benny was on Howard days later declaring, “Mets in five.” Anybody did anything like that today, David would take him aside for a quiet talking to.

      • joenunz

        Good point, I suppose when the PLAYERS say “Ya Gotta Believe”, well then, ya gotta believe.

        Maybe I’m too hung up on media perception…wait, am I Fred Wilpon?!

  • kjs

    Kudos to the diminished attendance. “faith and family night” should be held IN Atlanta, not hosting Atlanta. Is the front office insane? NYC is refuge from that pabulum.

  • Jerry Z

    I attended last night’s game. It was pretty dead, a lot of empty seats in the lower bowl. Attendance seemed low for a Friday night. I came out to see Harvey, which I was glad. But last night’s lineup minus Wright was weak, it had no punch whatsoever; boring really. I’m tired of seeing the retreads. This front office is well paid and experienced so I’m still patient, but this patience only lasts so long. But, I’m also afraid 2013 might not be any different if changes are not made.

    • kjs

      Yes, but wasn’t Faith and Family Night with the maestro, MercyMe, so elevating, so inspirational, so utterly a part of a bona fide NYC baseball experience…?

      On the positive side, if we do develop a few more Matt Harveys, we’ll be OK in a few years. I really like the guy’s attitude and his expectations for himself. Seaver had the same qualities, and if he’s half the pitcher Seaver was, we’re in a good spot.

      And the cheapest entrance tonight is $40, ensuring that there may be 18,000 at most in the stands on a Saturday night.

  • Jacobs27

    Hello, hello. We’re at a place called vertigo.

    It’s everything I wish I [hadn't seen before], but you…

  • TJHinNYC

    Apologies for this off-topic post…

    During the local telecasts of the last couple of games from Citi Field I noticed something new. It seems that the center field camera — which picks up almost every pitch as it is thrown — has been moved to a spot exactly in line with the pitcher and catcher. That is, the shot is directly behind the pitcher’s head.

    I remember on occasion seeing that angle from one or two other ballparks and found it very disconcerting. The former angle at Citi Field (and Shea Stadium) for as long as I can remember was slightly off to the side. It placed a right-handed pitcher on the left side of the screen and the three people at home plate just to the right.

    Not only was that aesthetically pleasing, it afforded the director the opportunity for a fairly tight shot of the action. The new set-up (behind the head of the pitcher) seems to necessitate a much longer view and, therefore, a more difficult scene to adjust to.

    I think this is more than just a matter of having been used to one angle for decades. I think it is simply a bad decision on someone’s part.

    As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    Does anyone have an opinion about this?

  • TJHinNYC

    UPDATE…

    It seems that everything is back the way it was, center field camera-wise. Let’s see if it remains that way.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Why does everything seem dead now? We can’t say we weren’t forewarned. Sandy Alderson himself said this around July 21:

    “It’s not a question of what we need to see on the field to make us buyers, it’s what we see on the field that causes us not to be buyers. The presumption here is that we’re buyers, and it has been. Realistically, the next seven, eight, 10 games become important for us.”

    Just two weeks before (July 7) we were tied for the second wild card spot and a half game out of the first one. The message he gave in the broadcast booth prior to the all-star game break said we were buyers and already looking into various acquisition possibilities:

    http://www.bloggingmets.com/11559/sandy-alderson-appears-on-mets-broadcast/

    Just like last season, Sandy again needed to see what happened over the course of the following week or so to determine what direction he should take? Just like last season what the team had accomplished again this year – despite having the worst bullpen in the majors and Davis and Duda mired in slumps – didn’t count?

    Even with the subsequent loss of Gee, people were not considering it a major blow because it was felt by Wally Backman and others that Harvey was ready. Strengthening our bullpen and adding some hitting would have compensated for less dependency on the starting pitching putting up such great numbers.

    And as we aw in July, there were starters,relievers and position players other clubs got for cash and low level minor league prospects that we didn’t In fact, many clubs, including the Dodgers and Pirates, made major deals in which they gave up little talent. I MEAN EVEN THE PIRATES COULD DO THINGS THAT WE COULDN’T?!

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1280059-mlb-trades-2012-winners-and-losers-from-trade-deadline

    The front office was only giving us another round of lip service this year. Now, lip service for the fans is one thing. But what about those players from last year who remember the front office dismantling the club while they felt they had a valid shot and now find themselves again getting no support by the GM? Two years in a row – wouldn’t that cause any team to become demoralized rather quickly – for we know this team is better than the way it has been playing the last four weeks.

    Remember my concern about the long-term negative impact sacrificing 2011 could have on team morale and confidence and could easily create more damage than good? That showing the young kids support would go a long way to building up character, morale and winning experience.

    Why are the young kids giving up? This is what happens when one actually makes moves that hinders winning instead of supporting it. Things start to crumble all around because it creates a domino effect. 2011 turns into 2012 and will do so in 2013 if the direction isn’t changed. Having a strong 2011 and having the backing of the front office – not resulting in winning the wild card but continuing through the end on a winning note – would have helped instill spirit and confidence that the team could have rebounded from as they began to slide (along with making other moves to help them as well). Was all this worth a Zach Wheeler? What will Wheeler have to support him when he comes up? He certainly won’t be the jump start.

    I’m wondering if Bud Selig is having second thoughts putting friendship in front of “the best interests of the game” as he so often calls things?