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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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Gold Stars

On Sunday afternoon a strange thing happened at Citi Field: The Mets won the kind of game that used to constantly go the Marlins’ way.

Seriously, if you’ve been a Mets fan for 10 years or so, look at this sequence out of context and tell me it doesn’t conjure up Soilmaster Stadium, Luis Castillo, Antonio Alfonseca and all matter of South Florida horrors: One-run lead, one out in ninth. Hit by pitch, single to short left, runner on first beats throw to third, trail runner takes second on throw, little bounder eludes third baseman, jubilation for home team.

Except this time we did it to them.

A win’s a win, but it’s also true that the Marlins have been stripped by Jeffrey Loria to the point that they barely resemble a major-league team — there’s Giancarlo Stanton, who’s either in an early-season slump or feeling the weight of carrying eight teammates, and nobody else of note. Worse than that, though, there are things that make you wonder what exactly is going on with this franchise beyond savage downsizing. Like why was the Marlins’ bullpen catcher jogging out to the bullpen on Saturday with a reliever desperately needed? Why were the Marlins insisting on playing the stone-legged Ruben Tejada like he was going to zip to first after bunting to third? And why in the world did Mike Redmond bring the infield in Sunday with one out, the tying run on third and the winning run on second?

The Marlins aren’t completely hopeless, as 20-year-old Jose Fernandez demonstrated — despite making the rather abrupt jump from Single-A, the rookie mixed an impressive fastball with an evil curve and cameos by a pretty fair change-up, striking out Mets in droves. He didn’t look raw or scared out there — if anything, he looked like he was having fun, chomping gum and going about his business with cool efficiency. The Mets made contact off Fernandez in the first but came up short, making you think they’d soon find the range and drive the rookie from the game. But in the second, Fernandez fanned Ike Davis, followed by Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda. (Granted, the first of those feats isn’t particularly noteworthy.) After that he was cruising. The fifth was particularly impressive: Duda went down again to start the inning, frozen by a nasty curve that caressed the outside corner. With a runner on first, Fernandez floated an errant curve to Anthony Recker for the Mets’ first run. He then went right back to that pitch, tearing up Marlon Byrd on another beautiful breaking ball and extracting a harmless pop-up from Collin Cowgill.

The Mets countered with Aaron Laffey, revealed as an unprepossessing ham-and-egger with an odd habit of seeming to genuflect in the direction of the plate after pitches and a broad face that beneath a baseball cap makes him look a bit like Charlie Brown. Laffey didn’t irreparably harm the cause, leaving the Mets down three with one out in the fifth, but 10 hits over 4 and 1/3 does not make for enthusiasm — he was a bit of bad luck (or a better lineup) away from resembling Charlie Brown after a barrage of line drives leaves him lying on the mound in his skivvies, surrounded by clothes and socks and those Peanuts shoes that (rather charmingly) resemble dinner rolls. Afterwards, Terry Collins was kind about Laffey’s performance, noting his lack of work in the spring and saying he’d start again, though when, exactly, is not clear. Personally, I’d rather see Collin McHugh given the next chance, but since we won let’s be charitable and hope the Mets brass sees something in Laffey beyond this not being his first rodeo.

The hurler I did not want and still do not want to see was Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was shaky in his Las Vegas debut, for one thing, and for another keeping him in Sin City until midsummer will give the Mets an extra year of his services and ensure his salary doesn’t escalate rapidly through arbitration. Even without the Wilpons’ woes, this seems like a no-brainer in a year when a postseason berth is highly unlikely, and service-time calculations are rapidly becoming part of baseball’s financial laws of physics. So then why was Jose Fernandez — drafted one pick after Brandon Nimmo — on the mound for the Marlins? If I had to guess, it’s because the Marlins no longer have any kind of philosophy whatsoever, beyond gaming the system. Player development? Salary structures? Oh come now: In Lorialand there is no long-term future for anybody except the owner, sulfurously a-slumber in his garish swindler’s fortress on a mound of pocketed revenue.

With Fernandez out of the game the Mets began a slow-motion comeback that was apparently doomed until the wacky ninth, helped by stalwart work from the bullpen and then by smart play from two players badly in need of a gold star or two.

After a Steve Cishek pitch just brushed Tejada’s jersey with one out in the ninth, Kirk Nieuwenhuis came to the plate. Nearly a year ago, Nieuwenhuis became a cult hero by beating Heath Bell, then of these same Marlins. But that was before he began swinging at anything and everything, amassing strikeouts at a frightening rate and getting passed on the center-field depth chart by more or less everybody. With a 1-and-2 advantage on Kirk, Cishek tried to lure him into swinging at a breaking pitch slithering off the outside corner. Last summer it would almost certainly have worked; this time Nieuwenhuis took it for a ball. After a foul, Cishek took aim at that corner again, but this time the ball slithered the width of a mitt too far into the heart of the plate and Nieuwenhuis whacked it into left for a single.

Fielding the ball was Juan Pierre, who continues to be employed by general managers despite a complete lack of power, a failure to understand that one can also reach first base on a walk, and the worst arm in the big leagues. Tejada had held up thinking the ball might be caught, but alertly steamed from the near side of second all the way to third despite being in Pierre’s sights. Worse for the Marlins, Pierre’s throw to third was wide and handled indifferently by Chris Valaika, allowing the similarly alert Nieuwenhuis to streak into second. That prompted Redmond to inexplicably play the infield in, and two pitches later Byrd smacked a little bounder down the third-base line.

If Valaika had been playing back, he might have thrown Tejada out at home, or froze him and nipped Byrd at first, or trapped Kirk between second and third, or done something else to make us groan in dismay. (Or maybe everyone would have been safe. Hard to say.) As it was, the ball skipped down the line, banging off the stands while Nieuwenhuis followed Tejada home, and we had done unto the Marlins as they have so often done unto us.

16 comments to Gold Stars

  • I agree Jason, about leaving Wheeler in Vegas for a while. Collin McHugh didn’t look bad in his start Sat in Sac. I would think McHugh gets the next shot if a arm is needed on the Mets.
    So nice to see the Mets with a come from behind victory today.

  • FL Met Fan Rich

    Why in the world did they just not walk Marlon Byrd to load the bases, set up a force at home or game inning double play?

    Why was Juan Pierre still in the game in the bottom of the ninth when everybody in the world was running oh him and taking the extra base?…Hello defensive replacement!

    A nice gift to take the series!…….Nice managing!

  • Scott M.

    Maybe this is just one of those explanation-defying games that gives our boys the reckless idea that ‘Hey, maybe we can play this here game’ and go about their business defying the experts who say the entire team is just waiting around a year or so for Wheeler, d’Arnaud etc. to save them. True, it was the Marlins but what the heck?

    Looking ahead, how great would it be for Harvey to out-pitch Halladay tonight?

    • 9th string catcher

      Would be great to see a team with a Devil May Care attitude, hustling for every extra base possible and not worrying about the pressures of New York or competing for playoff position. Go out there, have fun, play hard, take chances and see what happens. I don’t remember the last time I saw the Mets take this many bases in a series. Yeah, that will backfire at times – Tejada could have easily been gunned down at 3rd leaving the Mets with 2 out and a guy on 1st or 2nd which would have made them look terrible, but if the concept is GO FOR IT, I’m okay with that.

      And yes, keep the guys on the farm until they’re ready. Once they are, bring ‘em up.

  • Dave

    The game may go down as a shining example of why the Marlins will richly deserve just about all of the 105 or so losses they seem destined to collect along the course of 2013. But heck, they’re on our schedule a lot, so I’ll take it.

  • I hate the Marlins.

    Jose Fernandez is gonna be scary, stupid good.

    Aaron Laffey needs to go away, immediately if not sooner.

    Mike Redmond is a rookie manager & made a rookie manager mistake.

    These are my take-aways from 4/7/13.

  • metsfaninparadise

    “In Lorialand there is no long-term future for anybody except the owner, sulfurously a-slumber in his garish swindler’s fortress on a mound of pocketed revenue.”

    That’s it! From now on Jeffrey Loria will be known as Smaug.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Seriously, though, the Marlins aren’t worrying about free-agency clocks and the like because they know it won’t be their problem. They’ll trade the guy away before he can sniff the big bucks.

  • JPB

    Next time I complain about the Mets ownership, I really have to count my blessings that I’m not a Marlins fans. They might have the historically worst owned team in baseball measured by percentage of time they’ve been owned.

  • Or is Wheeler ready and the Mets are being penny wise and pound foolish in that the extra value he brings now in terms of revenue and wins and fan involvement may far out pace the perceived arbitration clock control which smacks of employee repression and most likley the next thing that MLBPA challenges? Or is wheeler not what everyone says thinks or buys into he is?

    • Or the 3rd option, Wheeler still needs to work on his command — as evidenced by his shaky first start in Vegas — and simply isn’t ready yet?

      Why does it have to be “either/or?”

  • BigBallsBackman

    “terrrryific” needs an extension…… the “cowfish” in center needs to play every day, but move him where “mitt of stone” lucas “I can’t judge a fly ball if it hit me in the ballbag” duda , duda… If I knew how to play, all the duda day…..thats my jingle….. buck for pres…. bring the wallymonster to coach first…… put a firecracka in Ike’s bunghole to get him started….

    I’m out

  • Joe D.

    Last year, if the Mets were picked to finish above the Marlins, we would have all been estastic!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    “Juan Pierre, who continues to be employed by general managers despite a complete lack of power, a failure to understand that one can also reach first base on a walk, and the worst arm in the big leagues”

    and who, based on what I’ve seen the past couple of years, appears to have acquired exactly zero baseball sense in his 14 years in the Major Leagues.

  • Andee

    Fernandez was promoted because the Marlins need him to sell tickets this year more than they need him to be on the team three years from now. I mean, think about it; they have a brand-new stadium, and people are staying away from it like the seats are coated in wet Bandini (you mean they’re not?). You know they’re going to trade him as soon as he becomes eligible for arb, so why should they care about starting his option clock?

    But yeah, all that “why are the Mets being so cheap by not calling up Wheeler?” stuff is just flamebait. The 1984 team (which that Newsday writer referred to) featured a hapless Mike Torrez costing Dickie Thon an eye during the month of April, so it’s not like they were so all-fired eager to let the kids play, at least in the beginning. I remember Ron Darling being given an extra year in AAA because he was having trouble finding the plate, too.

    • I believed then — as I believe now — that if Tom Seaver hadn’t been Dennis Lamped over to the White Sox, we would not have seen Doc Gooden in the bigs until September ’84, at the earliest.