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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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Area Team Looks Hard, Finds Way to Lose

Bruce Springsteen once advised you can’t start a fire without a spark. Monday night and Tuesday morning, there was no spark in Marlins Park. And for several days before, there was no yield at Citi Field. The Mets can’t get anything going in any sense anywhere. They are stuck in place…fourth place, to be precise, unless the Marlins accidentally get out of their way and let them descend into last.

Give the Mets a few more extended engagements and there might be no stopping them in their pursuit of pathetic. For five straight games they’ve gone hard after losses and they’ve achieved them with élan. Or so it feels and looks when you decide to watch them presumably try and fail to win.

Perhaps there was an outlier cockeyed optimist or a super drunk five-year-old who thought the Mets were going to contend in 2013, but I think it’s safe to say the consensus was this year was going to be more about inching forward rather than growing by leaps and bounds. There is supposed to be a future on the horizon; that’s the tradeoff for our peeling patience. You know: the great pitching prospects, the catcher-in-waiting, valuable innings for our prospective co-ace — plus the supporting cast that’s partially on-site. If you could forge a foundation for 2014 and then work in the young comers and be good enough to add pieces as 2015 approaches…

If, if, if. Whatever. Either the master plan is coalescing in the shadows of the Las Vegas strip and its Binghamton, St. Lucie and Savannah equivalents, or it’s all a crock. Give me a jingle in two years and let me know that my cynicism as April 2013 wound down was misplaced. Right now the blue and orange appears terribly tinged by jaundice.

The Mets have lost five in a row. They’ve scored 10 runs in those 51 innings. Their starting pitchers have flirted with adequate on each occasion, only to run out of gas and have their tires slashed by a marauding band of relievers. Nobody has stepped up for more than a moment or two. The manager hasn’t made a single move that could be described as having paid off meaningfully, except, perhaps, for the Dodgers, Phillies or Marlins.

Five bad games, better known as a teamwide slump? Or an indicator of one bad team that counts within its 25-man ranks no more than a few outstanding talents? Is the manager just having a bad week or has the combination of strategic and motivational magic so often attributed to him simply had its day? It’s hard to believe Terry Collins is the man to lead this team toward — never mind to — the promised land. Then again, it’s hard to believe more than a couple of the souls he’s shepherded over this past month are among those best qualified to make such a pilgrimage.

To accept in advance that a season won’t provide much in the way of bottom-line affirmation, you have to trust in the future. But you also have to see signs that a bit of the future is revealing itself right now…a bit more than one bit, you might say. Matt Harvey, whatever his relative “struggles” Monday night, has proven himself a pick to click. If you can’t believe in Harvey, you might as well find another sport.

OK, that’s one. What else ya got to get us through this road trip and the next homestand and the hundred-plus games after that?

Not a lot. Somebody might get a big hit. Somebody might make a nice catch. Somebody besides Harvey or Jon Niese might go deep and be consistently effective. Some parade of those who pitch behind them might succeed without eventually cracking. Maybe a ball won’t fall in in front of some unnecessary sixth outfielder. Maybe most every runner who reaches scoring position won’t be abandoned there. Maybe there’ll be multiple innings of multiple runs. Maybe a strong throw will be unleashed. Maybe all those pitches taken won’t lead to self-defeating passivity at the plate. Maybe one-two counts won’t be seen as excellent opportunities to issue intentional walks. Or maybe the other team will screw up a little more than the Mets, though if you can’t get the Marlins to cooperate in that regard, and if you can’t hold a 2-1 lead over Miami in the ninth or a 3-2 lead in the fifteenth…

Once a game passes let’s say the twelfth or thirteenth inning, especially in these days when managers burn through their bullpens and leave themselves with no long-man options, it may not be fair to infer conclusions from them. As it gets later, a war of attrition sets in, even if both sides in this particular fifteen-inning theater of the dispiriting ran short on supplies, rations and vital ammunition fairly early. When the innings pile up, it’s not a matter of who’s better. It’s about who finds a way to win.

Or in the case of the Mets versus Marlins, a way to lose. And the Mets somehow found it against an opponent whose stated business plan is to shed itself of assets. They only have one left of any note and he went out with an injury in the tenth. Bereft of Giancarlo Stanton for the final five innings, Miami brought to bear only the curse of Greg Dobbs and…I know, that’s usually enough, but c’mon — they’re the Marlins.

Though I imagine wherever a hardy band of Marlin faithful gather, the thought process across the many hours this game took was likely “c’mon — they’re the Mets.”

Yes. Yes they were. In this era, which is either a continuation of the same old same old or a prelude to brilliantly disguised greatness, that sometimes says it all.

Harvey will have better nights. David Wright’s pain in the neck will ease up. Others will perform to a higher standard than they have for the past five games and maybe their improvement will coincide with those who aren’t currently floundering fending off their own respective if inevitable ebbs. A five-game winning streak might unfold at some point and, depending when it hypothetically occurs, we might look at our Mets as world-beaters on the verge of something spectacular. We’re myopic that way. We’re supposed to be. We’re fans.

But an aberration here or there aside, do you see anything beyond Harvey as truly encouraging? Do you see even the inching forward? An escalation of decay, to borrow a phrase from the latest episode of Mad Men, certainly seems to have set in where this season is concerned. We can be 2014’ed and 2015’ed until we’re giddy in the face, but how much 2013 are we supposed to accept as the cost of doing business next year and the year after? When the Mets return home next week, what are the odds more than a minyan shows up to greet them?

I’m not a huge proponent of invoking precedent because every situation is different (though the Mets have definitely begun to not score enough for Matt Harvey like they traditionally never scored for Tom Seaver), but Mets teams that wander through their second month gaining no traction have been known to Do Something.

• When attendance fell through the floor in May 1983, the Mets called up Darryl Strawberry to sweeten a dour 6-15 proposition.

• When masses failed to materialize in May 1998, despite a reasonably capable 23-20 product, they thought big and netted Mike Piazza.

• The Mets of May 1981, wallowing at a truly miserable 13-26 mark, traded promising young Jeff Reardon for proven if slightly shopworn Ellis Valentine.

• The Mets of May 1990 scuffled to 20-22 and fired Davey Johnson.

• The Mets of May 1977 sank to 15-30 and dismissed Joe Frazier.

• The Mets of May 1993, doomed at 13-25, bid Jeff Torborg adieu.

And the Mets of May 2013? They will enter the month no better than 11-14, with not a single home gate of 30,000 under their belt since Opening Day. They have one player worth making the extra effort to come out to see (if you’re not already inclined to go see the lot of them) and he pitches only every fifth day — and Matt Harvey’s not yet, in all honesty, an actual drawing card. After the Marlins and mighty Braves on the road, it’s the White Sox and the Pirates in Flushing. Despite the chance to step right up and greet the only American League team that’s never visited us for a National League game and then hoping decent passion is summoned for the second edition of Banner Day 2.0, the turnstiles probably won’t much turn from May 7 to 12. If the eleven games ahead of us don’t generate a remarkable change in fortunes either in attendance or in the standings, it’s hard to conceive of this already-decaying campaign proceeding without somebody Doing Something.

Zack Wheeler in the rotation. Wally Backman in the manager’s chair. Bryce Harper kidnapped in the dead of night. Two-dollar hot dogs for all. Not something for the sake of Doing Anything but something constructive. This perpetual Aldersonian holding action is losing its grip on our better angels. And we’re the diehards, for cryin’ out loud.

***

Oh, by the way, I still love the Mets more than life itself. My proof is two conversations in which I recently participated: one with Metsbhoys, who I’m confident declaring conduct the best Scottish-based Mets-themed podcast of all time; the other with Instream Sports, which couldn’t have asked questions more eclectic or enjoyable. You can listen to the Metsbhoys and me here; you can read Instream and me here. Both are engrossing enough to make you forget there was ever a fifteen-inning loss to the Marlins.

And if you want to be reminded how much fun the Mets can be when they’re not losing five in a row, visit a place where they’re in the midst of a 500-game winning streak: The Happiest Recap, available via Amazon in print or for Kindle; you can also obtain a personally inscribed copy through the Team Recap eBay store (a.k.a. my lovely sister and her swell husband).

23 comments to Area Team Looks Hard, Finds Way to Lose

  • Steve D

    At least the telecast was interesting…Keith doing a 5 minute swing analysis on everything wrong with Ike Davis. Think you could do a whole show on that topic…maybe Netflix could pick it up. Keith ended it by saying hopefully somehow Ike will turn it around like last year.

    Then there was the Jason Collins talk…Gary talked a lot and Keith agreed.

  • open the gates

    Ah, yes…Reardon for Valentine…that was truly a classic.

    Are Met fans the only ones who actually view the disastrous trades of the past as nostalgia?

    • Maggie

      I don’t know, but I definitely just reminisced fondly about the myriad truly bizarre horrors of the 2009 season. So it may be a thing.

    • In a passage that recalls promoting Strawberry and trading for Piazza, the inclination was to dwell on Valentine. Hmm…

      I hated giving up Reardon but it seemed a risk worth taking to my 18-year-old brain. The Mets needed another bat besides Kingman’s and…oh, no different from today, I suppose. Only the names keep changing.

  • joenunz

    May 29, 1981: St. Francis Prep senior prom. We tell the limo driver to stop on Lexington Ave so we can call SportsPhone to get the scores- and we find out the Mets got Ellis Valentine.

    May 25, 2013: St. Francis Prep senior prom. I’ll tweet my daughter informing her the Mets got Giancarlo Stanton. She’ll likely shrug and go back to posting pictures on Instagram.

  • 9th string catcher

    Let’s not be hasty with Wheeler. Let’s not have him try to be the Mets savior and get clobbered. They’ll know when he’s ready, just like they were with Harvey.

    Mets need outfield help, relief pitching (including a real closer), starting pitching and Ike Davis to hit somewhere around his weight. Starters need to go 7 innings – until then, forget it. Middle relief will continue to be ineffective and they’ll get blown out of games left and right.

    Keep in mind every team is going to have losing streaks this year. Expect to have a lot of ups and downs as they go .500 this year. Next year, Wally Backman, Zach Wheeler, Travis D’, a new outfielder and a closer will be coming to town. Until then, Anthony Recker warming up in the bullpen…

  • metsfaninparadise

    Imagine those 15 innings without Gary and Keith to keep you company-that’s what it was like in S. Fla. Sorry, Howie and Josh are an inadequate substitute, but it’s all Josh’s fault. He’s a bad influence on Howie. He defaults to pop culture references way too early, when the games are still close. At least I have that interesting broadcast to go back and watch-the blackout is lifted a few hours after the game.

  • Joe D.

    Well,

    In 2011 when the Mets were just one game behind the eventual world series champion Cardinals in the wild card standings (and had actually been playing at a better clip than the redbirds for almost half a season) Sandy felt the team wasn’t good enough to compete so sent away their closer and top power hitter. R.A. Dickey said the front office not having faith in them was hard to swallow.

    In 2012, when the Mets were tied for the wildcard half way through the season, we would have been numerous games ahead of the pack had we tried yo acquire decent relief help instead of going through the clearance ailse at K-Mart. At that point Sandy said we were buyers. Our bullpen lets us down in key games against Atlanta and Washington so instead of trying to stop the slide at that point, Sandy does nothing and the feeling in the clubhouse was that the front office kicked them in the teeth.

    So, in 2013, we should expect anything more?

    What we must remember is that Sandy Alderson is a corporate executive, a lawyer who has helped financially strapped clubs by cutting back spending as much as possible. He did that in Oakland, he did that with San Diego. And that is what he has been hired to do in New York – at the urging of Bud Selig who admits having taken extraordinary measures to help the Wilpons that he didn’t take with the former owners in Los Angeles, Texas and Montreal also on the verge of financial collapse.

    Sandy was being heralded to us as one who used non-traditional baseball skills to mold that team in Oakland and was bringing that new “vision” to New York. We were told how he came to Oakland with no experience and took it upon himself to take control of putting together a winning organization from the ground up. So many credit him as being the architect of those great Oakland teams from a quarter century ago by his smart draft picks, trades and free agent signings – all due to his immediate understanding and appreciation of advanced statistical study that put him ahead of the curve of other general managers. How often has he been called the “Grandfather of Sabermetrics and Money Ball”?

    Was he really the outsider who beat the traditionlists by going outside the box?

    Roy Eisenhardt hired Bill Rigney to be his chief adviser after firing Billy Martin and that included bolstering the A’s Player Development and finding a new manager(see web pages 15 and 12 of the attached).

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19821027&id=sqMrAAAAIBAJ&sjid=rvwFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2503,7278997

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19821027&id=OzgzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ezIHAAAAIBAJ&pg=2375,6436716

    Rigney was not interested in being the GM as the role was then starting to resemble more that of a chief financial officer as we see today. So Sandy was named the GM and he was the one who negotiated contracts, handled the running of the offices and serving as the Executive of the team – things Rigney could not and did not want to do. At the same time, most presidents do not do that on their own and thus delegate those responsbilities to others.

    So the team that was built from 82-89 is basically a conglomeration of Rigney with Sandy being the chief implementer of whatever decision was made. As Sandy said after the A’s won their first American League pennant in 1988:

    “When you talk about people who have contributed to our success, you have to single out Bill Rigney. His contributions have been enormous.

    “He has been involved in every one of our player acquisitions since I came here in 1982. I’ve watched 600 or 700 games with Bill, and it’s been an education.”

    How could one who last season when asked to give an opinion as to what he saw wrong with Ike Davis’ mechanics said he was not a player and could not venture an opinion – he could only speak as an “observer”.

    Well, how could one who cannot speak about mechanics be the one who through stastical methodology selected Canaaco, McGwire and others? It is not possible. Raw talent cannot be evaluated by stats.

    http://www.allstarbaseball.com/scouting.htm

    So it was Bill Rigney that Alderson was giving credit for turning Oakland into a success. Sandy was only given full control of the team sometime in 1989 when Eisenhardt departed and a year or so later Rigney went into semi-retirement.

    And it was Sandy Alderson who gets the credit for helping to resolve both Oakland’s and San Diego’s financial problems.

    Once all recognize why he is here in New York, one will then understand why this team is the way it is. And why we let go of an all-star outfielder the past two years for a pitching prospect whom his last nine games in Double-A and his stint in Triple-A beginning late last July has shown signs of his control getting worse – not better – because he is facing more experienced and patient hitters who do not swing wildy at pitches off the plate. He still has electric stuff…. but so did Oliver Perez. He also let go of a Cy Young Award winner for a highly touted minor league catcher who has also only played more than 100 games in just two of his now six years in the minors due to injuries. Were these trades made for rebuilding? Well, this was what Sandy said for why he traded McGwire to St. Louis:

    “If anyone knows the circumstances of the game today, the fact that free agency is so prevalent, it’s an entirely different situation. Trades aren’t made on the basis of talent anymore.

    “To pay his current salary would require an extra million fans and you’d have to do it in the last month and a half of the season, because he hit 52 for us in 1996, and it didn’t have a major impact on our ticket sales.”

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/McGwire-trade-may-haunt-A-s-3070724.php#ixzz2RxLpPM4f

    This is why the team is losing and has no idea of where it is heading. Sandy’s job is to improve the Mets financial status in order for the Wilpons to retain ownership. Improving the team’s competitive status is secondary. Just ask those in Oakland.

  • FL Met Fan Rich

    Garbage in -Garbage Out!…..We are probably right where we should be and are going to end up 4th or 5th.

    It’s nice to hope, but was anybody really expecting something different?

    This is a bad tea. They will not be close to .500 I really don’t think this should be shocking to anyone.

    Out of it in April might be.

    The next home stand should only have family and friends of the players in the crowd!

  • Will in Central NJ

    I will always love the Mets, too, but all this losing is wearing me down, already, on April 30th. This (hand sweeping in general direction of television) is supposed to get me fired up to fork over $100+ for the All-Star Game? Yeah, right!

  • Dr. Blogstein

    Great perspective, Joe D.

  • Clam

    Bruce Springsteen also once advised “you got to live it everyday, let the broken hearts stand as the price you’ve got to pay”. Maybe in ’14 or ’15, we’ll be singing “these are better days”, but after this week, that seems like nothing more than a “leap of faith”. Sorry for triple-Bruce quoting, but holy crap already … it’s only April and we can’t even beat the Marlins! What’s it going to be like in the second half when we go into our usual full-scale suck mode??

  • [...] Area Team Looks Hard, Finds Way to Lose »    [...]

  • 5w30

    It’s gotten so bad that SNY is censoring Collins’ post game news conferences, editing out the “I’m pissed off, extremely pissed off” part, while of course it aired on WFAN and is all over print and Twitter.

  • Great insight Joe D. been saying this for years . Right on about the future value of Wheeler etc…Beltran is still hitting and Dickey was a draw and not making efforts in 11 was terrible….I was working for Cleveland in 2001 when they traded Colon then Alomar than let Thome walk and Vizquel walk…Colon is still pitching anyone good they recieved was years away and they let Phillips walk to Reds…They never recoverd from those trades.I see alot of the misguided Indians in the Mets. Time was if a vet was traded you got actual present value plus future value as a throw in and if it panned out great now all you get is future value and spin..I still go to games to see NL teams but please do not put all your eggs in the Wheeler /Travis basket…they may be helpful pieces but they are not the future…now all Mets have is Wright/Harvey/Niese…the AAA catcher last nite should never have made it out of Fla..so you get what you pay for!

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