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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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The Eye Test

The other day I visited my ophthamologist for one of those comprehensive examinations that includes drops in both eyes. Once it’s over and you step outside, you basically enter a Soundgarden video. Everything is ridiculously bright and slightly surreal. It’s why, in the event that you don’t carry shades, they give you a Rollens, not to be confused with a Rollins, which would probably be past its “best used by” date. The Rollens fancies itself “the largest selling wraparound lens in the medical market.” You know it better as that unattractive thing you wear until everything looks reasonably normal again. The effect is more dark night than Dark Knight. An hour or so from the sun refusing to glare demonically in my face, I reluctantly slipped my Rollens under my glasses, planted myself in my parked car and returned a phone call to my forever friend Chuck.

As I waited for my pupils to undialate, Chuck and I spent approximately the next 50 minutes catching up — 45 of them devoted to the Mets, probably 35 of those devoted to Matt Harvey. You might think I drove the agenda, but the Mets talk was Chuck’s idea. Chuck, you see, has been out of New York for more than a dozen years and isn’t as tuned in to Mets matters as he could be. I should also point out Chuck is something of a bandwagon fan. He wouldn’t take offense at that description. When the Mets are going well, he’ll alert me that he’s “back on the bandwagon”. It’s been a running joke of ours for more than 30 years. Pretty much everything has been a running joke of ours for more than 30 years. It’s when the Mets aren’t a running joke that we can sit on the phone and dissect the Mets for minutes (or hours) on end.

While I sat in my old Corolla wearing an old Mets jacket talking to my old friend, I remarked that this was, in fact, the 30th anniversary of the day I graduated from college, the place where Chuck and I met 31 years ago. If our alma matter issued eye tests in lieu of final exams, this was probably exactly how I would have killed the recovery time in 1985: same model of car, same model of jacket, though probably needing a pay phone with an exceedingly long cord. Not that much changes between Chuck and me. Thirty years earlier, he would have spent most of our conversation peppering me with several versions of the same question he asked me about Matt Harvey, except they would’ve been about Dwight Gooden.

“He seems really great. Is he that great?”

And I’d have the same answer.

“Yeah. He’s great. He’s really that great.”

Examples, anecdotes, quotes, statistics, repeated affirmations and apt comparisons would follow. Harvey to Gooden. Gooden to Seaver. Plus salutes to Carter and Hernandez and Strawberry, nowadays digressions to Duda and deGrom and Lagares (“Is he new?” Chuck asked earnestly from his geographically and psychologically remote location), back eventually to a) the ace of the staff and b) the state of the team, each of which, I was happy to confirm, was great…really that great.

A conversation three decades in the making continues.

A conversation three decades in the making continues.

This was Tuesday afternoon. By Friday morning, it was my turn to help him kill time. Chuck was getting his oil changed, so he reached out to me. Much of our interaction over the past decade has come while Chuck is taking care of an errand. When I hear from him, I usually also hear a loudspeaker voice instructing him to drive around, his order is ready. In this case, he chose to e-mail instead of call. The result was a rapid-fire exchange that filled up my phone’s screen with a stream of messages titled “RE: Mets”.

The tenor had changed in three days’ time. The Mets had done little to no wrong when he spoke with me in the eye doctor’s parking lot. Now, with him in a car dealership’s waiting room, everything had gone at least temporarily to hell. Or in the surest sign of the times imaginable, Chuck let me know, “I am another loss or two from jumping off the bandwagon.”

He was kidding. But he wasn’t.

Chuck always keeps one toenail permanently lodged upon the Metsopotamian conveyance, safe in the knowledge that I’ll always save space for the rest of him when he’s ready to fully commit again. The great thing about Chuck is when he’s in, he’s all in. He was more tangibly shaken by the Mets’ three-game losing streak than I was, ready to threaten unspeakable actions against any pitcher who doesn’t pitch to Harvey’s standards (which, given Chuck’s sense of righteousness and proportion, would lead to the need for many bandages and an overworked rotation of one). Sometimes I think Chuck is my Mets id, espousing deep-seated truths without a second thought wasted on consequences. Or maybe Chuck is just too in and out of the Mets loop to fully grasp they’re never as good as they look when things are going swell or as bad they look as they look when things are going lousy.

Actually, Chuck gets that, too. He signed off from Friday morning’s frenzied e-mail dialogue admitting, “I don’t know how you do this week after week, month after month, year after year. I’m not kidding. It’s exhausting worrying about a team over a 162-game season.”

And this was after only 23 games.

The 24th game came Friday night, and although I fell asleep not long after it was over (a symptom of being old enough to say “I graduated from college 30 years ago this week”), I came out of it rather refreshed. Not necessarily from Matt Harvey being as great as Chuck and I think he is — though that surely helped — but from getting it through my gray-templed head that this 162-game season indeed has to play itself out, otherwise I won’t be able to do this week after week, month after month.

I didn’t have to take a logic class my freshman year to understand that (though I did and it was quite useful), but every now and then a reminder comes in handy. When they caught lightning in that 11-game bottle recently, I was honestly intoxicated by the contents. Are these really the Mets? Is this what the Mets do now? Are we the kings of baseball in every discernible way?

Then came the Mets not being all that. There was a blessedly typical successful Harvey Day last Saturday and a ninth-inning bolt from the blue on Monday, and otherwise it was nothing but sucking for a solid week. We’re still emerging from nothing but sucking for a solid six years so don’t toy with me, Mets. Don’t send me mixed signals. Don’t make the bandwagon skid off course.

Friday night, as Harvey and Max Scherzer filled the roles once inhabited by Dwight Gooden and John Tudor (and Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton before them), I think I finally relaxed. A strange thing to do during a tense, taut affair that for eight innings could’ve gone either way, but it felt like neither an unsustainable coronation nor a plunge into the ditch off the side of the road. It felt like a competitive baseball game between two teams that belong on the same field.

Which is all I ever wanted. Well, all I ever wanted was 1986 over and over again, but I probably comprehend that was a once-in-a-lifetime happening (though even then, when the Mets followed their 20-4 start with a 2-5 stumble, I’m pretty sure I grew briefly but substantially antsy). This here isn’t 1986. For eleven games nothing went wrong except for injuries to key players. Injuries to key players are something wrong, even if it doesn’t register immediately. The important thing was that whatever goes wrong on an interim — we hope — basis, nobody is empowered to excise the 13-3 start out of the books. It served as a catapult, it remains a cushion and it should be a comfort as we go forward and try not to be the 1987 Brewers, a team that started 13-0 yet finished out of the running, albeit in the days when third-place teams couldn’t possibly gain entry to the postseason.

No disrespect to Teddy Higuera, Bill Wegman or Juan Nieves (author of a no-hitter in the midst of those lucky 13 consecutive wins), but the 1987 Brewers didn’t have Matt Harvey. As long as the 2015 Mets have Matt Harvey, it seems most losing streaks won’t have a chance to exceed four.

If Harvey was going to be beatable, it might have been Friday night against the nemesis Nationals playing at their Citi Field pied-à-tierre. Washington had Scherzer, who was totally on. Harvey wasn’t quite as formidable on the surface. Maybe it was just one of those nights when the fastball wasn’t his best friend, but he didn’t have his classic ace stuff. Classic aces, however, make other stuff feel just as friendly when they have to. Matt became a masterful offspeed pitcher for the night and the results were characteristically magnificent.

Seven innings for Harvey, no runs, not much trouble. Scherzer was more dominant over the same stretch — exactly as few hits (5) and walks (1) allowed, but 10 strikeouts (versus 3 from the Darkest of Knights). Max’s only problem was the Mets’ decision to pull in that right-center field fence, the one over which Michael Cuddyer’s fly ball flew in the fourth to stake Matt to a 1-0 lead.

It stayed 1-0 until both aces shuffled back into their decks. That was mostly from their mutual doing, with a cameo here and there via suspects usual (Juan Lagares’s glove, which stifled Ian Desmond’s extra-base initiative) and otherwise (video replay review, which found an angle to tag out Bryce Harper at second). The eighth became the bullpen show, which worked well for the Mets, when Jeurys Familia came on for an extended cameo, and less so for the Nats, when Matt Thornton and Blake Treinen teamed to load the bases for Daniel Murphy. Murphy lofted a sac fly to Jayson Werth who criminally mangled it into a three-run double. It was fun to watch Werth stumble around in left, but either way, the 1-0 lead was going to grow. It grew more than envisioned to 4-0, which Familia kept beautifully intact.

When it was over, the Mets were 4-0 winners, Harvey was a 5-0 pitcher and I was content that despite the recurring yips even a good season will give a seasoned observer — one who’s fearful Wilmer Flores’s range is where infield outs will inevitably go to die — the Mets are neither wholly unstoppable nor hopelessly incapable. They’ve won three of their last eight, after all.

As for Chuck, I’m pretty sure he is still on the bandwagon. He hasn’t contacted me yet to alert me otherwise.

2 comments to The Eye Test

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Greg, your “I graduated from college 30 years ago this week” reminds me that you’re still a kid. I graduated from high school 50 years ago next month.

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s game. Cuddyer’s home run, Lagares’ catch that left Desmond 0-for-a-week-at-least, and, of course the Werth stumble. I have to give Michael Taylor his propers for his catch on the ball Plawecki hit.

    I’m sorry to see Jack Leathersich return to Las Vegas, and not because I believe he’s a great addition to the team. His ceiling certainly remains to be seen. But he has a great name. Leathersich sounds like the perfect name for a minor character in a Charles Dickens novel, like Fezziwig (A Christmas Carol) or Peggotty (David Copperfield).