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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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The Nieuwenhuis Chronicles

I’ve never understood the concept behind the phrase, “…and in twenty years, a hundred-thousand people are going to claim they were at this game.” Why, I’ve wondered, would anyone say he personally eyewitnessed an event he didn’t see for himself? What’s the payoff in that? Perhaps the status of proximity to history carried more cachet before everything was televised. You’d flaunt your alleged bona fides convincingly enough and maybe that would allow you to hold court at your corner tavern for a few minutes.

“I saw Louis knock out Schmeling!”
“YOU DID?”
“You betcha! Got the champ’s sweat all over me!”
“WOW! CAN I TOUCH IT?!?!”

At which point, the worst that could happen would be you’d be trumped by the next tall-taleteller to walk through the door.

“Big deal…I knocked out that big dumb palooka before Louis ever laid a hand on him. Softened him up for the Brown Bomber. Took out that jerk Mussolini in three rounds, too. And I got Lend-Lease through Congress for President Roosevelt on my way over here tonight.”

Then came television, which I would think leveled the spectating playing field; in a sense, we all have ringside seats. The same medium also rendered relatively moot the “where were you when…?” question regarding dramatic championship-type moments, because you could simply answer “I was watching it on TV, having checked my local listings for time and channel.” If it’s truly important to prove you were, as Mike Francesa might haughtily put it, “in the building” where something big happened, nowadays you can produce the image you captured on your camera phone. It’ll show you were there, but it’ll also show you probably didn’t see what you were photographing, consumed as you were by your picture-taking.

It’s never occurred to me say I was at some game I never was. But I will tell you, if indeed it applies, that I was almost at some game I never was. It’s kind of a hollow boast, but sometimes it has the benefit of truth to it. In that sense, I’m a little like Kramer from the pilot episode of Seinfeld, when it was still called The Seinfeld Chronicles. In the fifth scene, we learn Jerry is a Mets fan, as he answers the phone, not with “Hello,” but, “If you know what happened in the Mets game, don’t say anything, I taped it.”

Jerry’s precautions go for naught when his across-the-hall neighbor knocks (yes, knocks) and expresses his frustration that, “Boy, the Mets blew it tonight, huh?” For the record on July 5, 1989, the night NBC gave The Seinfeld Chronicles its initial airing, the Mets lost at the Astrodome, 6-5. Kramer wasn’t so specific in his spoiler to let Jerry know Ron Darling gave up five runs and eleven hits in four-and-two-third innings, but he did add something that didn’t show up in the box score.

“Y’know,” Kramer revealed, “I almost wound up going to that game.”

“Yeah, you almost went to the game,” Jerry replied as if he’d heard it all before. “You haven’t been out of the building in ten years!”

I get out more often than proto-Kramer (a.k.a. Kessler) did. I got out Saturday, for instance. I really was at that game. I saw Matt Harvey homer. It was real and it was spectacular.

As for Sunday…well, I almost wound up going to that game. Plans were made, but then plans had to be unmade. My would-be companion and I agreed to try it again on a future date. No biggie, from my perspective. I had looked forward to seeing my friend, but I was sufficiently baseball-sated from Harvey’s homering heroics and, besides, I wasn’t exactly revving on all cylinders come Sunday morning. I was drowsy enough by noon to lay down and attempt a little pregame nap; honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised had I slept soundly into the middle innings. As a hedge against total immersion in dreamland, I left WOR on in case I stirred. Perhaps I would make out through my own personal fog if I was missing anything.

I was dozing maybe a half-hour before I thought I heard Howie and Josh going on about a home run that might not be a home run. The conditional dinger was under official review. Years ago, David Letterman had a bit that labeled “the most boring play in baseball” the pop fly to deep short. Watching umpires listen on headsets to other umpires rewinding video has replaced it. The process is even more scintillating on radio.

Our announcers know how to vamp much better than MLB does. Howie delved into Joe Torre’s role in reducing Shea’s down-the-line dimensions by three feet, while Josh noticed the telltale peanut shells that scattered when the ball under review landed. At last, they reported the home run that might have been a double was really a home run after all, thus Kirk Nieuwenhuis had just scored the first run of the game.

What’s that?
Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered?
In the major leagues?
For the Mets?

Was I awake?

I rubbed my eyes and determined I was. And apparently Kirk had done what it was said he had done. It shouldn’t have been all that surprising, given the ability of a blind pig to now and then belt an acorn out of the park. Besides, how much of a home run could it have been considering they had to watch it over and over again to confirm what it was? Was it a matter of being sure the ball cleared the orange stripe in left or were the replay umps in Manhattan too stunned by the idea of Kirk Nieuwenhuis going deep to speak?

To be fair, Kirk entered the 2015 season with thirteen home runs on his lifetime ledger. To be just as fair, Kirk Nieuwenhuis entered Sunday’s action an .091 hitter for the Mets, with none of his four National League hits having gone over any fence anywhere.

Talk about somebody being almost at a Mets game. For a player with three partial seasons under his belt — including a decently productive one in 2014 — Kirk showed almost as little staying power as home run power during the first half of this year. The Mets designated him for assignment in May. His assignment — go be an Angel, Kirk — failed miserably. The Angels Harry Chiti’d him back to the Mets. The Mets Vegas’d him back to the 51s. This career path indicated he should have been landing in the Atlantic League this weekend.

Instead he was recalled by the Mets. It was difficult to recall why, but here he was, on Sunday, starting in left and swatting, just barely, his first home run of the season.

If Kirk Nieuwenhuis could show up at Citi Field and do that, the least I could do was give up my nap and station myself by the television to see if anything else noteworthy would happen.

Oh, it did. Kirk hit a second home run the inning after he hit his first. This one required no replay review, except for admiration’s sake. And now that Kirk Nieuwenhuis was a two-homer slugger, how could you nod off now? He could become the first Met to hit three home runs in one home game.

Only kidding. There was no way that was going to happen. First off, he was Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

I didn’t have a second reason.

From July 11, 1973, through July 11, 2015, I’d attended 598 regular-season Met home games. In none of those contests did a Met hit three home runs. Nor did they in any of the home games I didn’t attend (and would never say I had). This wasn’t quite up there with “no Met has ever thrown a no-hitter” — which one finally did in another game I almost went to — but it was a curiosity of at least the second order. Nine Mets belted three home runs in games elsewhere, but not here.

The closest it came to happening, by my reckoning, was a Shea Sunday against Cincinnati in 1997. Todd Hundley had two, and Joe and I were sure we were going to see a third, if only Hundley could get to the plate one more time. The Mets were up, 10-1, in the bottom of the eighth. There were two out. Todd was on deck. All we needed was for the man ahead of Todd in the lineup to get aboard John Olerud, a classic on-base machine, was the No. 3 batter that day. Todd was hitting cleanup. It was perfect.

Except with that nine-run lead, Bobby Valentine had already opted to rest Oly, thus the man up ahead of Hundley was Shawn Gilbert, 32-year-old rookie who’d notched six entire at-bats to that point in the season. Gilbert flied out to end the eighth. Hundley never batted, never hit that third home run. The three home runs at home thing would go unsolved deep into the following century.

Earlier that year, in 1997, I was part of the crowd at Tiger Stadium the night Bobby Higginson hit three home runs against Met pitching. I was so lost in sightseeing the old ballpark that I didn’t really notice what Higginson was accomplishing, or maybe I just didn’t want to notice amid what became a 14-0 bludgeoning of Mark Clark & Co. Eighteen summers before that, at Shea, I saw an all-time popular Met hit three home runs. The Met in question was Dave Kingman. Unfortunately, Sky was wearing a Cubs uniform then; more fortunately that Saturday in 1979, John Stearns and Lee Mazzilli also homered and the Mets won, 6-4.

I wasn’t at this game featuring Nieuwenhuis’s utterly unforeseen revival, but I was at those games. I’m not making it up. Why would I? Why would anybody?

Why was Kirk Nieuwenhuis sitting on two home runs for the day with a chance to become the first home Met to hit three on Sunday? I have no idea about any of those answers, but when you’ve been DFA’d and waived and optioned and whatever it is they can do to you when your major league existence has turned severely marginal, yet you get to stand in against a pitcher with a bat in your hand, I suppose anything is possible.

So it was in the fifth inning. That’s when Kirk Nieuwenhuis did to Randall Delgado what he’d done twice to Rubby De La Rosa. He hit a home run. This one had plenty adequate distance. It just had to stay fair. It did, bouncing off the screen of the right field pole. It counted just like the first two.

It was Kirk’s third home run of the day. He came out of the dugout and took a curtain call. They could have taken the entire day out of play at that point and sent it to Cooperstown, but the rest of the game between the Mets and the Diamondbacks had to continue. Though Kirk had three homers, and Daniel Murphy one, it wasn’t exactly a rout in progress. Jon Niese and three relievers who’ve each been Met closers had to retire enough Arizona batters to effect a sweep.

After Niese exited and before Bobby Parnell and Jeurys Familia entered, Jenrry Mejia finished the seventh. It was easy to spurn Mejia in April when the team was going gangbusters and Jenrry was sullied by a PED suspension. It was as easy as dismissing Kirk Nieuwenhuis as something akin to useless. In the fifth, we learned a little forgiveness goes a long way…goes a long way three times, in fact. We were able to use a lot of Nieuwenhuis and a little Mejia and just enough of everybody else to take a 5-3 victory over the Diamondbacks into the All-Star break.

Your New York Mets of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jenrry Mejia and whoever steps up next are on a four-game winning streak, having taken seven of nine overall. The 7-2 makes for a nice bookend to the 13-3 that started the season, especially if you’re willing to not stress the 27-37 in between those opening and closing acts. These Mets can be a little extreme, you know. For example, in just these past couple of weeks, they’ve gone from never homering at all to doing nothing but homering — homering and pitching and solidifying in subtle ways.

For all the pitiable intervals they (and we) have endured, they end this portion of the schedule five games over .500, two games behind the division-leading Nationals and one game in back of the Cubs for the second Wild Card. They’re closer to alive and well than they are to dead and buried. They have a tough slate immediately ahead, one chock full of first-place teams, but exposure to most of the National League to date indicates there’s nobody they can’t compete against.

You don’t gotta believe, but if you can legitimately say you saw (or heard) Kirk Nieuwenhuis homer three times in one game, then you can’t say anything where these Mets are concerned is impossible.

27 comments to The Nieuwenhuis Chronicles

  • how about a moment you were almost at? I had a girlfriend whose boss had Giant tickets, and she took me to a game. It was a chilly blustery day, and I knew she wasn’t really into it, so although I’m the kind of person who never ever leaves a game early, I decided to give her a break and leave this one early. After all, it was really over. All Pisarcik had to do was fall on the ball three times….

  • MetFanMac

    Statistical state of the Mets at the All-Star break:

    Team batting average: .233, on pace for their worst season total since 1972 (.225), lowest in league
    Team OBP: .298, on pace for worst since 1968 (.281), second-lowest in league
    Team SLG: .363, on pace for worst since 1992 (.342), tied lowest in league
    Team OPS: .660, on pace for worst since 1992 (.652), tied lowest in league
    Batting average with runners in scoring position: .236
    Scoring position, two outs: .182

    On the flip side…

    Team ERA: 3.23, on pace for best since 1988 (2.91), third in league
    Team WHIP: 1.172, on pace for best since 1988 (1.151), second in league
    Team BAA: .239, second in league
    Team walks total: 215, second in league
    Confined to relievers, team has 2.77 ERA (third in league), 1.17 WHIP (second) and .214 BAA (first)

    • Eric

      Plus, the Mets are 3rd in the NL with 58 quality starts. The Pirates and Cardinals are tied for 1st with 59 quality starts. QS isn’t a popular stat, but it shows the starters, even when not dominant, have consistently kept the team in games.

      Jason summed it up well in his July 9 post: “the emotional see-saw of following a team that’s a weird mix of superb and awful”.

      At least, with the Diamondbacks as an example of the other side, if we must choose between good pitching or good hitting, the better choice is good pitching, and the Mets have good pitching.

      • MetFanMac

        And as a corollary, Mets pitchers have thrown the second-fewest pitches and faced the third-fewest batters of any team in the league.

        More statistical oddities:

        PITCHING
        Tied for second in saves (31)
        Second-fewest hits allowed (709)
        One of four teams with no complete games yet (they had 1 last year, an all-time team low)
        Fewest hit batsmen (18)
        Most intentional walks (30, or 14% of their total)
        Tied for fewest wild pitches (21) and balks (0)

        HITTING
        Fewest plate appearances of any team… and yet exactly middle of the pack in pitches. For all its other faults, this is a team that can work a count.
        Only team with more groundouts than flyouts
        Fifth in GIDP (73)
        Lowest in hits (686 total) and third-lowest in extra base hits (222… which is nevertheless 32.4% of their total, or sixth in the league)
        Fewest total bases and bunts
        Third in HBP (41)
        Second lowest in steals (33) but lowest in caught stealing (10)
        Dead last in triples (9)
        Second lowest in runs scored (310, or just 2 ahead of the Phillies and 20 back of the Marlins)

        Inquiring minds want to know: have the Mets ever before won three straight games in which all of their runs came via home run?

        • Thanks for the data!

          Per your question, it’s never happened before in Mets history. The Orioles swept three games all on home runs in 1960. They were the last team to do such a thing.

        • Eric

          The bullpen stats are impressive. The cobbled together relievers have been a pleasant surprise. Part of that is good starters, part of that is a good closer, but the bridge in between has held up better than expected, though sometimes it seems like they do it with smoke and mirrors.

  • dmg

    two years ago, kirk had another great moment at citi: his walkoff 3-run homer against the cubs for faddah’s day. my son and i were there for that one. the ball smacked off the facing of the pepsi porch, right above us. (we can be seen in the video clip if you know where to look — i was wearing my blue faith and fear t-shirt.)

    http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/28898650/v28081883/chcnym-nieuwenhuis-clubs-a-walkoff-threerun-homer/?c_id=mlb

    a couple of weeks ago, while the cubs were sweeping the mets, there was a game that i kept thinking could have ended a la kirk — the one the cubs won 2-0 in 11 innings, but the mets had two runners on in the bottom of the eleventh. alas, plawecki was no nieuwenhuis. (even niewenhuis wasn’t — he was involved in a screwed-up suicide squeeze earlier in the game that was the mets’ best shot to win it in nine.)

    • APV

      If Bob Costas thought Western Civilization was declining after that home run, I wonder what he really thinks of Western Civilization now? LOL!!!!

      Ok, so the Mets are five games over at the break, 2 back of the Nats for the division and 1 back of the Cubs for wild card number two. They’re looking good at the moment but I’ve seen this movie before: 2010 and 2012. We shall find out in these next three weeks how interested Sandy and the Wilpons really are about winning. Gentlemen, your time is now or your time is up. Capiche?

  • Art Pesner

    One of my best baseball memories was being with my father at the game where Pete Rose hit 3 homers against the Mets at Shea. This was when Rose was still a public enemy at Shea. Remember distinctly my dad giving him a standing ovation for the performance.

  • Steve D

    Love the Seinfeld reference. I don’t know if this counts as a correction or just colorful background info, but in the pilot episode, Jerry’s neighbor was NOT actually “Kramer”…his name was “Kessler.” You can hear Jerry call him Kessler if you pay close attention.

    From IMDb:

    In this, the pilot for Seinfeld (1989), Kramer’s name was “Kessler”. This discrepancy is explained in the episode “The Betrayal”, there is a flashback to when Jerry and Kramer first meet. When introducing himself to Kramer, Jerry says “I saw your name on the board downstairs. Kessler, right?”, to which Kramer responds “Actually, it’s Kramer.”

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I wonder if any of the other 350 or so players who’ve hit 3 home runs in a game ended the day with a batting average of lower than .143.

    PS: Kramer’s (OK, Kessler’s) Dog made it’s one and only appearance in that same episode, running into Jerry’s apartment , jumping all over George, then running out, never to be seen again.

    • Steve D

      I wonder if any of the other 350 or so players who’ve hit 3 home runs in a game ended the day with a batting average of lower than .143.

      Babe Ruth was hitting around .205 when he hit his last 3 HR in one game for the Boston Braves. What are the odds Kirk doesn’t hit 3 more the rest of the season?

    • Rochester John

      And I wonder if any team has ever made the post-season without one bench player hitting over .200 . Nieuwenhuis, Mayberry, Muno, Monell, Campbell….all sub-Mendoza. In fact, if you look at the other benchies that are now elsewhere (Ceciliani, Recker, and Herrera), only Ceciliani breaks .200 (barely, at .206). And yet,….

  • Eric

    It remains to be seen whether the burst of HRs harbingered the Mets offense waking up or whether they were just a freak storm. The game-winning HRs are appreciated and they were needed, but by the same token, it’s not promising that the Mets scored only via HR against the Diamondbacks. Duda’s at-bats looked better, though, and that was promising.

    Better hitting will be needed in the 2nd half.

    The Strasburg dilemma is looming over the inning limits for the young stud starters. The Mets bullpen will be called on more either because in-game innings are shaved or Verrett (who relieved well) or Gee are brought on board to eat innings as a 6th starter.

    Familia closed the half with another less than dominant but still effective outing. That may be a warning sign that he’s approaching his load-bearing limit.

    In any case, fewer innings for the young stud starters means more runs will be needed in the 2nd half.

  • 9th string catcher

    If this team can somehow stagger into the playoffs, you have to like their chances. Because even with the paucity of runs scored, when you get in the post season, you have to have the pitching. Could you imagine a team so deep that you could theoretically see Matz coming out of the bullpen? Relief pitching of Mejia, Parnell and Familia? Ya gotta maybe believe!

    If the Mets can find a way to score 4 runs a game, they will win the division going away. But how?

  • Jestaplero

    I was at the game yesterday, with my two-year old son. I’m putting this on the record now, Greg, so 20 years from now you can’t accuse us of falsely claiming historical proximity cachet.

  • LA Jake

    Great way to enter the break. The Mets are the new Murderers Row!

    But seriously, the team is on pace to win 86 games, which is good, but I don’t think gets them to the 2nd Wild Card (and unless the Nats completely collapse gives them no shot at the NL East). I’m not in favor of dealing away the core young pitchers, but I sure hope Alderson makes a few small deals for a better SS, as well as a quality hitting backup OF and a quality hitting backup IF. While it will be great if Wright somehow returns and Cuddyer and his knee recover and Duda starts looking like the Duda we saw earlier in the year, this team still needs more offense, especially from its PHs and reserves. IMO, Nieuwenhuis’ outburst highlights the need to get contributions from everywhere.

    As a side note, I hadn’t thought about the fact the Mets can now line up their last 3 closers for the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. We don’t really know what Mejia will do yet but he has been through it before. Parnell seems to have found how to pitch without hitting triple digits on the radar gun. And Familia of course has been a beast. For the first time in a long time, I actually assume the Mets will win when they have a lead late, as opposed to assuming they will find some way to blow it.

    I’ll finish by saying this is the worst time of the baseball year, with no Mets game until Friday. Hopefully the team remembers how they hit this past weekend when they arrive in St. Louis.

    • Eric

      Don’t forget d’Arnaud whose bat is better than any that’s realistically obtainable. Though “if [he] somehow returns”, rather than when he returns, is looking more and more like it applies to d’Arnaud, too. I wonder how well he’ll be able to handle a bat with whatever compelled the team doctors to immobilize his left arm.

  • open the gates

    The most historic thing that ever happened at a game I personally attended? Two candidates: Banner Day 1983, when Jesse Orosco tied a major league record by winning two games in the same day; or the game in 1999 in which John Olerud hit for the cycle. (The triple was, by far, the most shocking part of that particular cycle.)

  • open the gates

    And now that Captain Kirk became the first Met to hit 3 out at home, you know what’s coming next. The first ever Met perfect game. In August. To be pitched by Dillon Gee. You read it here first.

  • Lenny65

    This team of ours never stops being weird, you know? I told a friend & fellow fan that Kirk was the very first Met to HR 3x in a home game and his jaw hit the floor. I missed most of it, but I checked the box score online and I was like “huh?”. Stunning, yet so Metsian. Good for Kirk though, for some reason I sort of like rooting for that guy.

    open the gates: Or perhaps the first Mets perfecto will be some kind of bizarre team effort featuring all sorts of odd pitching changes. And it’ll be a night game out west that doesn’t end until 3am eastern, on a Tuesday most likely.

  • Harvey

    Not only are the Mets on a pace to win 86 games, but over the last 162, (89 this year and the last 73 in 2014) they have gone 86-76. Close to playoff country.

  • Eric

    3 Ks on 10 pitches. Throwing darts making all-stars look helpless. If Gee hadn’t been hurt and deGrom had begun his MLB career in the bullpen as planned – as a fill-in for Germen! – deGrom would have become a top set-up man or closer.