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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 Cheers for Wilmer

There have been more exhausting 48-hour stretches in the life of a Mets fan — the desperate scramble at the end of the ’99 season comes to mind — but not for a very long time. And perhaps there’s never been such an insane rollercoaster of emotions over so few hours, with euphoria, anger, confusion, despair, and pure joy shoving each other out of one’s brainpan almost too rapidly to be processed.

To review, in case you’re too muddled or exhausted:

On Wednesday night, while losing feebly to the Padres despite three home runs from Lucas Duda, the Mets acquired Carlos Gomez from the Brewers in return for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. Or at least that deal was reported by many media outlets, subject only to the usual pending review of medical records, which means nothing 999 times out of 1,000. The bizarre, digital-age twist was that Flores found out he’d been traded during the action, from fans on their cellphones. Instead of being removed, he played the rest of the game in tears, upset at being sent away from the only organization he’d known since signing up to be a professional baseball player at 16.

Then, shockingly, it turned out Flores hadn’t been traded after all. The Mets had gotten cold feet about the medical records, or perhaps had an 11th-hour change of mind about taking on payroll. While Terry Collins ranted about fans looking at their phones instead of the game, a visibly angry Sandy Alderson explained there was no trade with Milwaukee and would be no trade.

On Thursday, with an understandably rattled Flores excused active participation, the Mets racked up a 7-1 lead over the Padres, which had eroded to a 7-5 lead in the 9th by the time Jeurys Familia faced Derek Norris with two out and nobody on. It began to rain hard, but final batters have suffered through spitting lava and hurtling meteors in the name of concluding things. Not this time — the umps pulled the teams off the field. Forty-five minutes or so later, Familia went back out there and gave up two singles and a three-run homer to Justin Upton before it started raining again, leaving the Mets to wait for nearly three hours before succumbing meekly to Craig Kimbrel and so complete an unimaginably disastrous loss. (You can witness my astonishment as it occurred on the latest I’d Just as Soon Kiss a Mookiee podcast with Shannon Shark of MetsPolice — we were recording as everything crashed down around us.)

For some fanbases, that would be enough drama for a month, but the Mets were just getting warm.

On Friday afternoon Alderson pulled off a pretty fair Plan B deal, adding slugger Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit for Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa, two capable minor-league arms who might or might not amount to anything. The only disappointment was that Cespedes was in Baltimore, just slightly too far away to arrive for the night’s tilt with the first-place Nationals. (Or at least for the beginning of it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Cue euphoria in Metsdom — which, a bit oddly, was amplified by the fact that it might not have been the best long-term thinking. Cespedes’ contract was engineered to make him a free agent — he has to be released five days after the World Series, merits no qualifying offer, and the Mets then can’t negotiate with him until May 15. In other words, he’s almost certainly a rental — which means the Mets are going for it this year, finally pushing chips into the pile instead of talking vaguely about long-term plans and stockpiled prospects. That’s not normally something to be praised, but a summer in which one’s team seems determined to pass up a chance at a division title will lead to some odd reactions. The Mets haven’t won anything in the last week of dealing, but they have wiped away a corrosive narrative.

Exhausted yet? Too bad, because all of that was just a prelude for one of the most entertaining, riveting and ultimately rewarding Mets games in years — the kind of game that proved baseball can craft an odder storyline than anything a fan’s feverish brain could come up with.

Once upon a time tonight, Matt Harvey had a perfect game in the sixth inning. It went by the boards, and in the eighth Harvey’s skinny 1-0 lead did the same. With two outs, the Mets ace was undone by a series of small events, as tends to happen when a starter is only given a lone run for offense.

Harvey had been great, darting fastballs to the outside corner and mixing them with a sharp, rejuvenated slider. But I’d sensed disaster coming — in part because the land beyond 100 pitches is often hostile territory for Harvey, but also because it was the Nats at Cifi Field.

The first sign of trouble was a ball in the dirt that the umpires ruled had hit pinch-hitter Clint Robinson in the foot, though replay seemed to show no such thing. That apparent injustice (with the usual five minutes of standing around) was followed by a sharp grounder hit by Anthony Rendon to Juan Uribe‘s left, which Uribe could corral but do no more with. Harvey seemed to have Yunel Escobar at a disadvantage, having hobbled him with a foul off his foot, but then Escobar smacked a single up the middle, tying the game and ending Harvey’s night.

But the fun was only beginning. Tyler Clippard came in and bore down against Jayson Werth, he of the Grizzly Adams beard and Oscar the Grouch disposition. Armed with a change-up and a fastball, Clippard attacked his old teammate up and down and side to side, with Werth shortening his swing and spoiling pitch after pitch after pitch. I stopped trying to predict pitches after seven or so and stopped exhorting Clippard to beat Werth at around the 10-pitch mark — I was simultaneously worn out and enthralled by their Dunstonesque battle. Clippard’s 13th pitch was a fastball at the very bottom of the strike zone on the corner — a perfect pitch that ended the threat and sent Werth off glowering and muttering.

The bad news as the game ground along through the ninth and into extra innings was the Nats’ bullpen was looking very sharp, with longtime superbrat Gio Gonzalez having been replaced by Tanner Roark and Aaron Barrett. Both Nats relievers looked unhittable, as did Felipe Rivero, who had an unnerving but effective habit of missing with 95 MPH fastballs that swerved right at left-handed hitters.

The Mets’ pen, meanwhile, seemed to be succeeding in spite of itself. Clippard’s curve was MIA and he kept leaving change-ups too high in the strike zone. Familia’s been a mess for some time, and his slider was consistently elevated. Behind them you had Hansel Robles, last seen giving up a grand slam to San Diego that turned out to be more than cosmetic damage, and the nerve-gnawing prospect of one or both Torri.

But the Mets survived. They survived pitches in bad locations and Nationals hitters who approached their at-bats like surgeons turned assassins. Did they get a little help from home-plate ump Jerry Meals? Yep — but then Meals’s strike zone had been equitably odd all night, and Bryce Harper‘s ejection following an 11th-inning tantrum was more than justified, with Meals giving the mercurial young star plenty of chances to walk away and gesticulate from the relative safety of the dugout.

Harper’s departure left Matt Williams with a distinct lack of outfielders, a problem he tried to solve by sending Dan Uggla to first and moving Ryan Zimmerman to left and Werth to right. This seemed ill-omened, as Zimmerman has a bad foot and Uggla had never played first before, though in fairness Uggla often plays second like it’s new to him, too. It turned out not to matter — the Nats would face four batters with their makeshift defense, recording two flyouts to center and a K.

That accounts for three of the batters faced. The fourth, leading off the 12th, was Wilmer Flores — the same Wilmer Flores who’d cried over being traded away, then found himself untraded.

Because baseball generates stories more wonderful and ridiculous and wildly dramatic than anything mere mortals can think of, the third pitch of the 12th inning was a Rivero fastball that had a little more plate and a little less steam than his previous offerings. Flores hammered it to left, a line shot that seemed to gain altitude as it traveled, bending back a fan’s oustretched hat in the Party City deck. A wide-eyed Flores floated around the bases as the Nats skulked away, then shucked his helmet and vanished into a scrum of his lost-and-regained teammates at home.

The crowd roared, of course. But while that ovation for Flores was wonderful — I’ve watched the clip of his homer six or seven times already tonight — I liked an earlier show of fan affection even more.

Way back in the first, Wilmer dove on his belly for a sharp Escobar grounder that he converted into an out. It was the first thing he’d done since the wrenching events of Wednesday night, and the Citi Field crowd rose and gave him a standing ovation.

It’s interesting to unpack what went into those cheers.

Part of it was that Flores has been treated roughly this year by his own club, sent out to a position he’d been told he couldn’t play and then unceremoniously dismissed from it, all amid the never-ending glare and blare of New York sports fandom. You heard an acknowledgment of that in the park Wednesday night as the crowd cheered what certainly appeared to be Flores’s last AB as a Met.

It was the tears too, of course — in a sign of at-least-fitful progress for humanity, Wilmer’s raw emotions Wednesday night weren’t derided as a sign of weakness, but welcomed as a reminder that ballplayers are human too.

Would a Dodger or a Yankee have been cheered for being overcome by his emotions in such circumstances? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably, even. But I think a big part of the cheers for Wilmer had to do with the uniform he was wearing.

Wilmer Flores signed with the Mets on August 6, 2007. It wasn’t very long after that when things started to go very wrong for his team. Not one but two collapses. Injuries endured, mishandled and ignored. A financial calamity, followed by serial dishonesty about its extent. Promises about expanded payrolls and competitive rosters … but not quite yet. Players sent away with anonymous knives in their backs. And losing. Lots and lots and lots of losing.

Through it all, the devoted and/or insane among us have kept the faith, have remained Mets fans despite that avocation being the emotional equivalent of taking up smoking. We’ve coped by turning to nostalgia, by exhibiting gallows humor, and by gritting our teeth and insisting that this time that bright light ahead isn’t a train.

Being traded away from all that seems like something a player would greet with clicked heels instead of red eyes. Yet Wilmer Flores, who’s never seen anything except Metsian chaos and calamity, wanted to stay and was moved to tears at the idea of being sent away.

You better believe we’ll cheer for that — win or lose.

But we didn’t lose, not tonight. We didn’t lose because the player who endured all that was granted the role of hero in a ridiculously dramatic finish.

And that’s a tale to make our own eyes a little red. Because if Wilmer Flores can be rewarded like that, who knows? Maybe there’s a storybook ending out there for us too.

25 comments to The Cheers for Wilmer

  • Matt

    I got a little misty eyed tonight, started to feel a little ridiculous about it, and then decided I didn’t care. I’m with you though, as awesome (and important for the team) as the bomb was, the standing “o” following the diving stop was the cooler moment. Good job Mets fans!!

  • Lou from Brazil

    Both Flores’ and Wheeler’s reactions to the non-trade have been very moving. As outsiders, we the fans and those in the media seem to jump on every little thing this team botches up. But it is incredibly interesting to see what is going on in the minds of two young men who actually play for this team, and their sentiment is probably shared by most of their young teammates. They see a club that is on the cusp of something good. So many young and talented guys growing up together and hitting Queens at all about the same time. I’m going to shut up for the rest of the year and just enjoy how it plays out. And I am so glad these guys are on our team. Two young men looking forward, without the cynicism we Mets’ fans have been bred and conditioned to spew. They want to be here, badly. Imagine that.

  • LA Jake

    The standing O after the diving stop was awesome. The continued support when Flores came to the plate each time was great. The fact he ended the game with a HR was pure Hollywood.

  • Eric

    Coincidentally, this past week I watched the 2011 movie, Moneyball, for the first time: “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”

    Flores is homegrown and last night’s game was played on a corn field in Iowa. Or maybe the Little League field in Williamsport.

    I hope Flores’s bat wakes up so he fulfills his potential as a Kent type and sticks around for a while with an Alfonso type career.

    Jason: “Nationals hitters who approached their at-bats like surgeons turned assassins”

    The restoring Nationals are scary. There are good reasons they’re the favorites to win the division. They are the better team.

    They put up post-season quality at-bats. Against ordinary pitching, that’s 5 runs. But the Mets have come this far because of extraordinary pitching beating back better-hitting teams, which is almost all of them. I’m impressed the bullpen held on long enough after Harvey for Flores to win the game in the 12th. Once the game was tied, I doubted the bullpen would be able to hold the Nationals, which of course, they failed to do last time. I doubted the relievers would hold the 1-run lead if Harvey escaped the 8th with the lead.

    The Nationals bullpen is scary, too, and they didn’t even use their 8th-inning set-up man and closer like the Mets did.

    On the other hand, the Mets have done well to win in extra innings this season and if they make it to the post-season either way, that will be a big reason for it. This is a resilient team whose spirit has not succumbed to bad luck, bad losses, and their own flaws over a rollercoaster season.

    The Nationals should win the division. The Mets may well accumulate enough bad losses like Thursday’s crusher to lose the division. But they will not roll over and surrender the division to the Nationals. They’re going to fight for it, even if half the fight is against themselves.

    Jason: “I’d sensed disaster coming — in part because the land beyond 100 pitches is often hostile territory for Harvey”

    This is the reason I consider deGrom to be the staff ace between the two headlining aces and I would pick deGrom over Harvey to start a winner-take-all contest. (If Syndergaard is dominant again against the Nationals tomorrow, that conversation becomes more fun than it already is.)

    Nonetheless, it was encouraging to see 2013 Happy Harvey Day Harvey again. I hope he’s back for good.

    Ya Gotta Believe.

  • Ed Rising

    Great post Jason!
    It has been wonderful seeing the turn around by fans towards Wilmer. The way the fans cheered him and chanted his name in his 12 inning at bat was especially moving. If Wilmer has performed so much better defensively since moving to 2B, I also hope his offense improves and he develops into an Alfonzo type player. After all the turmoil this season he now has the fans on his side – that has to be a shot in the arm!

    On the so called ‘hit in the foot’ play, in another time and close to another place, Terry Collins could have used the ‘shoe polish’ play in reverse. I was screaming at the TV (Which I’m prone to do during Mets games) “Check for shoe polish! Check for Shoe Polish! Alas my friend told me that players don’t use shoe polish on the cleats anymore. Oh how I believe in ‘Yesterday’.

  • Steve D

    The next hurdle…Cespedes coming here, being a team first guy and carrying the team like Clendenon.

    Further down the line (dream sequence)…Ticker tape parade…Steve D changes avatar to WS trophy…Wilpons forced to pay Cespedes $100 Million over 6 years.

    • Eric

      Cespedes turns 30 in October. (Tangentially, Duda turns 30 in February 2016.)

      The next 2, hopefully 2+ months of Cespedes on a FA contract drive may be the best of Cespedes.

      On one hand, re-signing him would make trading a prospect like Fulmer look better.

      On the other hand, even if Cespedes powered the Mets on a deep post-season run, I’m undecided whether I want him reserving an outfield spot for 6 years of decline. Look at Wright’s decline and Cespedes doesn’t share Wright’s equity with the team, Beltran-like streak or not.

      • Steve D

        You are correct that a lot of factors would have to go into re-signing Cespedes. I think his only shot at signing with the Mets is getting into the WS…he would really have to be the second coming of Clendenon. Plawecki, give him no. 22…worked for Ray Knight also.

        I see on the roster they already gave him 52.
        http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/team/roster_40man.jsp?c_id=nym

        • LA Jake

          Before you label Cespedes a problem, take note of these lines from an article when he was dealt from Oakland to Boston:

          Always smiling and joking with teammates, Cespedes was enormously well-liked in the clubhouse, loved even, contrary to a misleading statement by a writer for a national media outlet, and Cespedes was a big favorite of manager Bob Melvin’s. He is friendly, funny and smart, quickly learning English, and for all his imposing physique, Cespedes has a sweet and sensitive side; his family, especially his mother, Estella, means the world to him.

          Beane confirmed that Gomes was someone the A’s wanted to reacquire because of the impact Cespedes’ loss would have on the clubhouse. “Yoenis was part of the fabric of the team,” Beane said, noting that Gomes has been, too, and he also has terrific leadership qualities. “Losing a guy like that is lessened a little bit when you bring back a guy like Jonny.”

  • Lee

    Last night was a culmination of the George Bailey moments I’ve had over the last 4 days (let’s not forget Mejia). I wasn’t exactly at the edge of a bridge, but I was seriously re-evaluating my lifetime of Met fan-hood, and how things might have transpired differently if there were no Mets at all. Wilmer—or Clarence—restored the faith (though there’s still.a touch of fear). Hot dog!!!

  • Dave

    That stretch of 48 hours in the life of Mets fans will be something you don’t need Greg Prince-level total recall to feel confident saying “I’m going to remember this forever,” and we got images that we’ll be watching during rain delays years from now when they show the 2015 highlight reel. Hopefully the 48 subsequent hours will be memorable too and the Nats limp out of here tied for first place. I’m damn glad the rotation worked out this way for this series, because now opposing teams have got to look at the Mets and think that they hate facing these pitchers.

    But not to be all happy and cheery, is Terry Collins actually Eric Campbell’s uncle or something? Why is he in the lineup in a game that important, and out of position at that? Maybe it was because he’s a hot bat…his .208 average for July was his best month of the season so far…

  • Kanehl

    Jason,

    As usual, you’ve done a great job of expressing what many of us Mets fans feel about events in the ongoing drama of Metsland. And, towards the end of this piece, you have two concise paragraphs that perfectly encapsulate the post-2006 years. Thanks!

    Ken

  • Steve D

    LA Jake,

    I said I really didn’t want to google Cespedes’ issues, but you raised me, so here it is:

    From all indications, it sounds like Yoenis Cespedes‘ time in Boston is going to be brief.

    Acquired from the Athletics in the Jon Lester deal in July, Cespedes has one year remaining on his contract and recently aligned himself with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports. This would appear to indicate that he hopes to make a big splash in free agency next winter. However, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote yesterday that the unlikelihood of a contract extension isn’t the only reason the Red Sox will likely trade Cespedes this offseason:

    Two other reasons the Red Sox are open to dealing Cespedes are his open disenchantment with Boston and his refusal to pay any heed to their coaches. “He marches to his own drum and the coaches all hate him,” said a Red Sox insider.

    Well, that’s pretty harsh. We’re used to seeing the Red Sox use anonymous sources to bash players on the way out of town, but they might have jumped the gun here. It doesn’t do the Red Sox any good to say negative things about him before they attempt to trade him.

    Trade him they did, first chance they got. Why did you make me do this? Everyone should get a clean slate though.

  • Lenny65

    One of the most epic moments I’ve ever seen, arguably the second greatest moment in Citi history. I NEVER thought Wilmer would bring a tear to my eyes (for positive reasons, that is). I don’t think I’ve ever been happier for an individual Met, it must have felt like a dream to him.

    And hats f*cking off to the finest fan base in ANY sport…US! Way, way back in 2000 I brought my GF to her first MLB game. She was concerned about rowdy fans and sexist remarks and etc. I told her (in all seriousness too) “these are Mets fans, we’re class acts, no one is going to bother anyone here because we’re all family”. Thanks again for proving me right, fellow fans. Time to take LOLMets and shove it right up the collective asses of the haters, folks. You GOTTA believe the magic is back cuz it’s baseball like it oughta be!

  • eric1973

    Lovin’ Lucas!

    That’s my guy!

  • […] won the first game on a ludicrously dramatic bit of soap opera starring new Met cult hero Wilmer […]