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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 Chance We Wanted

I no longer remember the exact circumstances, but years ago there was a newspaper story featuring a Yankee fan who didn’t understand why any franchise would adopt “Ya Gotta Believe” (or one of its non-spontaneous, corporate-approved descendants) as a rallying cry. Terrible slogan, she snorted dismissively: “Believe? That’s lame. We know.”

That always struck me as a perfect way to describe the two New York fanbases, because strip away the condescension and that long-ago fan got it right.

Yankee fans expect dollars to flow and moves to be made to ensure a full calendar in October and a ticker-tape parade a month later; anything less than that is a failure, for which there will be consequences.

Mets fans? We love ticker tape as much as the next guy and gal, and we’ll take a wire-to-wire regular-season cruise that doesn’t require too much heavy breathing. But dismissing anything less than a World Series trophy as a failure? We don’t get that — it’s entitled hubris that sounds deeply and dreadfully boring.

Knowing? Where’s the fun in that? Give us wild hope and a stubborn belief that refuses to be extinguished, no matter what obstacles the baseball gods throw in our way. (Tug’s call to arms was as much battered defiance as it was optimism.) Those are the things that power our baseball dreams.

Still, there are limits to even a Mets fan’s belief. This season began with the Mets under the same old shadow cast by Madoff and the Wilpons’ serial dishonesty about payrolls and financial flexibility. Then injuries decimated a team that had been expected to at least battle for a wild card.

Which should have meant 2015 was like too many recent years, except the big, bad Nationals — all but anointed National League champs in February — got off to a sputtering start and then proved unable to accelerate away from an unimpressive divisional field. The Nats have had injury problems of their own, but that hasn’t been everything that’s wrong with them — they’ve got a push-button manager and the absence (so far) of a certain undefinable something. You look at them (again, so far) and are struck that as a team they’re less than their component parts.

There was an opportunity there, but the Mets limped along for months with a makeshift lineup of mismatched Triple-A guys and played extended periods with key players in that curiously Metsian limbo that might be called the pre-DL. The team’s failure to summon reinforcements went from puzzling to maddening, until finally it seemed like the powers that be were pointedly ignoring a chance to depart from their plodding plan back to contention.

We don’t need certainty, but that doesn’t mean we take kindly to mulish inaction.

But then things changed. Sandy Alderson decided to trade off some of his impressive stockpile of young pitching. The Wilpons agreed to let him. Reinforcements started to arrive. First came Michael Conforto from the farm. Then Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. Then Tyler Clippard, just in time to replace recidivist dunderhead Jenrry Mejia. And, finally, Carlos Gomez Yoenis Cespedes.

Actual ballplayers! From major-league rosters!

This spasm of activity led to the Nationals arriving for a three-game series, on the field where they’ve kicked us around for the last few years. The Mets commenced hostilities three games back, and you had to forgive us if we were a little amped: These were the first meaningful Mets games since George W. Bush was president and Shea Stadium was still standing.

What would happen? This was the 2015 Mets, so who the hell knew? We’ve seen the Mets look godawful against second-division clubs (at least with bats in their hands) and stand toe-to-toe with playoff contenders.

They won the first game on a ludicrously dramatic bit of soap opera starring new Met cult hero Wilmer Flores.

Then they won the second game behind the heroics of an apparently resurrected Lucas Duda.

By the time the third game arrived, at 8:05 ESPN Hijack Time, every Mets fan on Earth was just a little high-strung. A sweep of the Nats was possible, along with an at least technical share of first place.

So what happened in a Citi Field that’s found out how to be loud?

For openers, Noah Syndergaard happened.

Syndergaard hit a bump with the second batter, as Anthony Rendon swatted a fastball over the center-field fence for a 1-0 Nats lead. But watching Syndergaard, I didn’t think that was any kind of harbinger of trouble. He was hitting his spots — something Jacob deGrom and the relief corps struggled to do — and the fastball had its usual scary velocity and movement. Rendon’s a good hitter who’d gotten a 2-0 pitch and turned on it; it happens.

Syndergaard’s only 22 and still learning his craft, but when he’s on I find myself thinking he might have the best stuff of anyone on this very good staff. He doesn’t have Matt Harvey‘s slider or assassin mentality (yet), but the fastball’s ungodly, the curve dives with authority and the change amplifies both pitches’ effectiveness. In one sequence, Syndergaard shoved Ryan Zimmerman away from the plate with a 97 MPH fastball at the chin, put a 100 MPH fastball on the outside corner at the knees, then picked off that same spot with a vicious breaking ball. Zimmerman just looked morose and trudged away; there was nothing whatsoever he or anyone else could have done.

Syndergaard’s pitches lost their crispness in the middle innings, probably because the adrenaline had stopped firing. But he found a way through it and finished the night with a flourish, daring Bryce Harper with a fastball on the inside corner. Harper is the furthest thing from overrated (so stop chanting that, you fools), but not even he could do much with a fastball thrown at 98 with movement that could have chewed through bedrock.

The other thing that happened was a fast-forward flurry of Mets offense that came almost too quickly to appreciate.

In the third, Jordan Zimmerman walked Kevin Plawecki (who quietly had a very impressive game on a big stage) and Syndergaard sacrificed him to second. The inning seemed destined to fizzle after Ruben Tejada hit a scorching liner right into Zimmerman’s glove, but Curtis Granderson swatted a 2-2 hanging pitch over the Mo Zone for a 2-1 Mets lead. Daniel Murphy then hammered Zimmerman’s next pitch deep into the Pepsi Porch, one of those monstrous shots with which Murph occasionally ambushes pitchers. Cespedes singled (his first Met hit) and then Duda hit a ball on the inner edge of the plate, practically off his hands. Duda peered at it as it arced towards the stands, waiting for it to go foul … but Duda is so strong that the ball wound up clanging off the pole and just like that, in five pitches, a 1-0 Nats lead had become a 5-1 deficit.

“I’m not really sure how it’s physically possible to hit that ball where I put it,” Zimmerman said of Duda’s drive; the only answer I can think of is that right now nothing is impossible for Lucas Duda.

The Nats made a little noise, but Clippard put them down in the ninth and that was that — a three-game sweep that left the Mets technically in second place, but only if you want to be a spoilsport about it.

The Mets played a grueling July schedule and came out of the month 13-12; they now play subpar competition for most of the next month, while the Nats play much tougher teams on the road. The Mets should also add more reinforcements, with Travis d’Arnaud shaking off the rust, Michael Cuddyer starting a rehab assignment, Erik Goeddel working his way back, Jerry Blevins throwing and perhaps even David Wright suiting up on the minor-league side.

I’d be more confident if this team hadn’t spent 2015 succeeding when I expected them to fail and failing when I expected them to succeed. But that’s not to say I’m not hopeful.

I’m hoping. I’m dreaming. We’re all even with two months to go; why not us? I don’t know, but I don’t need to know. Because I’ve got something better: I believe.

34 comments to The Chance We Wanted

  • Steve D

    I remember sitting at camp in August 1973, meeting guests Duffy Dyer and Felix Millan. The Mets were in last place and they didn’t have much to say about it. Cleon Jones and Tug McGraw got hot, a certain rally cry took over and the rest was history. We need something like that. Would it be too cheesy to resurrect “Ya Gotta Believe”? I have mixed feelings…we might tarnish it if this blows up.

  • Wilmer Flores is stronger than dirt…

  • Rob E

    Jason…you don’t “believe” ’til you believe in Jon Niese! Then I’ll know you’re all in!

  • Giovanni D'Amico

    The first five paragraphs of this post are among my favorite I’ve read in years. Sometimes I try to explain to people why, at age 12 or so, I decided to stop rooting for the Yankees like the rest of my extended family and became a Mets fan. It’s just a more hopeful, magical, optimistic fan experience. Well-put.

  • eric1973

    Sounds like we’re about the same age, Steve D. I can still recall the replays from the CF camera, showing (from behind) that ball (hit by Marty Perez) clang off Jon Matlack’s forehead, leaving him with a hairline fracture of the skull. Pretty scary stuff at the time, but he came back very shortly thereafter.

  • eric1973

    Back to the present, though being Met fans, we cherish our heritage. Love it when Keith apologizes for bringing up the past, but we love it, and love him for it.

    Big article in today’s Daily News regarding the gosh-darned looming 6-man rotation.

    Recognizing that no-one is more prone to exaggeration than myself:
    I would rather risk blowing out everyone’s arms rather than going to the 6-man, because I don’t believe innings amounts or pitch counts have anything to do with injuries, and that just will not happen.

    However, if someone did get injured, I could sleep nights with that plan, rather than going to a 6-man and barely missing the playoffs.

  • LA Jake

    Jason, you perfectly encapsulated what it is to be fan of this franchise. And though there are plenty of frustrating times, when it all comes together it’s deliriously awesome.

    In case people want to watch over and over like me (especially since I left to attend a wedding with the Mets down 1-0 after two and discovered they were ahead 5-1 the next time I checked my phone), here’s an enjoyable couple of minutes.

    http://m.mlb.com/lad/video/topic/11493214/v325988083

  • Dave

    Hit plenty of nails on the head here, Jason. Better to appreciate the excitement of real achievement that you had to work for and wait for than to have a ho-hum expectation that you deserve it and it should just happen at every opportunity. And that really applies to both the fans of the team in the Bronx and to Bryce Harper. You are correct, he is (finally) not overrated, and the fact that he and Syndergaard are both only 22 years old means we’ve got lots of future matchups to watch, real good ones, those could wind up being the best offensive talent in the game against the best pitcher (because you’re right, I think he’ll be the best of the whole lot). I would just contend that “over-rated! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)” perhaps makes for a better chant than “you’re an entitled self-absorbed immature douchebag!” even if it might not be entirely accurate.

    • DanielHall15

      Then again, the “Harvey’s better” chant from a couple years back can be quite conveniently converted into “Harper su-ucks” without too much hassle.

  • eric1973

    Agreed, Rob E., Niese has been pitching as well any of these latter-day Dwight Goodens, but for some unexplainable and inexplicable reason, he is the only one who does not get the ‘W’s, and also the team seems to lose whenever he pitches. Maybe this week breaks that streak.

  • Dennis

    Awesome post Jason!! In a game with quite a few highlights I particularly enjoyed Noah’s punch out of Harper to end the 8th.

  • mikeL

    if colon can pitch effectively tonite i’ll be all in.
    nonetheless i do believe.
    and it’s been many years since i’ve felt this way – maybe since ’99.
    ’06 didn’t require belief – it was more a team that bandwagon fans could follow.
    it’s pretty cool that this past weekend’s sweep more involved cespedes’ presence as protection in the lineup than any offensive heroics on his part.
    things should only get more interesting moving forward!

    (actually i believe so much that i’m mildly concerned that attending one of the last 3 games of the season, thd mets will have already clinched – and i’ll be watching a spot starter on the mound and a b-squad on the field…but i did say it’s feeling like ’99, and i did say mildly)

  • LA Jake

    For all those who keep insisting the Nats are the favorites…

    The Mets have a slightly better starting staff and despite the recent hiccup, a solid bullpen with two capable closers. Add in the possible return of Blevins to provide a lefty specialist for the pen and the possible return of Matz to provide another top arm in the rotation and the gap could widen.

    Offensively, with the return of d’Arnaud, the additions of Cespedes, Johnson and Uribe, the callup of Conforto, the likely return of Cuddyer (who I expect with better bats in lineup will rebound like Duda) and the possible return of Wright, the lineup should be good.

    Plus, the schedule favors the Mets and if it comes down to it, the final three games of the regular season are vs the Nats at home.

    And finally, Matt Williams appears to be worse strategically than TC…which is really saying something.

    So why should the Nats, the team that has underachieved all season, be considered the favorites?

    • Rob E

      Well, now that you’ve embraced Terry Collins, I think that leaves:
      A) Because the Wilpons never spend any money
      B) Because the Mets ALWAYS lose
      C) Because David Wright will be back, and
      D) Because the Wilpons never spend any money

      …as acceptable answers.

      • LA Jake

        So there you have it. I give a completely logical response, and the man who complains we’re always griping about everything offers up the other gripes as though that’s all we ever do. Good to know the Rob E leopard hasn’t changed his spots

    • Eric

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/2015.shtml

      Because the Nationals underachieving has been pitching that’s 7th in the NL in runs allowed per game and hitting that’s 6th in the NL in runs scored per game.

      In the NL, the Mets are 3rd in runs allowed but last in runs scored.

      We hope the Mets can improve close to a league-average offense with the trade-deadline additions and DL returnees, but that remains to be seen.

      Assuming Matz returns without missing a beat sooner rather than later, he won’t move the needle much because most of his starts will be taken from his fellow young stud starters to protect their innings limits, not – most likely – in replacement of Colon, the weak link in the rotation.

      Blevins and other bullpen upgrades should help. It was telling who Collins didn’t use out of the bullpen in the Nationals series. Improved offense or not, we can look forward to a lot of close games with heavy reliance on the relievers. Too many weak links in the bullpen can easily cost the season.

      The Nationals are the favorites because they’re better than the Mets. The Nationals should win the division.

      But that’s why they play the games. Like Bill Parcells said, you are what your record says you are. The race is on.

  • eric1973

    LA Jake — Just don’t tell Duda the Mets are the favorites….. Shhhhhh!!!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    <<a fast-forward flurry of Mets offense that came almost too quickly to appreciate

    It certainly came too quickly for the ESPN Camera-people to keep track of. It seems they showed 11 replays of Granderson's Home Run but only about 2/3 of Murphy's Home Run and I don't think they ever did show exactly where Duda's Home Run landed.

    <<one of those monstrous shots with which Murph occasionally ambushes pitchers

    I love it when Murphy hits a Home Run. When he connects it's one of the sweetest Home Run arcs ever.

    PS: A little help from someone, anyone. I'm pretty good at extracting data, but forgive me but I can't seem to figure out who was the last player to hit 9 Home Runs in 8 games? Certainly never a Met. Mattingly?

  • eric1973

    Ken K – Think someone mentioned Josh Hamilton and Carlos Delgado for 9 hrs in 8 games.

    When Murph hit the homer, it was from some weird behind-home-plate angle, and the announcers were speechless at first, like they were still looking at Grandy’s replays or something. Would have loved to see Duda’s shot hit the pole. SNY would have gotten it.

  • 9th string catcher

    Four runs – that’s what it’s all about. If this lineup can crank out four runs a game, the division can be had. I looked at the Nats’ schedule in August – not a lot harder than the Mets, so they have to keep winning, but this is a hard team not to root for. LGM!

  • Michael G.

    The very definition of by-the-book managerial incompetence Saturday night: Matt Williams has his pitcher intentionally walk Cespedes, who is playing his first game as a Met and still adjusting, to face Duda, who handles lefties and is the hottest player on the planet. Of course he hits a game-winning double.

  • Jesse

    Really wonderful post. I was explaining this sentiment to my 6 year old son the other day.

  • It’s August. This team has chemistry and a chance. They believe in themselves. Anything can happen. It’s going to be an incredible two months. If Bartolo can leave his funk, what we all want here is possible.

  • Eric

    I became a fan with the 1986 Mets. A big part of the appeal of the 2015 season for me is its similarity to the folklore about the 1969 and 1973 Mets. Those 2 seasons define the cultural identity of the franchise more than any other editions of the team, including the 1986 Mets.

    I appreciate that Syndergaard pitched 8 innings and rested a taxed bullpen, which matters more with a struggling Colon starting tonight.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYM/2015-schedule-scores.shtml

    As low as the rollercoaster has dived this season at times, the Mets have never fallen far behind in the division.

    The furthest ahead in 1st place the Mets have been this season is 4.5 games. The furthest out of 1st place the Mets have been this season is 4.5 games. After losing their division lead in May, they took back the division lead in early June and lost it again in late June. It took a month and a half, but they’ve caught up to 1st place again.

    I expect the division lead to switch hands again, several times, before the September 7-9 series in DC. I expect the season-closing series with the Nationals to be for 1st place. The race is on.

    I don’t put much stock in the strength of schedule. The Mets lost 2 out of 3 to the Padres before sweeping the Nationals. The young stud starters can make good teams look bad, but at the same time, the Mets’ below-average hitting can make okay pitching look good. They can beat any team with their pitching most nights, but they also can’t take any team lightly.

  • Lenny65

    I’ve been an active Mets fan since my very first trip to Shea in 1972, when I was just six years old. I embraced them completely and I have lived and died with these guys ever since. Every so often they do something that makes all the misery totally worth it. Like right now. Something is happening right now and it’s amazing to watch. You can see and feel these guys coming together. Wilmer Flores for president!

  • eric1973

    Welcome Back, Bartolo. Then tomorrow, Niese, and then back to the Gigantic 3.

    And the Conforto saga adds yet another chapter to this continuously wacky week.

  • Eric

    1 up in the standings, even in the loss column.

  • Kanehl

    And another big win tonight, with A 3 run homer from Conforto, three scorched doubles by Cespeda, 2 hits from d’Arnaud, etc. this is what a real lineup looks like. The hottest hitter hoes o-fed, but others are there to do the job. Sweet.

    And, as always, thanks for another beautiful column. Your tagline says it all.

  • cleon jones

    Ive been a Met fan since the Polo Grounds.We Met fans always take the good and the BAD:) . This new offense is for real…You gotta believe!!! Lets go Mets!!!!