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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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It Wasn’t Over Till It Was Over

The constantly vigilant, uncommonly retentive (not to mention preternaturally anxious) baseball fan’s mind comes fully equipped with hyperlinks. He sees something and it reminds him of something he’s seen before. It may or may not be worth the trouble of clicking on, but he know it’s there.

For example, Wednesday night the Mets were ahead of the Marlins, 7-0. It was as glorious a setup as one could desire. Matt Harvey had been cruising. Juan Uribe had belted a three-run homer in the fifth. Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda and Michael Conforto had combined to plate four in the third. The Nationals were cooperating by falling behind the Diamondbacks in D.C. You couldn’t have asked for a more ideal evening.

Terry Collins removed Harvey after seven. In another era, you wouldn’t take out your ace (or co-ace) after he’d given up two hits and walked nobody, especially after he’d thrown only 88 pitches. In that other era, nobody would know how many pitches had been thrown. But that era doesn’t exist today. Nobody’s concerned about burnishing individual credentials like complete games or shutouts. Everybody wants to limit wear and tear on a valuable surgically repaired right elbow. The Mets hope to need that elbow and the arm it’s attached to beyond the confines of the regular season.

Fine. Harvey’s out with a seven-run lead and two innings to go. It didn’t even feel controversial. Yet one of the hyperlinks in my mind clicked back on a game from ten years ago this month involving a situation at least passingly similar.

On August 20, 2005, at Shea Stadium, the Mets led the Nationals, 8-0. Neither team was in first place, but both were scrambling for a Wild Card. It was the Mets’ night, to be sure. Ramon Castro, Jose Reyes and David Wright had all homered with runners on base, chasing Liván Hernandez. The beneficiary of all this offensive largesse was the usually run-starved Pedro Martinez. He had taken a no-hitter deep into his last start, only to have the Mets score practically nothing for him and saddle him with a 2-1 loss. Even then, the primacy of the won-lost record was being severely questioned, but still, it was going to be satisfying to see Pedro get a win he deserved against the Nats and raise his record to 13-5.

Willie Randolph took Pedro out after six innings and 78 pitches. Martinez was feeling a bit of stiffness in his back, though that supposedly wasn’t the problem. Just a desire to “save some bullets,” according to the manager, who added, “We’re also going to try and be cautious with Pedro when we can. I understand we’re in a pennant race and every game’s important, but I just felt real comfortable at that point.”

Yes, at that point, quite comfortable. At points to come, less so. Danny Graves, Dae-Sung Koo and Aaron Heilman each pitched a third of an inning in the seventh. Willie getting his relievers some work? Not exactly. Among them, they gave up six runs. The Mets’ lead was down to 8-6. Heilman got through the eighth all right, handing the two-run edge to closer Braden Looper in the ninth. Looper recorded two quick outs before future Met Ryan Church singled, former Met Preston Wilson singled and future Met Brian Schneider doubled them both home.

It was 8-8. Or as Pedro termed it in his inimitable way, “It seemed like it was going to be an easy day at the office for the whole team. Seems like it was only easy for me.”

Ten years after the Mets blew that eight-run lead but not the game in which it had been mounted (Roberto Hernandez pitched a scoreless tenth and Chris Woodward drove in Gerald Williams with a walkoff single), another easy day at the office ensued unremarkably. In the top of the ninth at Marlins Park, Duda lifted a sacrifice fly and increased the Mets’ advantage to 8-0. All they needed to do was not give up eight or more runs in the time it took them to compile three outs and a series sweep and sixth consecutive victory would be theirs.

The only other thing that needed to happen was for nobody to assume it was a done deal…which is where I found myself bristling at beloved SNY analyst Ron Darling.

Oh, Darling. You were an All-Star 30 years ago; a World Champion 29 years ago. You know more about how the game is played than I ever will. So how is it you could breach protocol as you did in the bottom of the ninth inning when you said something to the effect of “If the Mets win…” and interrupted yourself to ask Gary Cohen, “Why do we have to say ‘if’?”

AAUUGGHH!!

That was me screaming superstitiously from my couch. My hyperlinks were all clicking at once to every time I or anybody prematurely declared a win was in the bag when the bag had yet to be sealed. Darling, with 136 more wins than I have in the big leagues, seemed to forget that when you’re sizing up a baseball game that has yet to encompass a final score you can’t…you can’t…you just can’t do that. You can’t do that if you’re some schlub muttering to yourself on a couch somewhere on Long Island and you can’t do that if you’re speaking into a microphone somewhere in Miami.

You just can’t. The baseball gods are always listening, and the baseball gods don’t care for that stuff.

Ronnie seemed to catch himself and tried to walk his presumptuousness back, but it was too late. The win wasn’t in the bag and the cat was out of it. Here came the stupid Marlins. Here came an unexpected flurry of Met relievers. Eric O’Flaherty quickly wore out his welcome by allowing hits to four of five batters to open the ninth. It was only 8-2 when Collins hooked him. No biggie, right? We’d learned our latest LOOGY maybe should be limited to one batter, like he was in the eighth.

Hansel Robles entered, but didn’t get out alive: an out, a walk and a three-run double. That made the proceedings 8-5. It wasn’t an easy day at the office for Hansel Robles.

But all right, 8-5 was still a cushioned margin. It was a charmed score, in fact. The Mets won their last World Series by taking an 8-5 decision from the Boston Red Sox. (Ron Darling stuck the Mets in a 3-0 hole in that game, but never mind that right now.) Robles was removed in favor of the closer, Jeurys Familia. Familia has stopped being automatic, but maybe he’s also stopped being perilous. He came through against Washington last weekend, which was a more recent example of his capabilities than that awful Thursday afternoon in the rain against San Diego when he turned a 7-5 lead into an 8-7 loss between tarpings.

Besides, that was in the Before Time. Before Cespedes. Before Citi Field became the beating heart of baseball. Before first place. Jeurys Familia would settle this nonsense ASAP and the slight difficulties in nailing down this win would be forgotten. It would be a win. That would be the important thing.

There was another single, which came attached to another RBI, making it Mets 8 Marlins 6, tying run coming to the plate. Then a little defensive indifference followed by another infield single. This brought the winning run to the plate with two out and two on.

Cue internal monologue:

Holy crap, it’s last week against the Padres again. It’s ten years ago against the Nationals again. It’s…no, no, no! It’s the present day. It’s not a game that will get away. It’s still a lead. It was an eight-run lead for a reason. It was an eight-run lead so in case the Mets somehow gave up as many as seven runs, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t look good, it wouldn’t feel good, it was a bad idea to suggest “when,” rather than “if,” but we’re still up. Jeurys Familia is still Jeurys Familia. I still have faith in him. I still have faith in us.

Infield grounder to Duda.
Lucas steps on the bag.
Ballgame.

First-place Mets win again.
Second-place Nationals eventually lose again.
First-place Mets ahead by two.

That’s the important thing.

Nevertheless, consider the ninth an celestial warning issued to the proverbial “both dugouts,” specifically whichever dugout the Mets happen to occupy in a given game
.
Never give up if you’re losing by a lot.
Never let up if you’re winning by a lot.

And for crissake, Ronnie, if.
Not when.
If.

38 comments to It Wasn’t Over Till It Was Over

  • NOTE TO THOSE WHO WISH TO COMMENT

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  • Ken K. in NJ

    Well, to paraphrase a certain legendary Met Broadcaster, “They Won the F*ckin’ Thing!”

    On the radio side Howie was all over this reference, by the way. In the end, he used “stinkin” as his adjective. A little disappointing, especially since I’m sure he was thinking about it as far back as 8-2.

  • open the gates

    The difference between ten years ago and today can be summed up in the words “closer Braden Looper”. Jeuris may be having a few late-season yips, but he’s no Braden Looper. Thank God.

  • Dave

    Ah, Graves/Koo/Heilman is the point of reference. I was thinking more Heilman/Schoenweis, perhaps with a little Ayala thrown in.

    As much as I loathe modern bullpen strategies and hyper-specialized “roles” (you’re a pitcher, your “role” is to get hitters out), I thought LOOGY was an acronym, albeit with some artistic liberties taken, for Lefty One Out Guy. O’Flaherty seems like someone whose paycheck is based on that precise role. So Terry, plan for him is to get him into about 30 games and wind up with about 13 innings pitched, and to do it in key spots, OK? With an 8 run lead, isn’t that time to let Gilmartin or Torres to get a couple of innings of work in and leave it at that?

    • DanielHall15

      Just four weeks ago it seemed like Carlos Torres was out there every day to earn his bread, maybe even butter.

      Has anybody seen him lately? Did he land on the “too broken to fix” discard pile with Black and Edgin and Montero and Blevins and oh my heavens this is going on and on and on and nobody noticed?

      Also Gilmartin. If you spend a roster spot on him, use him. From my own horrible math he’s due to appear in only 51 games this year. And he has not been on that ugly pile.

      • Eric

        Collins’s bullpen strategy often seems whimsical.

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/29347/carlos-torres

        Torres has made one appearance in 2 weeks. His one appearance was strong – Torres struck out the side in the 12-inning win over the Nationals in the Flores game.

        Clippard has done okay, but he has control issues. Familia has been shaky since before the all-star break and his control issues have become alarming. Parnell, in the middle of his TJ recovery, is unreliable.

        The bullpen has degenerated from relative strength with a strong set-up man (Mejia) and lockdown closer to Achilles heel.

        Collins has trusted Torres before. Maybe he’s resting up Torres for the stretch run. Even with Torres’s up-and-down season, no reliever in the bullpen is more reliable than him right now.

        If the Mets make the play-offs, one of the young stud starters (Matz, probably) has to shore up the pen.

    • Rob E

      The thing is, if they brought in Gilmartin or Torres (or ANYONE) and THEY gave up the runs, you could say the same thing and just change the names. No matter WHO gives up runs like that, you can criticize the manager…if it’s a back end guy, why didn’t he just bring in a better guy and slam the door? If it’s Clippard, why are you wasting innings when he pitched the night before you have other guys sitting around? If it’s Familia, why is he bringing the closer into a non-save situation?

      You just got a guy with a history of success who has really struggled in 2015…it’s not out of the ordinary to think you can give him (or ANY major league pitcher) the ninth inning of an 8-0 game to maybe start to get straightened out. It sure got UGLY, but Collins managed to the situation and they got through it. The time to find out that a guy can’t hold a 4-run lead is when you have an 8-run lead.

      The bigger issue to me is that Robles is going backwards and Familia hasn’t been the same guy since the break, and again, you’d rather deal with that in 8-0 games instead of 2-1 games. But that’s something to keep an eye on.

      • Dave

        Rob – My complaint isn’t so much that the specific guys faltered, that can happen to any reliever and the manager can’t predict when it will (although predicting a rocky outing from Familia is getting pretty easy to do). My issue was that with an 8 run lead he was getting too fancy, it wasn’t time for matchups, perhaps especially if one of the matchup guys probably just about got there in time for the equipment guy to sew his name on a uniform. When you’re up (or down) by 8 runs, just let a back-end reliever eat some innings, that’s what guys like that are there for. Odds are he’s not going to give up 8 runs. If you’re going to insist on doing the lefty-righty matchup stuff in the 7th and 8th innings, do it when you need to (although again, I don’t like that philosophy…I could just imagine what would have happened if someone told Tug McGraw that his job was to come in and pitch to one lefty).

        Robles has an arm on him, but he still needs some more time in the shallow end of the pool; if the Mets are playing in October I’m not sure I’d carry him on the postseason roster (how’s that for getting ahead of things?). I could see him developing into a nice 8th inning guy next year though.

      • Dennis

        All great points Rob regarding the complaints everyone would have had if it was another relief pitcher. If you dig deep enough, I’m sure this has happened to quite a few teams this season as well.

      • Eric

        O’Flaherty should get another chance to show his wares but a lefty specialist who only manages 2 outs facing 5 of 6 left-handed hitters had a bad audition.

  • LA Jake

    With the Mets leading 8-0, I started flipping to other games.
    -I watched the Yankees lose.
    -I watched the Blue Jays win.
    -I watched the Cubs lose.
    -I watched Wellington Castillo launch a three-run bomb to bury the Nationals.

    Then my six-year-old asked me about the Mets. I told him the Mets already won, and then backtracked to say, “I think they won. They were winning 8-0 in the 9th inning.”

    And then clicked on the MLB app on my phone to see the final score and was glad I hadn’t watched.

  • Matt in Richmond

    That bottom of the ninth is why I don’t buy the concept of “breaking the will” of your opponent or any similar such concept in big league baseball. I mean, going into that inning the Fish had been out scored I believe 25-2 in the preceding 26.5 innings. If that didn’t zap their competitive spirit, then what would?

  • Watching that 9th gave me an all-too-familiar “2007” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    Luckily, it looks like the Nats are having a 2007 of their own right now.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    I’ll give O’Flaherty a pass for last night based on his track record over the years. However, a couple more outings like that might make me start missing Alex Torres (yuck) or Scott Rice (double yuck).

  • Nick

    Cannot believe Ron Darling said that. To me, anyone who lived through the First 9/11 (ie, the Terry Pendleton game) should’ve learned the lesson….

  • Eric

    It ain’t over ’til it’s over. The 9th inning brush fire was a sobering reminder that the Mets of last Thursday have not been put to rest and the team is competing with itself as much as the opponent.

    Still, with the Nationals loss and the Mets win, the Mets are now fully in 1st place. If the Nationals win today, the Mets will still end the day 1 game ahead of the Nationals in the all-important loss column.

    What a radical change in mindset as a fan over 2 weeks from fatalistic doubt and cynicism, always expecting the other shoe to drop, to division-leading front-runner riding a starting rotation for the ages.

    Harvey could have struggled recovering from TJ surgery; instead, he’s almost back to 2013 Happy Harvey Day Harvey. deGrom could have had a sophomore slump; instead, he’s competing for the Cy Young award. Syndergaard could have satisfied us with a Wheeler-esque rookie season; instead, he’s pitching like a lockdown closer who can keep up his stuff for 110 pitches over 8 innings. Niese is somehow pitching consistently like a solid 2. That’s leaving out the boost Matz might add to the rotation when he comes back, though he might not add much if Niese keeps it up and Colon is strong down the stretch.

    I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the new reality. For years, we’ve been told by the team to be patient because the current season was not the season of arrival. Suddenly, the Mets arrived and the time is now, not next season.

    Regarding the over-use of Familia, which I’ve criticized Collins about, word is the reason Familia needs regular work over rest is he needs to be tired enough to make his sinker sink. How the extra work affects Familia’s control issues, I don’t know.

    The bullpen is a problem. As it is now, it’s going to lose games down the stretch. I hope Mejia’s suspension doesn’t eventually cost the Mets the season.

    Cespedes has had a bigger impact on the line-up than I expected. We wanted Alderson to improve the line-up from the worst in baseball to something approximating average. Just below average would have satisfied. Instead, the Mets line-up with Cespedes as the fulcrum is at least average. The Mets line-up against right-handed pitchers is downright good.

    • Eric

      Add: The Cespedes trade has been better than expected because he’s played centerfield, which was the key aspect of trading for Gomez. Cespedes playing centerfield allows the Mets to play their corner outfield bats together.

  • mikeL

    ouch! i guess o’flaherty’s gonna be the guy…

    http://nypost.com/2015/08/06/mets-reliever-jerry-blevins-slips-on-curb-out-for-season/

    matz more important than ever!

    • Eric

      For the regular season, I assume Matz will be used as a starter to stretch out the rotation. If the Mets make the play-offs, Matz is going to be critical out of the pen.

      Time to give Josh “Edgin the sequel” Smoker a try-out? Couldn’t be worse than O’Flaherty’s audition.

    • Eric

      Blevins rebreaking the same bone tells me that it wasn’t completely healed. Maybe healed enough to pitch, but still something wrong with it.

  • vertigone

    Gary and Ron were incredulous over Harvey’s career W-L record last night. I’m incredulous that two Ivy Leaguers continue to obsess over antiquated statistics. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

    Whatever the case, they just can’t/won’t make the cognitive leap necessary to understand that there is little correlation between a W-L record and the quality of a pitcher’s performance.

    I gave up that stat for good in 2008 after watching Johan Santana “lose” many Wins due to a shoddy bullpen and/or poor run support.

  • Steve D

    Help could be coming:

    8/6/2015

    Josh Smoker P New York Mets (AA)

    Smoker has a 1.50 ERA in 11 relief appearances with Double-A Binghamton and may be in consideration for a September call up to the Mets.

    The 31st overall pick by the Nationals in 2007, Smoker ended up in the independent league due to persistent shoulder woes. The Mets signed him this spring, and he is now hitting 98 mph with his fastball while dominating in the minors — between three levels this ear, he’s struck out 50 in 40 innings while posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. With Jerry Blevins (forearm) still out and the Mets searching for a lefty reliever, Smoker could be an option to fill that role.

  • 9th string catcher

    I’m not a TC basher, but I was shocked to see the lefty specialist facing more than 2 batters. His ERA vs lefties is great, but overall is HORRIBLE! I agree with a lot of the commenters here – start the 9th with Torres, then go Robles and Gilmartin if it really goes downhill.

    I really hope Familia’s arm doesn’t fall off.

    • Eric

      Why shocked?

      8 run lead. Starting with the 3rd out in the 8th, O’Flaherty faced 4 straight left-handed hitters and 5 left-handed hitters of the 6 batters he faced. He retired 2 of them.

      The emphasis for LOOGY isn’t 1 batter and out. The emphasis is getting out left-handed hitters.

      The score cushion and the Marlins’ unusual concentration of left-handed hitters to end the 8th and start the 9th were an ideal opportunity for the newly acquired, one-time elite lefty specialist to audition. A LOOGY should be able to handle mop-up duty under those conditions.

      O’Flaherty badly failed his 1st audition, but ultimately, it was Robles who failed to shut down the inning and forced Familia into the game.

      The most interesting occurrence of the inning was Clippard warming up behind Familia. It shows that Familia no longer has complete deference to work his way out of difficulty as the closer.

  • Brian Schnieder’s double missed being a go-ahead HR by a hair, if I recall (I was there)

  • LA Jake

    I love to bash TC but don’t see any issue with how he handled the bullpen yesterday. O’Flaherty has been good against lefties but didn’t get them yesterday. When he was done not getting them out, Robles came on. Robles was great in two outings vs the Nats series and had given up runs in just 2 of his last 12 appearances. When he couldn’t get it done, it made sense to go to Familia, as he is your closer, and since he was struggling, TC had Clippard getting ready.

    I will say I don’t know why TC seems to forget about some relievers that have been pitching well (Gilmartin has allowed runs in just one appearance out of 17 since May; Torres’ last 4 appearances have resulted in 7IP, 4H, 1BB, 10K and ZERO ER but he hasn’t pitched in August), but last night I had no issue with his choices.

    While Familia has been a roller coaster in the 2nd half, to say the Mets bullpen is the team’s Achilles heal sure seems like hyperbole to me.

    • Eric

      The bullpen was a relative strength for most of the season. Now, though, it’s a relative weakness.

      Mejia is gone. Parnell can’t be trusted anymore. Robles can’t be trusted anymore. Clippard has been okay, but his control issues have followed him from the A’s. Familia’s control issues crept up before the all-star break and have worsened since then.

  • eric1973

    You can keep O’Fl in the game forever, for all I care. But it was his first game, and he just got off the plane. Leave well enough alone.

    And the same guy who gives up 4 runs when leading by 8 will give up 2 runs when leading by 4…. And so on.

    • LA Jake

      He arrived at the ballpark two hours before the game and didn’t pitch until more than two hours later. Since he went west to east, it wasn’t like he had a longer day than normal. He didn’t have it, not a big deal, but no need to make an excuse for him, especially since he wasn’t making it.

  • eric1?73

    Of most concern is Familia, who seems to have developed a case of ‘Steve Blass Disease’ — early stages, to be sure, but something to keep an eye on.

    • LA Jake

      Definitely. Familia has to be the rock. But the good news is the Mets have lots of options in the pen and most of them have been pretty good most of the year. Of course I don’t trust the man who has to handle the bullpen, but at least there are quality choices.

  • eric1973

    LA Jake — Maybe when he spins the wheel, it will just happen to land on the right choice.

  • Eric

    deGrom [vs Odorizzi. De La Rosa] vs Zimmermann.

    I’m looking forward to finding out how this line-up does tonight:

    Curtis Granderson, RF
    Daniel Murphy, DH
    Yoenis Cespedes, CF
    Lucas Duda, 1B
    Juan Uribe, 3B
    Michael Conforto, LF
    Travis d’Arnaud, C
    Kelly Johnson, 2B
    Wilmer Flores, SS
    * Jacob deGrom, RHP

    With Murphy at DH and Flores at SS, it should be the best-hitting option for Collins.

    I’m also looking forward to a bounce-back game by deGrom pitching in front of his friends and family. He didn’t have his ace stuff against the Nationals on Saturday. Hopefully, that was just a blip and not deGrom hitting a wall.

  • Rob E

    If 2 runs, 7 ks and 1 BB in 6 IP is hitting a wall, EVERY team would love to hit that wall EVERY game with EVERY pitcher.

  • eric1973

    Love those 6 out saves by Familia.