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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 View From the Rut

The Mets’ slump has become a full-fledged rut, one of those stretches where a team seems suddenly incapable of doing any of the things it just recently did so well. Met hitters are expanding the strike zone and flailing their way through frantic at-bats, Met fielders are being alternately impetuous and butter-fingered, Met starters are faltering and Met relievers are getting pounded. A rut like this wouldn’t be fun to watch in early May, and it’s certainly not fun to watch in late September when we’re thinking about a different month and its promises and perils.

If you’re convinced you’re watching another collapse, well, I’ll try to be of some solace. The Mets are a mess right now, no doubt, but the Nationals are fighting not just them but also the math — and right now the math is the far tougher opponent. If that sounds snarky, it mostly isn’t — it’s just the reality of the last two weeks of a pennant race that’s dwindled to a handful of games. For the outcome to be different, the Nats have to be very close to perfect and the Mets have to be not just mostly terrible, like they were on this mercifully concluded homestead, but excruciatingly terrible.

Is it possible both those things will happen? The math says it is, so I won’t tell you it isn’t. But the Mets have to play even worse than they’re playing right now, and the Nats have to play a lot better than they have against Baltimore. We think we’re miserable, but while the Mets were watching another close one spiral out of control in the late innings on Wednesday night, the Nats had Matt Williams trying to destroy Max Scherzer‘s arm, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth fanning on pitches they had no business swinging at, and Jonathan Papelbon throwing at Manny Machado‘s head in a game the Nats only trailed by one.

OK, you say, the math will let the Mets survive their own ineptitude, but they’ll limp into the playoffs and get steamrolled. Eh, not worth worrying about. October’s a new season. Plenty of teams have hit the postseason hot and fallen apart, just as plenty of teams have arrived looking rickety and wound up covered in confetti. (It’s dirty pool, but recall that the 2000 Yankees looked like impostors when they arrived at the World Series.)

If you accept that but hate “backing in” to a playoff berth, just stop. It’s been nine years without a postseason berth. I don’t care if the Mets perform an avert-your-eyes pratfall worthy of the bastard child of Jar Jar Binks and Buster Keaton so long as they get there.

And then we’ll see what happens.

yogiUntil then, hey, look at it this way — ruts and insane winning streaks both feel like they’ll last forever, but they never do. If you think baseball obeys both causality and moral virtue, the Mets have 10 games to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. If you think baseball is an entertaining, largely random sequence of discrete events, the Mets have 10 games to hope their luck reshuffles into something that will make us happier.

* * *

Greg did a superlative job paying tribute to Yogi Berra, so the best thing I can do is point you to his work from yesterday. But I’ll add a little bit from the perspective of a baseball-card dork.

You’re looking at Berra’s 1965 Topps card – his only one as a player for the Mets. (Those are Yankees pinstripes in the photo.)

To review, Yogi retired at the end of 1963, capping 18 seasons with the Yankees. He managed the Yankees in 1964, got fired despite taking the team to the World Series, and joined the Mets as a coach in the spring of ’65. He had eight at-bats during spring training, but agreed at the end of April to be added to the active roster for two weeks. That wasn’t an arbitrary timeframe — this was when teams carried 28 players for the first month of the season.

Yogi’s tenure as a Mets player consisted of nine at-bats over four games. He returned to duty with a pinch-hitting appearance on May 1, then collected two singles and caught nine innings as the Mets beat the Phillies, 2-1, on May 4. “Might be beginner’s luck,” he told reporters. (His first hit was a perfect introduction to life as a Met: It drove in Ed Kranepool, but Joe Christopher managed to get thrown out at third before Kranepool crossed the plate, erasing the run and what would have been Yogi’s 1,431st RBI.) He collected another at-bat the next day and then caught a full nine once more on May 9, the first game of a double-header against the Braves. Yogi struck out three times against Milwaukee’s Tony Cloninger. He was in pain and couldn’t get around on the fastball. On May 11, the eve of cut-down day, he quit. “I can’t do it no more,” he said.

Yogi’s time as a Mets player was a footnote to his playing career, one that I imagined seemed unnecessary then and definitely feels that way now … except it produced that card. And that’s a pretty good exception.

I mean, just look at it. It’s perfect. It’s a great baseball card and a great piece of Americana all in one.

Greg, Shannon Shark of MetsPolice and I talk a lot more about Yogi and his place in Mets history in the latest episode of I’d Just as Soon Kiss a Mookiee, the world’s best Mets-Star Wars podcast. You can listen in here.

32 comments to The View From the Rut

  • Steve D

    What’s wrong is that the Mets are not a powerhouse team. Everything fell into place for a beautiful surge. Almost any tiny change could have derailed it…I feared even Wright coming back might, though it did not. The insanity of innings limits to “protect” young arms, which did not exist in 1969 or 1986, likely did it. It will take all those young arms back to performing, plus a boatload of veteran leadership to overcome a lack of playoff experience.

  • Eric

    Thank you, Orioles and Scherzer for giving up multi-run HRs in otherwise well-pitched games like Syndergaard.

    I agree who’s hot or cold to end the season doesn’t mean much. The transition from the regular season to the post-season is like the transition from the spring training to the regular season. The important thing is to get to the play-offs and I’ll add, get there fit to play.

    Even if the Mets’ bats were hot to end the season, I imagine they’d be cooled off fast by Greinke and Kershaw.

    That being said, I wonder if the Mets would be better off playing Murphy over Duda at 1B. Hot Duda can carry the team, but cold Duda is a hole in the middle of the line-up, and there’s been a lot more cold Duda than hot Duda this season.

    Familia has been an elite closer this season, but his old weakness, shaky command, has returned at times, too, especially when he gets flustered. It remains to be seen whether it will pop up under the higher pressure of the play-offs.

    Redemption watch: Nationals (78-73) are 4 games behind the 2007 Phillies (82-69) after game 151. Mets (85-67) are 1 game ahead of the 2007 Mets (84-68) after game 152. Mets are up by 6.5 games with a magic number of 5. The 2007 Mets after game 152 were up by 1.5 games with a magic number of 9.

    • 9th string catcher

      Eric – I really appreciate the redemption watch – thanks for keeping it updated!

      • Eric

        Baseball Reference is handy.

        The Mets’ funk shows that LOLMets from the 2007 Mets collapse is still part of their make-up. They’re competing against the team’s worse self as much as their night’s opponent. The 2007 Mets collapse is in this pennant race – the redemption watch is a reminder that the Mets’ mission this season is to eliminate their living legacy from the pennant race along with their current division rivals. Unlike the 2007 Phillies, fortunately, their current division rivals seem to be afflicted with LOLNats, which helps.

    • Rochester John

      Alas, the idea of benching Duda might have some merit, if he continues not to hit. While weakening our defense at first, it strengthens it at short, where Tejada kicks Flores over to second. Duda’s glove at first, though, demands that he get every opportunity to extricate himself from his slump. Perhaps batting him seventh would relieve some pressure and allow him to get going again.

      • Eric

        I wonder about his back problem, which if it’s still affecting him, would explain the soft contact. Duda’s making contact and drawing walks, which is better than his earlier slump, so I’m hopeful that hard contact is around the corner. It’s possible he ends the season cold then 5 days later, starts mashing in the NLDS.

        But Murphy at 1B with Flores, Uribe, or Johnson at 2B is a good enough, proven option so penciling in Duda at 1B for the play-offs isn’t a given.

  • I rarely talk about real cards these days and you’re right. That is a classic baseball card. I got that card in the late 1980’s. I’m looking at it now. The great Yogi smile, Berra on the Mets, and all those magnificent stats on the back. As cool as the front is, it’s the back that blows me away. It even has : 1964 N.Y.Mgr.-A.L.-DID NOT PLAY-

    Re: Mets. I’m only at the nervous phase. Not worried yet.

  • Nicholas Conticello

    Before the Mets got swept at home by Pittsburgh they were 42-18 at home. Since then 6-12. I’m beginning to think home field advantage isn’t so important against LA. Dodger Stadium is still a great pitcher’s park and that might help deGrom and Harvey. Remember, the Mets won two out of three there when they still couldn’t hit.

    On the panic front, I’m not too worried. No matter what happens, they can’t be eliminated until game 161. If they have a good series like they had against the Marlins on the road in 2007, that will pretty much seal the deal. It was that last 1-6 week that killed them in ’07.

  • Matt in Richmond

    We’ve been spoiled by success and are overreacting to a handful of losses. We hit a bunch of balls on the nose for outs and the Braves got a few lucky hits to set up Freeman for his heroics. It happens. Remarkably, this was the first (only) losing homestand of the year. We could have lost an earlier one and won this one and many of you would feel better right now. But the reality of our situation would be exactly the same. Onward and upward.

  • Dave

    If the Mets on this last homestand were the espresso with Red Bull making me all jittery, the Nats have at least been the Scotch (neat) calming me down. I can just imagine what a Nats fan must think seeing fans of the team maintaining a pretty healthy lead over them working themselves into a Twitter frenzy.

    Panic attacks are in our DNA, but the Mets will still be playing after October 4, and the Cardinals hobbled into the 2006 postseason with no business being there. Seemed to work for them well enough.

    • Eric

      A Nationals comeback at this point doesn’t mean 1st place but a meaningful season-ending series.

      I imagine Nationals fans are frustrated that the Mets might well have just given their team its last opening, a pretty good one to stage a comeback. The Nationals were able to cut the Mets lead from 9.5 to 6.5 but needed to gain more from the Mets’ “rut” to add the 2015 Mets to the list of notable collapses. (See the Astros now looking at the Rangers gaining ground in front of them and Twins and Angels closing in fast behind them for the 2nd WC.)

      Gaining 3.5 games over 8 games for the Nationals is a tall order. Their hope at this point is the Mets continue to struggle against lesser teams on both sides of the ball and go 3-4 while the Nationals continue to beat up on lesser teams for 7-1.

      6-2 against the Orioles, Phillies, Reds, and Braves is a reasonable target for the Nationals but it’s hard to see even a struggling Mets team going only 2-5 against the Reds and Phillies.

      I wonder whether the Nationals will take out Roark and try a 4-man rotation the rest of the way.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Is it just me or does it seem lately that every time Gary Cohen mentions some Met Superlative streak in progress, said streak immediately comes to an inglorious end. Latest example, Familia’s streak of one run given up since, what, July 31st? Gary barely finished the sentence when Freeman’s 3 run homer went flying over the fence.

  • Shawn B

    I think the most surprising stats from the last three games were: 26,362 … 26,227 … and 28,931.

    I thought the joint would have been packed.

    • mikeL

      yep, that’s the one thing that reminds me of 2007. shea looking funereal…and citizens bank all a-flutter with towels and rowdy, sell-out crowds.
      if cespedes’ (or anyones!) heroics were on the back page of the tabloids things would be different.
      the numbers on the other hand do portend a different outcome and yes, the post-season is different.
      wasn’t cano recently the ‘best hitter on the planet’ only to do nothing in the post?
      getting there will (i think) give all involved a good re-set.

      though i thought the same about the day off a handful of ugly games ago!

      LGM!

    • Ken K. in NJ

      I just looked up what I think is a fairly similar 4 game sequence, that of the 4 games in Mid September 1973 when the Mets went from 4th to 3rd to 2nd and then into first place on 4 straight wins vs. the Pirates. (Mentioned in this blog just the other day with reference to Yogi).

      Tuesday 9/18 12,336
      Wednesday 9/19 29,240
      Thursday 9/20 24,855
      Friday 9/21 51,381 (including me)

      I have no recollection why Tuesday’s attendance was so low, although I’m guessing it was weather-related.
      But Wednesday and Thursday’s crowds were comparable to 2015’s. The real test would be if the Mets were to be on the verge of clinching at home Tomorrow Night. I doubt if it would be a near-sellout, like 9/21/73 was.

      I do remember that Friday morning, i.e. after the ball-on-the-wall game, EVERYBODY was all of a sudden buzzing about the Mets, and that’s when we all decided to get on the bandwagon and show up at Shea.

      • dmg

        i have to think low attendance, particularly on tuesday, might have been a consequence of yom kippur. the mets’ fanbase is said to include a fair number of hebrews.

  • Rob E

    Matz, Syndergaard, Harvey, and deGrom against a team that’s 25 games under .500, and under .500 at home. The first time those four will start consecutively against one team. These are important games even if it’s not do or die, and that could very well be the playoff rotation in a different order (not to mention 1-4 in 2016).

    This is where the future becomes the present. This is the scene where Chris & Gordie confront Ace in “Stand By Me.”

    • Eric

      While the Reds are only the 11th highest scoring team in the NL over-all, they’re the 5th highest scoring team at home.

      I agree the 4-game set in Cincinnati is a timely opportunity for the Mets’ young stud starters to give us back to back to back to back reminders why they’re viewed with the potential to be an all-time great staff of aces and that they – not Cespedes – are the first reason the Mets can win the championship.

  • John

    A few things:
    – The only way we make the H2H w/ Nats relevant is if we keep letting pitchers “off the hook”. Last night we had 7 hits in 4 innings and yet had only 2 runs. If we had a 4 run lead I bet we would have won. Would love to see Duda, Cespedes and/or TDA go beast mode over the next few games….

    – We are 6-12 at home. For whatever reason with our new team (post trade deadline) we play better on the road. Lets hope that continues over the next 7 games

    – Tonight is a game we SHOULD win…Matz vs a pitcher w/ an ERA over 7. If we lose tonight I officially will start worrying that we could lose these two upcoming series

    – Someone send some gifts to the Orioles…if the Nats would have won these past 2 games most of us would be on the ledge

    – If we do make the NLDS..we have 4 days off before then….enough time to reset and rest our pitchers. If our DeGrom and Harvey pitch like aces we can make a run

    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Lee F.

    I’ve come to realize that as much as we all set “Meaningful Games in September” kinda suck—especially those at home. Maybe it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten how to appreciate it, there really is an uncomfortable zeitgeist. Gets dark too early, too many distractions, why won’t we clinch already—even Cohen seems cocky and distracted. Even so, it’s reminiscent more of 1999 (one of my favorite seasons, when we had an inexplicable 7 game losing street when we were on cruise control) than of 2007, 2008 or 1998.

  • Guy K.

    <>

    In fact, it’s the SAME pitcher Matz opposed when he faced the Reds in his MLB debut.

  • eric1973

    Agree with Rob E. — Tonite is the first nite of the rest of the season. The past few nites we had Robles/Verrett/Colon pitching our most important innings, with pitching limits distractions making everyone wonder what the true goal is. Now that this ‘break’ is over, the young studs back to back to back to back may even sweep (or at least dominate 3 out of 4). If not, the happiness factor is reduced, to put it simply.

  • Matt in Richmond

    As much as I am enjoying this wonderful season, I disappointed in certain segments of the fan base. The gutsy and optimistic “Ya gotta believe” and “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” attitude has been replaced with a timid and fearful “Oh God, what horrible thing is going to happen next”. I know, I know, 2007. Well it was almost a decade ago and this team bears no resemblance to that one. Let’s get happy! Let’s get rowdy! Let’s enjoy this one. Let’s go Mets!!

    • Eric

      Were you a Mets fan after the 2007 Mets collapse or for that matter, the 2006 NLCS loss?

      The 2006 Mets season was characterized by a robust winning vibe. It peaked with the great Chavez catch. At that moment, “Ya gotta believe” and “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” were in full bloom.

      From the high point of the Chavez catch, the abrupt 2006 NLCS loss came as a shock. But we didn’t know at the time that it was a preview for the long collapse to come.

      If you have been a fan in the years since 2006 then 2007 then 2008, then you should understand the 2007 Mets collapse has remained with us as a living legacy. Whatever thing sabotaged the winning vibe with the 2006 NLCS loss and fully bloomed with the 2007 Mets collapse stayed with the team as a miasma of Murphy’s Law.

      It further curdled with the 2008 Mets collapse, the Madoff scandal, Wright’s injuries, Harvey’s Tommy John surgery, etc. In subsequent seasons, the team teased us with winning runs, even taking 1st place for stretches, but ultimately dropped out of the pennant race in frustrating ways that showed the Murphy’s Law of the 2007 Mets collapse continued to grip the team.

      Eventually, wags called the Murphy’s Law that has been – had been – the team’s identity since the 2007 Mets collapse, LOLMets.

      LOLMets still gripped the team this season. The beauty of the 2015 season has been watching the Mets’ resilience fighting back against the living legacy of the 2007 collapse in the team’s make-up. And succeeding.

      As Mets fans, our part in defeating LOLMets is worrying about the Nationals purposefully to atone for our transgression of early hubris in 2007 when we looked past the Phillies because the math that Jason likes to emphasize was similarly on our side.

      This season isn’t just like any other winning Mets season. Overcoming LOLMets hasn’t been smooth – it’s been a rollercoaster – but these Mets are finally on the verge of exorcising the 7+ years miasma. If you don’t appreciate what they’re doing to the 2007 Mets collapse and its progeny, then you’re missing the particular of what makes this Mets season special.

      So, if you’re new to Mets fandom or you checked out with the 2007 collapse and waited until they were safely winning again to come back, that’s why we embrace the redemption.

  • eric1973

    That attitude is great if you’re the underdog fighting a superior opponent, as the Mets were in 1969 and 1973.

    But this team is better than the Nats, and they are underachieving, as did the 85-88 crew. That’s the issue that is concerning.

    • wooferson

      Exactimundo. Are they the boys of April? August? Or the tired, listless mid-September songs waiting for
      Octoberfest? Time will tell.

    • Matt in Richmond

      100% wrong. This team was projected to improve slightly over last year, with a small chance of creeping over .500. They have overachieved, not under, making the snarky attitude of “fans” like you, bewildering to say the least. This season has been a joyfest.

  • open the gates

    Some Met fans have very short memories. Only a year ago, the Mets were fighting for two things: second place (which they got, much to our astonishment), and an above-500 record (which they didn’t). The Mets haven’t been good for long enough for me to be jaded by their success. I’m just enjoying our first pennant race in almost a decade. Let’s wait a few more winning seasons until we start feeling entitled.

  • sturock

    All is true, but regarding last night: Road, Sweet Road. Away from the scrutiny of NYC and Citi Field, the team once again shines. The Magic Number is down to three. May the Mets clinch the East this weekend!

  • eric1973

    Obviously, you didn’t get the memo.

    To state the obvious, the Mets have an entirely different team than the one projected by the ‘insiders’ you so greatly admire.

    This current team is better than the Nats, better than the APR-JUL Mets version, and has totally earned first place.

    Pick up a newspaper and read all about it.

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