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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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I Can See Clinching Now

The fine folks of Steak ‘n’ Shake, a restaurant chain I’ve been known to patronize with a little too much enthusiasm for my optimal well-being, use as their slogan the phrase, “In Sight It Must Be Right.” Although its backstory has something to do with letting the customers see the meat that’s about to be turned into their sumptuous Steakburgers, the implication is if you are tooling about this great nation of ours, or perhaps just strolling down Broadway in the vicinity of the Ed Sullivan Theater, and you see a Steak ‘n’ Shake, then…bingo!

I can’t see a Steak ‘n’ Shake from where I sit, but I can see a division title up ahead in the ever decreasing distance. Why, it’s not very distant at all. The lights are on, the doors are open, the grill is hot. We’re gonna be inside any minute.

And man, it’s gonna be delicious.

The New York Mets, by way of the extraordinarily thoughtful Baltimore Orioles, lowered their magic number to 3 on Thursday. With more than a week to go, the Mets will have to win and/or the Nationals will have to lose a total of three games to make the sixth National League East championship and eighth playoff berth in Mets history a reality. The Mets lead their closest competitor by 7½ games with nine to go.

I am restating what you all know just to emphasize how in sight all of it is. It’s happening. It’s really happening.

The Orioles did more than their share of our dirty work over the past three days, sweeping their Beltway neighbors while the Mets napped Tuesday and Wednesday and bringing that number we can’t resist counting down from 7 to 4 — or Belanger to Weaver, in deference to who was doing the actual knocking off of digits for us. But the Mets woke up last evening and did a little whittling of their own, directly taking care of business in Cincinnati.

The top five men in the lineup all produced for what seemed like the first time in a long time; Steven Matz pitched adequately and hit effectively; and the bullpen didn’t break. Jeurys Familia recovered from his recent Freddie Freeman debacle (like you didn’t know one of those wasn’t going to come crashing down on us eventually) to move within one of Armando Benitez’s saves record. As countdowns go, it’s not the one that has our attention, but 42 saves compiled relatively quietly is a quality accomplishment.

Winning 6-4 en route to a magic number of 3 sets us up for something loud and joyous. We are in the driveway if not quite at the doorstep, but we have arrived close to where we need to be. It is real and it ought to be understood as spectacular.

We haven’t done this in nine years. Approximately 17% of my life has been lived since the last division-clinching. That’s a time frame that encompasses a September when our seemingly surefire Magic Number countdown stalled at Swoboda, a marker we dipped below last night. I’ve had it in the back of my mind (lately somewhere toward the front) that if — if — we got this one below 4, I would treat its conclusion as 4-gone.

Hence, I’m getting ready to get giddy. I’m warning our affiliates that when — when — it happens, I will brook no pessimism. Save it for the morning after the morning after. Save it for your NLDS anxieties. Those will be legitimate when they approach. But first this is in sight. I defy you to not enjoy it.

A hundred out of a hundred Mets fans instinctively thought “Bud Harrelson” when the last out was made in Cincinnati, and not just because you can’t watch the Reds without thinking of Pete Rose and you can’t think of Pete Rose without thinking of Buddy Harrelson taking a licking and keeping on ticking. Buddy is the quintessential 3 in Mets history; every other 3, from Gus Bell to Curtis Granderson would have to acknowledge his pipsqueaked primacy. But today I want to give a nod to a 3 who came and went in two seasons and left little legacy, except for two things I remember most of all.

Damion Easley was one of those veteran pickups who looked very good when he did something well and who looked deceptively decent when he wasn’t doing much of anything. I was always comforted by the presence of Damion Easley in the lineup or off the bench despite looking it up once and discovering that his Wins Above Replacement during his second of two years as a Met was negative. I couldn’t quite comprehend that. Damion Easley seemed to be one of those guys who made your team better. How could he be dragging it down?

I suppose on some meta-level he must have been, because no team that included Damion Easley ever made it to the postseason, including the eventually Swoboda-stalled Mets he came to in 2007 (though an injury curtailed his season long before any lead got away) and the star-crossed 2008 outfit that followed directly behind them. In the twilight of his 17-season career, it was mentioned regularly that no active player had played more games without making it to the playoffs than Easley. How brutally fitting in that context it was, then, that in the last of his 1,706 major league appearances, Easley’s team was eliminated from playoff contention. Those were the 2008 Mets, the unit to whom Damion’s WAR measured -0.5, implying that if not for the half-win he was taking away, the Mets would have…well, they would have come up a half-win short, wouldn’t have they?

So get off Damion Easley’s case. Besides, in Easley’s final plate appearance, pinch-hitting for rookie Bobby Parnell with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets trailing by two, he walked, making him Shea Stadium’s last baserunner and, once Ryan Church flied to Cameron Maybin, Shea Stadium’s last runner left on base. He went out by making one more lunge at a postseason that ultimately never accepted him.

I remember Damion holding the unwanted distinction of being the active leader in a category no player wants any part of, but I said I remember something else as well, and that’s this. When the ’08 Mets had commenced to rolling, Easley was an important part of the surge. There would have been no Game 162 heartbreak if not for the midseason uprising that briefly catapulted the underqualified Mets past the mighty Phillies. On the night in July when they won their seventh in a row (en route to ten straight and a 40-19 spree that carried them into September), Easley made all the difference, homering off the Rockies’ Taylor Buchholz in the eighth inning to give the Mets a 2-1 lead Billy Wagner would preserve in the ninth.

Frankly, I don’t remember the home run, but I do remember that Easley did something noteworthy in that particular game, because he was Kevin Burkhardt’s postgame guest that night, and a phrase he used in their interview has stuck with me to this day. He said the Mets weren’t just confident, but that they had “the earned confidence”. They felt good about themselves, Easley explained, because they had earned every right to feel that way.

We, my friends, can feel good, too. We can be confident. After a 153-game span during which our first-place team has definitively separated itself from the pack, we have earned it. We have in sight something Damion never got to glimpse up close. It is only right to revel in the feeling as we move even closer.

23 comments to I Can See Clinching Now

  • open the gates

    It’s definitely pinch-yourself mode now.

    And I’ll say this, although it’s small potatoes to clinching a division: I will be thrilled when Mr. Familia knocks Armando Benitez the heck out of the Mets record books. More than anyone since John Franco, Jeuris Familia has become OUR closer.

  • Dave

    Well, let’s see…82% of my life has been spent in year that the Mets did not make the postseason, and that’s presuming that Bud Harrelson is reduced to Rey Ordonez. Which it will be, there’s no sense in worrying about this anymore…the Nats are, as sportswriters sometimes like to say, a team in disarray. Or as I might like to say, a tire-fire level shitstorm. Man, sucks being them.

    I know Bobby V has his supporters, whose ranks do not include me, but I’d like Marv Throneberry or Mackey Sasser to be the face of the next magic number, or maybe Jim Fregosi, just because they represent what we endure as Mets fans that make times like this that much sweeter. Now as it turns out, I’m about to leave for the airport for an anniversary trip to Disney World, so will have to take in the clincher either on my phone looking at little avatars of baseball players, identifiable only by hitting right or left-handed and the captions beneath them, or perhaps at the ESPN place at the Disney Boardwalk resort. We got married in 1986 btw…10 days after we were there for the Eastern Division clincher. Doc also pitched on the day we got married, and when I bring that tidbit up, my wife expresses her extreme gratitude that I would remember such a thing. But of course I would.

  • I played the old De La Soul classic Three is The Magic Number to my children in assembly this morning – they were thoroughly confused (we are in England) and by the time I’d finished explaining why that song was important today, they were probably only mildly less confused! I have tried, fairly unsuccessfully, to suppress my excitement and giddiness. It’s been a long time coming, but finally, we are about to lay the ghosts of 07 and 08 to rest. Hopefully, over the weekend, so I can play Let’s Go Mets in Monday’s assembly and start the week the right way!

  • Honestly, I’ve been afraid to watch the last few days…glad the job is getting done…just a case of ” faith and fear” !

  • Art

    As the game ended last night, I turned to my son and said “Bud Harrelson”. Tonight will be a little tougher, but when we get to 1 it is obvious.
    My son has become the superstitious Mets fan. He refuses to acknowledge the division is ours, and will not until the magic number reads zero.
    All I know is I have attended 31 games this season, and hope to attend just a few more. A total of about 40 would be glorious.

  • Dennis

    Almost there……hopefully we can “put it in the books” over this weekend!

  • LA Jake

    Our sentiments perfectly captured as always. Time to enjoy this for 10 days and then see what the playoffs bring. The team is playing with house money, hopefully it continues.

    • Eric

      Collins shouldn’t burn anyone out to achieve the goal, but I would like to see the Mets reach 90+ regular-season wins for the milestone value for the record. Of course, that covers the magic number, too.

  • Eric

    While the magic number did stall at 4 in 2007 while the Phillies kept chopping theirs down, technically speaking, the magic number was reduced to 2 after the Mets won and Phillies lost their games 161. The problem is the Phillies magic number was the first to 2 after game 160.

    Redemption watch: Nationals (78-74) are 4 games behind the 2007 Phillies (82-70) after game 152. Mets (86-67) are 1 game ahead of the 2007 Mets (85-68) after game 153. The Mets magic number is 3. The 2007 Mets magic number after game 153 was 8.

    Besides these Mets moving past the stall point of the 2007 Mets, a smaller reason last night’s win was satisfying is in 2007, the Mets magic number was reduced to 4 because the Phillies had lost 2 in a row while the Mets were also losing 2 in a row. Then the Phillies finished the season 4-1 while the Mets continued losing to finish the season 1-4. The win over the Reds broke away from the futile hope in 2007 of holding onto the division with Phillies losses.

    This time, win 3 more and sweep aside the Nationals no matter how much the other team wins to finish the season.

    I don’t put much stock, at least on the hitting side, in terms of the play-offs on who’s hot or cold to finish the regular season. Hitting streaks either way don’t carry over. Fitness does. Murphy tearing around the bases, along with his hot bat in that he uses his legs to hit, is a good sign his quad is feeling better.

    Matz’s results weren’t great but his stuff looked sharper. His superior stuff to Colon and Niese is the top argument for giving Matz the 4th spot in the play-off rotation. On the other hand, his superior stuff in a lefty package is also the top argument for using Matz to shore up the bullpen.

  • Will in Central NJ

    The heretofore lost orange-and-blue platoon is now about to break its circular path in the desert. The edge of the oasis is in sight, and by golly, we’ll thoroughly celebrate our entry into those life-affirming waters, offering apologies to no one at all.

  • 9th string catcher

    Not entirely ready to talk about playoffs, but I still like Colon as the game 4 guy, with Matz ready to take over if necessary. The sample size on Matz is really good, but really small, and I could see him getting in some major trouble. Then again, maybe Colon is the bailout guy out of the bullpen. He is a force to be reckoned with.

    • Eric

      Priority is who gives the team the best chance to win, of course, but if it’s a close call, I favor starting Matz over Colon in order for Matz to log play-off reps as a starter.

      Colon will have a key role either way.

      With their shakiness down the stretch and newness to the post-season, we don’t know what we’ll get from any of the young stud starters in their 1st foray into the play-offs. Any of the four can be knocked out early or even with a good start, tire out in the 5th or 6th inning. Except Matz in his smaller sample, they’ve all been hit hard in games where they’ve been off. If that happens, Collins will need a man he can trust to be the fireman for 2 or 3, maybe even 4 innings and stabilize the game. Cool and savvy Colon would be the prime candidate to be the fireman for Collins.

      For that matter, the bullpen is the Mets’ glaring vulnerability. Likely as not, Collins will be groping for a man he trusts anywhere between the starter and Familia. And maybe to cover for the young stud closer who’s been known to suddenly lose his command when flustered, too.

      The wrong choice for the 4th starter can cost 1 game. With the unreliability of the Mets relievers, the wrong choice to augment the bullpen could cost any game.

  • I still think I am dreaming but I’m going to buy a bottle of champagne this afternoon and chill out this weekend. Maybe have a steak sandwich. This is a year I will not soon forget.

  • Lenny65

    When you think back to that dreadful rain-delay debacle vs. SD, this is all so surreal. Let’s wrap it up this weekend so my poor heart can catch a brief break before the pulse-pounding every-pitch-matters postseason ride!

    • Eric

      The sooner the Mets wrap up the division, the sooner they can start prepping for the play-offs.

      For example, the Dodgers likely will start 3 lefties (Kershaw, Wood, Anderson) in the NLDS, yet the Mets mainly have been using their RHP-hitting line-up. Most of their remaining games will be against RHPs.

      Once the division is clinched, the Mets can schedule more ABs for their LHP-hitting line-up no matter who’s pitching against them.

  • NostraDennis

    I’ve been waiting with bated breath to hear what Kollapse2015 v3.0 has to say.

    Haven’t seen him here for a few days, oh, since he prognosticated: “Collapse. 2015. Bank on it.”

    • Matt in Richmond

      He was the most blatant, but many on here have been varying shades of cynical, pessimistic, and snarky. Their loss. I’ve been enjoying every moment of this remarkable ride.

      • Daniel Hall

        I consider mentally locking up the division before it’s locked up – uh, like, 7 up with 17 to play? – the equivalent of crossing the road without looking either way. But hey, some are cautious and considerate, and some aren’t, huh?

      • Dennis

        Same here Matt. Even before the moves that helped propel this team into 1st place. And with the results from both games tonight, we might be able to enjoy it more tomorrow. My oldest son is in a wedding tomorrow. One of the fellow groomsmen is a Mets fan as well. Since it’s a 4:00 PM start, they are making some plans to toast a possible clinching sometime during the reception.

  • Matt in Richmond

    I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks expressing frustration with Mets fans who seemingly could not enjoy this amazing season due to PTSD from 2007. My position has been that there were no reasons to fear that sort of outcome again (other than the most minute statistical chances that it could). This is a wholly different team, different manager, different home field etc. I’ve been hoping for a bit more swagger from Mets fans, or at least a higher ratio of joy to pessimism.
    An analogy I believe is appropriate would be to a jilted lover. If burned once by love, one could choose to avoid more emotional scars by never opening up again. A cynical attitude is a mode of self defense. It would even make sense to be gun shy for a period of time. It’s not a lot of fun or very rewarding to stay in that mode for very long though. Not all potential lovers will burn you, and not all Mets teams are that ’07 bunch. So one last time Metsopotamia; I beseech you, embrace this team, let your love shine bright, may it carry us deep into October!

  • Matt in Richmond

    There’s a world of difference between prudent caution and superstitious doom and gloom.

  • sturock

    Road…sweet road!