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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Pinch Me ... No Wait, Don't

The physicist Leonard Mlodinow has something to say about baseball narratives. This is from The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (via this Freaknonomics post):

…if one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of its games, the weaker team will nevertheless win a seven-game series about four times out of 10. And if the superior team could beat its opponent, on average, two out of three times they meet, the inferior team will still win a seven-game series about once every five match-ups. There is really no way for a sports league to change this. In the lopsided 2/3-probability case, for example, you’d have to play a series consisting of at minimum the best of 23 games to determine the winner with what is called statistical significance, meaning the weaker team would be crowned champion 5 percent or less of the time. And in the case of one team’s having only a 55-45 edge, the shortest significant “world series” would be the best of 269 games, a tedious endeavor indeed!

If you’re a person who uses TL;DR unironically, well, I’m gonna guess you don’t read our blog anyway. But just in case, here’s the TL;DR for what Mlodinow is saying: The postseason is a crapshoot.

Some fans find that depressing; they feel like they may as well spend October watching the dice tumble. I get that, but I don’t agree. I find this essential randomness freeing. You get into the postseason and then you let it rip for the one to 20 extra games you’re given while your bitter rivals from the regular season hit the golf course. Every one of the 10 teams still standing after 162 games has a real chance at immortality, from the gleaming juggernaut that cruised through September to the flawed but scrappy outfit that snuck into that second wild-card spot on the final day.

If your team is the one to end its year without a final L, there’ll be a trophy and a parade and a Sports Illustrated subscription so you can get the leatherbound special issue and dopey commemoratives to snap up and a lifetime of the sweetest memories, little bits of recollection that will make you quietly tear up years from now while riding the bus or raking leaves or waiting in line at the DMV.

And if not — if the season ends with a tomorrow-denying loss, as nine of the 10 postseasons must? Well, every game past No. 162 was a free spin of the wheel, class outside, the ice-cream truck giving out samples, a company-wide holiday, an extra day of vacation due to the blizzard back home.

There’s another lesson I take from the essential randomness at work in October, though, and that’s to cock a skeptical eyebrow at whatever comes out of baseball’s collective analysis factory.

Grant Bisbee, writer of the superlative Giants site McCovey Chronicles, gets this perfectly in looking back at the Mets-Dodgers NLDS. You should read the whole thing, because to me it’s how modern baseball writing should work — it looks at pitch diagrams and randomness instead of ginning up some Just So Story about grit and heart and blahblahblah and arglebargle. But it’s in no way cold. To the contrary, Bisbee’s take is rich and funny and steeped in the joy of baseball. Here’s the part that’s really stuck with me:

Murphy fouled off the best pitch he saw on Thursday night. He took the second-best pitch he saw. He still hit for three legs of the cycle and stole a base he had no business stealing. The Dodgers will have five months to prepare for the next season and figure out how to fix what went wrong, but how do you prepare for a magical Daniel Murphy? How do you fix that?

If the Dodgers can find a way (relax — they can’t), here’s hoping they don’t tell the Cubs. Because Murphtober remains in full effect, to our delirious delight.

In Game 1 Murph’s Murphtastic doings bookended a taut duel between Matt Harvey and the Cubs’ parade of terrifying young sluggers. In the bottom of the first he crushed a 1-1 cutter from Jon Lester off the facing of the Pepsi Porch, sending Citi Field’s frozen fans into a frenzy; in the ninth, with Tommy La Stella at the plate as the tying run, he laid out for a hot smash to his left, jerking his glove up while plowing into the turf. Ball snagged, he then bounded to his feet to hurl the ball to Lucas Duda for the win.

In the postgame press conference, someone asked Murph if he was aware of the significance of the name “Murphy” in the Cubs’ annals of tragedy. While Harvey smiled imperiously next to him, Murph hesitated and then fessed up: “Is that the name of the goat?”

Yes. Yes it is.

Those who have seen the full spectrum of Murphitude know that for all his current heroics, Murph could easily be the goat once again before October ends. But as Murph kept saying in interviews — both insistently and endearingly — this isn’t all about him.

Harvey was terrific from the get-go, showing the Cubs a baffling array of change-ups, sliders and fastballs, all of which he could command early. He got some help — the Cubs scorched a number of balls right at Met defenders — but that’s part of the game too. Harvey seemed to falter in the middle innings, losing a few ticks and degrees of precision off the fastball, but the uncertainty he’d put in the Cubs’ minds helped him push through, finishing an impressive seventh and then facing two batters in the eighth before Kyle Schwarber turned a baseball into a space probe and signaled that Harvey’s night should end.

An at-bat you might not have noticed came in the fourth, when Harvey went to a 2-1 count to Kris Bryant with the Mets up 1-0. Bryant was sitting on a 2-1 pitch, but Harvey was able to put it on the corner. Instead of lining it up the gap or rocketing it over the fence, Bryant fouled it off — and two pitches later Harvey threw him a change-up on the inner edge of the plate, which he swung through. It was a strikeout collected in the fourth but earned in the first, when Bryant watched Harvey bedevil Dexter Fowler and Schwarber with changes and sliders and then grounded out on a curveball.

There were other heroics. In the bottom of the sixth, Travis d’Arnaud launched a massive home run to dead center field that caromed off the apple — something d’Arnaud admitted he’d tried and failed to do in many a batting practice. Juan Lagares misplayed a ball into a game-tying double in the top of the fifth but singled in the bottom of that inning, coming home on Curtis Granderson‘s single. In the seventh that duo was at it again: Lagares stole third, then beat Schwarber’s throw home for a Granderson sac fly and a critical insurance run. (Nice send by Tim Teufel, by the way.) Yoenis Cespedes has been taking wild hacks at the plate but gunned down Starlin Castro at the plate in that fifth to keep the game tied. And of course there was Jeurys Familia, this time only called on for four outs, the last of which was secured so memorably by Murph.

Can Murph conjure up more Murphtober magic against Jake Arrieta? Well, who’s to say a man who helped defeat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke can’t handle another ace? And it’s October. Anything can happen in October, including things that defy rational explanation.

If this is all a dream, well, please don’t pinch Murph and wake him up. Please don’t pinch any of us. Because it’s a good dream.

21 comments to Pinch Me … No Wait, Don’t

  • Daniel Hall

    Last night was a delight (despite a terrible stream that denied me both the second Mets run and the final out being made…). Murph was harveylicious and Harvey was murphtastic or something like that, and the supporting cast all played competently enough (although I get the feeling that that elbow isn’t the only thing balking on Lagares; someone check those hazel eyes!) for a Wonderful Win.

    And Arrieta’s last start was really nothing special. I like the Metsie’s chances in that one better than I liked them in Game 5.

    Re: Game 5; everybody point and laugh at me, but I was so certain of horrendous defeat that I didn’t take Monday off beforehand (and nobody with authority was available on Friday), and since I also want to catch NASCAR, I will put my body on a possibly fatal dose of high-coffeine liquids to make it through 36 hours without sleep. No, no, I’m not performing invasive surgery, nor operating heavy machinery, just a boring accountant that spends half his hours in the Towers of Tears on the internet (this blog, f.e.) anyway.

  • Steve D

    We knew from day one that our starting pitching would do damage if we ever got into in the playoffs. It was frustrating when we didn’t know if the opportunity would be wasted. Murphy being a power, baserunning and defensive scourge was something nobody could have predicted. It seems being a spiritual batting cage rat has peaked at a most amazin’ time for him and us. If we can get one or two more hitters to stay hot, we will not be stopped.

    Somebody better call 41 and clear his schedule for Oct. 30.

    • Eric

      I suspected Murphy might do well because he was locked in down the stretch in 2008, his rookie season, which until 2015 was his only chance to play up to a pennant race.

      We had to wait 7 years to find out, and with the Mets contending this season, Murphy played up again. He’s raised his game to another level in the play-offs.

      Mounting Kershaw (twice), Greinke, and Lester on his HR trophy wall, all of them big – that’s an achievement.

  • ciaran hanley

    The line that stuck with me from the mccovey chronicles piece was at the end. Essentially saying don’t weep for the bad sides who didn’t make the playoffs offs, for their day will come. Weep for those who are competing to win now and run into a Murphy. Wise words. This is magical, the randomness means we never know when we’ll be back. Let’s go Mets.

  • Dave

    Compared to arriving at CitiField on Monday, the crowd wasn’t as insane…but then again, no Cub had broken any Met’s leg any time recently. But Murph sure brought things to life quickly. He’s picking a good time to make a contract pitch.

    Some similarities to 1973 aside, 2015 is unlike any season in Mets history.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Is Kevin Long allowed to talk to Cespedes? Somebody’s gotta tell the 160 million dollar man that these at bats count.

    All this talk (not here, on TV) about 1969. I’m looking for revenge for those miserable Seven Days in July/Aug 1984 beginning with this one on a Sunny Saturday, perhaps my most disheartening day ever as a Met Fan (and we all know how much that is saying).

    You think the late inning relief is bad now??

    • Yes, I was at the Sunday doubleheader. Trout and Sanderson beat the Mets, the Banner Day festivities between games lasted about 3 hours and Jody Davis hit a home run about 500 feet.

  • mikeL

    strong pitching and the avatar of chaos (prophetic name-making if there was!) carrying the day. wilmer shed tears and the mets universe shifted with the trade that didn’t go down.
    i think murph, a met for all of his baseball life, wants to stay a met too!

    brilliant take from grant brisbee. i just hope the 3 other teams’ pitchers aren’t reading it. chances are they’d overthink it anyway.

    cue month python crew “nobody foils the avatar of chaos!”

    especially when cespedes and his own chaotic and potencia…that is, potentially world-beating swing follows in the batting order, perhaps to carry the magic-baton for a spell should an opposing manager opt to walk murph over pitching to him.

    perhaps the magic we’re experiencing is all about here and now but is anyone else glad the duda contract extension didn’t go down before this season?

    getting ahead of myself. murph couldn’t reasonably be expected to be be key to another win tonite?

    it does feel like we’re gonna win tonite!

    lets go mets!

  • BlackCountryMet

    To be present at Citi last night was sheer joy, something I’ll always treasure (although it was bloody cold!) And I get to do it again tonight,special times

    • dmg

      how great you’ve made it here! i’ll be in section 510 — you?

      • BlackCountryMet

        Somewhere in the 4s I think,mate has ticket. Just the energy last night,everyone on the 7 heading to the game in the colours and the greetings from other Mets as you walked by, it blew me away. I was like a kid on Christmas Day :-)

  • Rochester John

    …”magical Daniel Murphy”, indeed! And for those 5 wonderful seconds in game 5 of the Dodger series, he really was invisible.

  • Eric

    A mix of good pitching, HRs, and manufactured runs. Good stuff, play-off baseball.

    Cubs made some hard contact against Harvey and Familia, though.

    Close games with Mets aces outdueling the likes of Kershaw, Greinke, and Lester and winning with clutch runs is starting to feel like a reliably sustainable formula. But the hard contact by the young Cubs sluggers against a Mets ace on his game makes it seem like they’re close to busting out. They want to break the Mets pitch-first formula and impose their slug-first pattern on events.

    I think a DS game 5 deGrom against the Cubs doesn’t grind out a win. He gets raked instead. If the Mets young stud starters manage to hold down the Cubs line-up throughout the series, that will be a feat.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs break out one time, only for the Mets line-up to break out like they’re back in Colorado in August and out-slug the Cubs at their own game. Send the message to the baseball world and the AL champ, then the next ace up shuts down the Cubs again the next night.

    In the DS, deGrom collected premiere match-ups. Harvey vs Lester to start off the CS was a match-up to look forward to. Syndergaard vs Arrieta for game 2 is even better.

  • dmg

    will be at tonight’s game. hope mets win; also hope that we won’t be cryogenically preserved. first pitch 45 degrees and it drops from there. sort of like thor’s curveball.

    • Eric

      Syndergaard’s 1st start for the Mets, he lost 6-1 to the Cubs and Arrieta.

      Here’s hoping Syndergaard has been nursing a grudge over that loss since May and ready to take it back from Arrieta tonight.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    No matter what happens from this point forward, and if this is Murphy’s last season with the Mets, he will be remembered fondly by Mets fans.

    Can you imagine if he hits another homer tonight. He’d have the superfecta of Kershaw, Greinke, Lester and Arrieta in the same post-season. Maybe he’ll have a shot at Cueto or Price in the World Series.

  • 9th string catcher

    What’s nice about the Murphy run is that it’s not far removed from what he’s always brought to the table; good BA, makes contact, doesn’t strike out, a little power. Team first attitude – willing to play any position, bat anywhere in the lineup, play as hard as possible. And generally, one of the most clutch guys on the team. It’s amplified here because he’s displayed a lot more power and he’s one of the only offensive contributors. So, while he’s been terrific, it’s not a complete shock. Hopefully he can keep it going!

  • Seth Wittner

    Excellent post, Jason. I love the part about Murphtober. The statistical-probabilistic information on how many games would have to be played to convincingly determine the better of two teams was great, but a little sad to think about.

    Baseball is a game of inches, as we’ve seen with ground balls barely getting by an infielder—or not, and line drives getting hit (lots of them lately) at fielders. Not to mention called balls and strikes with some umps being “pitchers’ umpires” while others are not.

    I think all of us on Faith and Fear enjoy the magical quality of the game. Long live Murph and Mets. (I remember when it was Benny and the Mets.)

  • Dave

    Hey Greg, nice mention in today’s Times about Mets fashion. You going to be a guest judge when Project Runway does a Mets apparel challenge?

  • NostraDennis

    Left Coast Jerry called this one, folks! You read it rught here. Anyone willing to prognosticate Murph going deep Tuesday night in Chicago? I’m not, but I am feeling really good about winning two in Wrigley.