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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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(Almost) All The Way

You know you’re having a good night when you can get picky over what kind of mammoth win you’d like your team to post. For those of us who remained to the bottom of the ninth inning at Citi Field Wednesday night of an obviously settled affair — and why would you leave when your team has hung up 11 runs and 19 hits? — we picked one ending as preferred above all others: Noah Syndergaard throwing the final pitch.

Imagine that. Imagine Thor going the distance. You had to imagine it in advance of Wednesday night and, alas, you still have to imagine it. That sort of achievement, so prevalent in the heyday of Shea, has grown remarkably uncommon in the yard the Mets now call their own. A Met pitcher sticking around to bookend his own evening is a rarity anywhere, but it really gets your attention when you realize how little it’s happened at Citi. The 42 in the Rotunda dwarfs the number of complete games Mets pitchers have thrown in the ballpark’s eight-season history.

How many CGs for the homestanding NYMs since 2009? The answer lies not within the monument to Jackie Robinson, but is implied at the joint that grills burgers in the name of Keith Hernandez. The number is 17, or approximately 2.9% of the 595 regular-season home games the Mets have played since shuttering Shea. I’ve been to 218 of those games and witnessed nine completed by our starters, or roughly 4.1%. A person really has to hit his spot to see one these Flushing Routegoers in flight.

As endangered species go, they’re almost as rare as the Gunnison sage-grouse. My Citi Field complete game life list encompasses Livàn Hernandez and Nelson Figueroa in 2009; Jon Niese, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey in 2010; Miguel Batista in 2011; Dickey in 2012; and Matt Harvey and Niese in 2013. Neither I nor any fan has seen one in ages.

Niese, a Pirate watching from the third base dugout as his old teammate thoroughly throttled his new teammates, holds the distinction of being the last Met to throw a home complete game. His came twenty days after Harvey’s, the same week Matt went on the shelf that eventually led to Tommy John surgery.

It’s probably not a coincidence that in a Met era defined by young, imposing starting pitchers, the current administration shies away from letting them complete their own business. It took four months of an absolutely dominant 2013, when Harvey was presumed healthy, before Terry Collins allowed his undisputed ace to go all the way (though there was an earlier nine-inning effort in game that went into extras). It wasn’t until the final game of 2015, the postseason edition, that we saw another Met — Harvey — given such a chance again…and that took quite a bit of histrionic lobbying on the part of the pitcher. Matt hasn’t come close to nine full innings since.

Jacob deGrom has never pitched a complete game. Steven Matz has never pitched a complete game. The only two of the past two years were from Zack Wheeler and Bartolo Colon, each in Miami. Wheeler is only now preparing to make minor league rehab starts. It seems safe to wager he will not be throwing any major league complete games for the Mets in 2016.

Colon better fits the profile of starters the Mets might let finish with limited qualms: he’s someone whose future they’re not immensely invested in. If Bart can get to a ninth inning, sure, knock yourself out. Dickey was a knuckleballer, so his length in any given game where he was rolling along was subject to effectively the same school of thought. Batista’s complete game versus Cincinnati on September 28, 2011, made total sense. It was the last game of the year, he was 40 and every Red’s back foot was planted squarely on the bus to the offseason. Before Collins, it wasn’t as if Jerry Manuel was handing out passes to the ninth, either. Hernandez and Figueroa (another Closing Day performance) were permitted to go extremely deep because what was there to lose in the club’s eyes? Same could be said for the August 2011 night journeyman Chris Capuano mysteriously mystified the Braves.

When a Niese or a Mike Pelfrey (in one of the eight Met CGs at Citi Field that I was not on hand to observe and applaud) got on a roll, they were just pretty good pitchers having very good nights, more power to them. Santana, his bouts of fragility notwithstanding, was from another time to begin with, when aces were aces and it was ludicrous to remove them from fierce competition. It’s fitting that Shea Stadium stayed vital to its very last game because of how far Johan went into its next-to-last game.

But the current Fab Four is treated with kid gloves and René Rivera’s mitt. Harvey appeared Olympian in 2013 and it was inferred he was indestructible, as long as he was handled with care. The Mets didn’t care to extend his innings any more than they had to. When he had a shutout going after eight against the Rockies on August 7 of his breakout year, and his pitch count wasn’t dizzyingly high, he couldn’t be denied. Not even a two-out line drive off his knee in the ninth would budge him. After subsequently having to miss the last month of ’13 and all of ’14 to have his right elbow repaired, you can imagine a helicopter being summoned to swoop in and remove him if he didn’t budge from the mound in a similar situation these days.

(Game Five of the World Series was different. It was Game Five of the World Series.)

Harvey remains the last righthander among Mets to throw a complete game at Citi Field, and that was nearly three years ago. Syndergaard, a towering figure even within the community of larger-than-life Met pitchers of 2016, had gone eight innings three times in his brief career prior to Wednesday, including one start at home last year. To look at Thor, whether standing or pitching, is to understand why he came to the majors with a Norse god nickname already attached. What could possibly hurt Thor? He has the powerful repertoire, the offbeat temperament, the fire of a thousand kilns, the physical stature…if this were 1916 or 1976 or maybe 1996, you would assume a substantial percentage of his 36 starts prior to Wednesday would have been complete games, not to mention shutouts.

In 2016, even with all his successes, both categories yielded zeroes on Thor’s ledger through June 8. But on this Wednesday, June 15, he was the one assigning nice, round nothings to just about every Pirate batter he faced. There was a leadoff single and then there was total silence, punctuated only by our cheers for his strikeouts (eleven, enough to keep Subway on its toes) and, not to go unnoticed, tons of Met hits.

You know how the Mets almost got no-hit on Tuesday night and we all assumed — because we retain absolutely no memory that what happens in our worst games isn’t necessarily destined to occur in all our games — that the Mets would never hit again? Consider our assumptions rent asunder. Every Met (except Syndergaard, somehow) hit and hit forcefully. Left fielder Kelly Johnson homered. Third baseman Wilmer Flores homered and drove in four. Rivera was as lethal at the plate as he was nurturing behind it, contributing three hits. Matt Reynolds showed signs of being ready to challenge Ichiro Suzuki for the title of most prolific hitter the world has ever seen.

It was exhilarating to watch the Met offense cut loose on a night the wrist of Michael Conforto, the back of Neil Walker and the thumb of Juan Lagares made each of them invisible. An early version of Collins’s lineup, before Lagares had to be scratched, listed Asdrubal Cabrera as his cleanup hitter. Cabrera has batted cleanup in his career — he socked 25 homers for Cleveland five years ago — but a Met shortstop in the four-hole was cognitively dissonant to the eye. Howard Johnson filled that dual role now and then in 1991, but he was Howard Johnson, 30/30 man extraordinaire and never quite the full-time shortstop. Flores batted cleanup as shortstop twice in 2015, during the injury-ravaged mangy mutt days of May and June, but Wilmer wasn’t retrofitted into a major league shortstop to get his glove in the game.

The only Met shortstop to bat cleanup in the starting lineup between HoJo and Wilmer? It wasn’t anyone you’d picture of as you scroll the shortstop spreadsheet of your mind. It wasn’t Jose Vizcaino or Rey Ordoñez or Mike Bordick or the incredibly available (if not overwhelmingly desirable) Jose Reyes. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, it was John Valentin, twice deployed by Bobby Valentine that way in 2002. The Baseball-Reference Play Index needs to come with smelling salts for those instances when information such as the Mets batting shortstop John Valentin cleanup twice knocks you out.

“Bobby is not looking for me to hit home runs or anything like that,” Valentin said the first time the unorthodox tactic was tried, making one wonder whether John opted for a white flag over a Louisville Slugger when he stepped in to face Darryl Kile.

Back in the makeshift present, Cabrera wound up batting second, recording two hits and scoring two runs. That’s what more or less everybody in the Met lineup did. With it adding up to eleven runs, you only noticed a little that the Mets made twelve outs with runners in scoring position and left ten men on base.

For that matter, you only noticed the eleven runs a little, because all your focus was on Noah Syndergaard. Over eight innings, he registered as many strikeouts as the Mets plated runners: eleven K’s to go with no walks and no runs. There were three Pirate singles scattered, one in the first, two in the sixth. By the sixth, when Syndergaard shrugged off the mild threat by fanning Andrew McCutchen looking for Strikeout No. 8, the Mets led, 7-0. There was no danger. There was only Thor, tossing what could be best described as a Thor-hitter.

Come the bottom of the eighth, Syndergaard batted, an excellent sign of what he’d be doing in the ninth. Sure enough, in the ninth, we got what we stayed for. We got Thor on the mound for another inning.

All he needed was three outs to add to his previous 24. If he could proceed in mussless, fussless fashion, we’d be telling each other on the way out that we had just seen Noah Syndergaard’s first complete game and Noah Syndergaard’s first shutout. We already talk of Thor so much we need new material.

We wanted it like he wanted it. We would have accepted simple groundouts or pop flies, though if it were put to a text poll, we would have entered “K” for another round of emphatic door-slamming, Pirate-pounding strikeouts. We wanted him to go out in blazes of glory and flourishes of phenomenal. We wanted Rivera cradling that last 97-MPH fastball, leaping to his feet and embracing his pitcher. We couldn’t wait to tweet that perfect-partnership image and hashtag it #Thorvera.

That would have been something, but it will have to be something for another game. Noah ventured into his very first ninth inning, but there was a leadoff double to John Jaso, a ground ball that advanced him to third, then a double to David Freese. There went the shutout and, with it, the eighteenth Met complete game in Citi Field history, not to mention the tenth I could have Logged. With opportunity eroded, Terry approached the mound and Thor departed it to a standing ovation. Jeurys Familia came on to protect a ten-run lead in what we shall refer to as a non-save situation. To service his own narrative properly, Jeurys gave up a difficult ground ball that Flores made a nice play on but threw away. It allowed Freese to score (how could Terry use him in a non-save situation?) and reduce the Mets’ lead to 11-2. That’s not terribly significant to report, except for the delight inherent in noting the Mets had a ninth-inning lead reduced to nine runs.

There it stayed. Familia got the next two outs. Syndergaard got the win, going a career-longest eight-and-one-third innings. One of these days we’ll see him go nine. Several of these days, you’d have to think.

17 comments to (Almost) All The Way

  • Dave

    I swear we’re getting to the point where complete games are going to be as rare as no-hitters. I don’t get it. A guy with Thor’s talent, youth, size and strength (plus his bat, less of a need to hit for him) should be able to go 9 innings very often. I could go on a big long “back in my day…” tirade, but why bother.

    I just hope we don’t wind up whining about why they couldn’t have saved some of last night’s runs for tonight.

  • open the gates

    All I’ll say is, if our worst complaint will be that Terry doesn’t let our pitchers stay in the game with a 9-run lead in the ninth, we’ll be in pretty good shape. In general, this was never an topic that I was passionate about. My thinking is, if Terry keeps Thor in the game with a nine-run lead and he gets injured, hate mail will ensue. Who really cares if he’s not pitching the last out?

  • Greg Mitchell

    Was fun for eight, but insane to throw him out there to hurl 115 pitches in an 11-0 game–and god knows, Terry would have left him in there for 125 to get the meaningless CG if he hadn’t given up the run. So, in that sense, we and Terry and Thor got lucky. Yeah, fans applauded Johan going for no-no, until some maybe noticed it likely wrecked his career (and pretty much the Mets for the next 3 years). Before you say, “but Thor is a god and he had extra rest,” consider again: there was no need for it. It was not 1-0 and bullpen was not shot. And you forget that Thor, if anything, should be on innings-conservation now due to his big innings jump coming this year. You can laugh or you can respect the long record of stats that show that needs to be at least considered. In an 11-0 game, at least.

    And Terry’s explanation: “I asked him if he wanted it and he said yes.” Yes, Terry showing the same firm and wise leadership he displayed in letting Harvey face not one but two batters in the famous World Series 9th inning.

    And then Terry, topping his own usual use-closer-with-four-run lead, does it with an 11-1 lead. Again, you may say, Familia hadn’t pitched since Friday. But, as per usual with Familia in a non-save situation, struggles and winds up throwing over 20 pitches. And if needed today, he will probably throw another 25. And then what kind of shape is he in for the following three games? But again, we got lucky–if he hadn’t gotten that last out, he might still be out there, on pitch number 189.

    The dream was an 8-pitch 9th for Thor. And then a 5-pitch finish for Familia. These dreams almost never come to pass.

    • Greg Mitchell

      I meant to say “big innings jump last year.” Also I forgot to point out Thor also had FIVE at bats, including one in bottom of 8th, which also did not promise a happy 9th inning.

      • Matt in Woodside

        I think that’s unfair to Collins. He’s not playing Strat-O-Matic: Now With Innings Limit Simulator™. He’s managing a staff of athletes with personalities and egos, including a group of hyper-competitive pitchers. Syndergaard really, really wanted that complete game shutout, and was visibly bummed when he didn’t get it done. Collins absolutely had to give him his shot to achieve an impressive career milestone. He can’t go up to Thor in between innings and say, “I know you’re pitching a shutout and have thrown only 97 pitches in the first eight innings and you’re saying you feel great and the radar gun is still saying 99 so it doesn’t look like you’re tired and you’ve got six days before your next start but studies have shown that the human body isn’t really designed to pitch baseballs over and over and we hope that we’re getting back to the playoffs and what if seventeen extra pitches tonight means that you start sucking during a pennant race and maybe I’ve ruined your career and OMG remember the papers last summer with Harvey and Boras and the innings limits so annoying! Please don’t go back out there!”

    • Dennis

      In these situations, no one is ever happy…..even after a nice laugher of a win.

      We applaud pitchers going the distance, Syndergaard is cruising….so that’s good. He wants to stay in, Terry obliges him. Noah has a 1-2-3 9th. Way to go Terry….showing confidence in one of your aces. Old school baseball.

      But wait….he hits a wall. Oh no…..he’s in too long. Terry shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. What’s wrong with him? He should have pulled him after the 7th or 8th. And wait……why is Familia coming in? This manager is so incompetent. No idea how to handle pitchers. No wonder we are 5 games out with a decimated lineup. He needs to go…..time to hire Wally Backman.

      Just utter ridiculousness.

      • For the record, I was exceedingly happy to have been at the ballpark for an 11-2 Mets win coupled with a brilliant Met pitching performance. Would have been a little greater had Noah managed to go the full nine, but he was given the chance, it just didn’t happen. I thought Terry handled it fine and hope I didn’t give a different impression.

        • Dennis

          Oh no Greg, I didn’t get that impression at all. It’s just some others criticize and nitpick everything Terry does no matter whatever the situation is or even in a lopsided win.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Thank you Dennis. The only insanity is someone whining this much after such a total team victory. Noah had an ultra rare (as pointed out by Greg) chance at a signature complete game. His pitch count was under 100 to start the 9th. Absolutely nothing wrong with sending him out there to try for the cg. His stuff was still electric, and if the ump hadn’t squeezed him on that 2-2 pitch to Freese he probably gets it. And still with this gibberish about Familia!!! What would you do if the mets played a string of 10 straight games that were either blowouts or losses? Just leave him to rot? Closers pitch in non save situations. They always have and always will.

    Great game. Great win. Ive been saying that these guys can play and need to produce. Call ups, trades, etc could maybe help down the road, but the guys we have are capable and need to show it. Last night they did.

    LGM

  • Bob

    Great start/outing by Thor!
    Odin is pleased!

    Met fan since Polo Grounds–

    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Kevin From Flushing

    I’ve seen 6 Mets CG’s in 69 trips to Citi Field–that’s shockingly lucky.

    Thor will get his CG, likely this season. All good.

  • Pete In Iowa

    I, for one, was pleased to see Thor take the hill for the ninth. As Matt (in Richmond) correctly pointed out, he probably would have gotten the CG if not for the call on Freese. Really, what was Ben May thinking? Squeezing the strike zone in an 11-0 game in the ninth? Really?!!
    For those chewing their fingernails over innings and pitch counts, I suppose they would have given Thor the hook after five or six (after all, the game wasn’t in doubt by then).
    As far as TC sending him out there to begin with, I think it was brilliant. Look, it’s hard to place a value on intangibles, but TC trusts his players and has their backs. And they all know it and respect him for it. He’s been at the helm of this club for six years now and in all that time, I can’t remember one incident where any player had anything bad to say about the man. It’s no small thing. Sure, he’s made some head scratching moves from time to time (what skipper hasn’t), but these guys play hard for him all the time.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Pete hitting the nail squarely on the head. One of, if not the most important qualities in a manager is; do the players respect him and enjoy playing for him? TC gets an A+ in this category.

    • Matt in Woodside

      I agree. I don’t think he has ever lost the respect of a Mets’ clubhouse.

      I don’t think Syndergaard would have been angry if Collins had told him he wasn’t going back out there. But that seems like the type of thing that might burn for a while. “I had a chance to get my first complete game shutout and coach pulled me for no good reason. What if?”

      Obviously Collins has to balance what the team needs with what an individual player says they want. But IMO with Syndergaard’s pitch count below 100 and an almost certain blowout win in the bag, squashing his chance at a complete game shutout would have been one of those tone-deaf, no fun, disappoint everyone moves that comes back to bite managers later.

  • eric1973

    I was there last nite (Section 508).
    (Aside: I hate Citi Field, I went to more at Shea, but I’m in the minority….. So be it)

    Guys aren’t brought up to pitch 9 any more, and so be that, too. But if he needs to be skipped a start, or Familia cannot go the next 3 days, then its all in vain.

  • open the gates

    I will admit it. I am a Terry Collins convert. As Pete pointed out, the manager’s most important job is to keep his players at their best and to have their backs. With all the ups and downs with this team, Terry has never lost the clubhouse. I’ve seen what the Mets looked like under managers like Jeff Torborg and Dallas Green after they lost the clubhouse. It ain’t pretty. And by the way, regarding the remark about Johan Santana – Terry has lived with that decision every day of his life and has agonized over it. Hitting him with that is kind of a low blow.

  • […] So yeah, no wonder Terry Collins didn’t want to talk about injuries. He’s been manager of the Mets long enough to know that Syndergaard’s elbow flaring up would mean a question from every reporter in the room — he’d just endured a round table of inquiries about Yoenis Cespedes‘s wrist, and been asked about Zack Wheeler‘s elbow. He’s been in baseball long enough to know that none of those questions would be answerable. He’s seen the thinking around the game change enough to sense he’d have to start answering questions about, say, the wisdom of leaving a young pitcher to go north of 100 pitches with an 11-0 lead. […]