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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.

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Waiting for the Worst

It came at the end of Terry Collins‘s press conference, and might have been funny except for the fact that it wasn’t funny: the small manager with the large personality tried to exit stage left, then had a brief, unhappy colloquy with someone not shown by SNY’s cameras. Collins objected that there hadn’t been any questions about it, then plopped down and snapped that “the puppy dog wants you guys to know that Noah Syndergaard’s seeing the doctor. His elbow flared up on him. That’s why I took him out of the game.”

(Let’s take a moment to observe that while the Mets aren’t out of the business of needlessly belittling Jay Horwitz, they’ve at least found better internal nicknames for him.)

Exit Terry again, this time for real. And cue a sudden U-turn to the familiar confines of Panic City.

Collins’s annoyance was understandable, as was his attempted dodge. (Which isn’t to say either was appropriate.) The rollercoaster Mets had looked robust and feisty against the Pirates, then inept and inanimate against the Braves. So of course they then swept an abbreviated two-game series against the Royals, last seen at Citi Field doing things that need not be spoken of.

The Mets had secured the sweep — and a win in the season series, to extract a positive that hits all of us like a negative — with a tidy, taut 4-3 win. Syndergaard wasn’t his electric self, which is to say he was merely really good, and the two teams battled back and forth, looking for a breach in the other’s defenses.

Asdrubal Cabrera scored the first run in the fourth, racing home on a little dunker by James Loney and getting past the mitt of the redoubtable Salvador Perez through a moundward scurry and a quick reversal to slap the outer margin of home plate with his hand — a run that somehow didn’t involve the apple going skyward.

It wasn’t to last, though: in the top of the inning, Kansas City’s Cheslor Cuthbert stepped to the plate against Syndergaard. Let me take a moment to observe that “Cheslor Cuthbert” is not just a ridiculous baseball name but a ridiculous name, the kind of thing an overeager young D&D player would come up with, spending four hours crafting an intricate backstory for a cleric with four hit points. (Time for a lesson, thinks the DM; this roll for wandering monsters won’t be the last.)

It may be a silly name, but the player rolled a natural 20, and a moment later Cheslor Cuthbert was trotting around the bases to tie the game. Three batters later, Whit Merrifield checked that his boater was at a jaunty angle, buttoned his cardigan and stroked a ball just past Neil Walker for a 2-1 Royals lead. Hip-hip! declared his chums, breaking into valedictory song.

(Seriously, what is it with the Royals and names?)

Ned Yost trued to coax a sputtering Danny Duffy through the fifth inning, only to run afoul of Cabrera, who crashed a two-run homer to return the lead to the Mets’ possession. (Cabrera had a really superb game, helping the Mets win with his bat, glove and baserunning smarts.) The Royals tied it immediately in the top of the sixth, but Matt Reynolds — pressed into service as a left fielder — untied it just as immediately in the bottom, smacking his first career home run off Joakim Soria.

That lead held up, and there you had it: scoring in five consecutive half-innings, three lead changes, plenty of excitement, and a victory for the forces of light and good.

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.

Terry tried to duck the question; Horwitz knew the cover-up would lead to more howling than the crime and didn’t let him.

A few weeks back, I emerged from a college-reunion dinner to see Syndergaard had exited with 2.1 innings under his belt and no earned runs allowed. My first thought was simple and awful: he’s blown out his elbow.

It wasn’t the case, thank goodness. But when Collins scurried away from his parting stink bomb on Wednesday, I had the same thought: he’s blown out his elbow.

It’s not the case this time, either — as Syndergaard himself let us know via Instagram. (What a world!) But I wasn’t shocked to have that thought again. And I won’t be shocked the next time Syndergaard turns away from his delivery with a look of annoyance, or needs something checked out, or seems to be missing a couple of ticks on that ungodly fastball.

Because odds are that sooner or later, this won’t be a false alarm: that little ligament will go, undone by the superhuman feats it’s been witness to. And then Syndergaard will spend a year in a cameo role, followed by a return that will involve a roll of the dice. Just like happened to Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz — which is to say, every member of the presumed September rotation except Noah Syndergaard.

I devoutly hope that won’t be true this year or any year. I hope Syndergaard will be one of the outliers, a Tom Seaver or a Nolan Ryan who won the genetic lottery. If so, I’ll even forgive him when he comes back to old-timers’ affairs and grouses that pitchers were a different breed than today’s cosseted, milk-fed semi-athletes, having followed Seaver and Ryan’s lead and mistaken his good fortune for moral fortitude.

That would be better for the Mets and better for Syndergaard, needless to say — even today, slicing open the elbow of a pitcher is no routine thing. But it would be better for us, too. Noah Syndergaard is a dream: simultaneously a videogame played by a kid who’s mastered the cheat codes and a cerebral athlete determined to master the mechanics and tactics of his craft. The problem with dreams is that you wake up and are left facing mundane reality; so far with Syndergaard we’ve been able to shake off the interruptions, hit the pillow and pick up where we left off. We’ll get up soon … but not quite yet, please. Just give us a little longer.

31 comments to Waiting for the Worst

  • Greg Mitchell

    Waiting for everyone who defended–applauded!–Terry for letting Noah throw 115 (quite a big “north of 100,” as you gently put it) last week in that 11-0 nailbiter to say they still are happy he had a chance to go for that “career milestone” of a complete game, which I realize ranks right up there with a no-hitter or 3000th hit. But now I see that in addition to the usual excuse (“no one can prove cause and effect”) we will see “hey-he-will-need-TOmmy John-one-day-anyway-so-no-biggie”). Of course, some of us pointed out that Thor already HAD an elbow scare not long before the 115 pitch “whoops, no complete game” but perhaps Terry, and others, forgot. Now we’ll be told Thor is ‘okay” because the MRI did not point to certain doom so, hey, let’s run him out for 120 pitches next time with score, way, 13-0. Because, you know, a new milestone. But as a couple people posted last week: raising those warnings on Noah was nothing but “nonsense” and “pathetic.”

    • Matt in Woodside

      I don’t recall anyone on this blog calling your concerns “pathetic.” Injuries can happen at any time. It makes sense that fans of a team reliant on a young pitching staff will be concerned about possible injuries and any mismanagement that could raise the probability of injury.

      Where I (and I think others here) have disagreed with you is in your definition of “mismanagement.” deGrom, Syndergaard, and Harvey all blew past their prior innings records last season. Not an ideal way to handle a young pitching staff. But it happened because the team made it to the World Series. Having them pitch then was not mismanagement. Similarly, when Syndergaard says he feels fine, and asks his manager for the opportunity to finish a complete game shutout, it’s not mismanagement to give him the ball.

      And FWIW, Syndergaard is apparently fine and this was a false alarm. If this happened 10 years ago, Syndergaard gets to go to the hospital in private and we’re none the wiser. Actually, in 2016 if Jay Horwitz, PR man, just keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t decide to stir up social media anthills of speculation, Syndergaard gets to go to the hospital in private and we’re none the wiser. It was dumb as rocks for him to volunteer that information. Syndergaard makes precautionary visits to Altchek on a regular basis. They all probably do at this point.

      • Greg Mitchell

        Where to begin? Rather than harping on “mismanagement” last year (except perhaps with Harvey), I have focused on this year. However, the innings jumps last year for Harvey and Syndegaard and to a lesser extent deGromm all impact this year–at least nearly all studies have suggested. Yes, “injuries can happen at any time” but often with a little or a lot of help from how someone plays the game or pitches. To simply say “shit happens” goes against rationality and history.

        Next, saying that it is the pitcher’s prerogative to stay in games and not the manager’s is absurd. Why pay a manager? See 9th inning,game 5, World Series–even Terry has hinted he would not let Harvey make that call again.

        Note the “apparently” in your Noah is “apparently fine.” Especially with the Mets long history of tragically wrong “apparently fines.”

        I could be wrong but as far as I know Noah does not make “regular” visits to that doctor for elbow checkups–and MRIs. When he did it the other time not long ago it made big news and the Mets said it was exceptional then. I’d be surprising if he has regular MRIs.

        Finally, I have to note your call for LESS transparency by the Mets. Again, given the Mets’ coverups and distortions in the past, it’s hard to believe you want more of the same now.

        • Rob E.

          First of all, “shit” DOES happen. It happens all the time. Mark Prior was said to have “perfect” mechanics and he got hurt very young and very severely. Chris Sale has awful mechanics and he’s been a stud so far (and historically, Bert Blyleven threw enough curveballs in his career that his arm should have fallen off, but it DIDN’T). And that’s the problem with all the prognostication…there are exceptions all over the place. It would be easy if you could tie mechanics or innings or pitch counts or days off to injuries, but you CAN’T. History is littered with exceptions to every rule. Pitchers routinely pitched 400 innings in the early 1900’s and 300 innings into the 70s, on three and four days rest….why were so many pitchers able to withstand THOSE workloads? BEFORE anyone knew anything about diet and conditioning?

          Secondly, I don’t understand the “we want our pitchers around a long time, so let’s NOT pitch them” mentality. The Mets went to the World Series last year, and have a very real shot at the post-season this year. If we can’t use our pitchers with expectations like the Mets have, what’s the point? And what is the alternative? Their extra innings were PENNANT RACE and POST-SEASON innings! Would it have been better to just miss the playoffs and save the wear and tear on the arms?

          Yes, somebody MIGHT get hurt. We’ve seen pitchers get hurt batting, we’ve seen pitchers get hurt running the bases, and we’ve seen pitchers get hurt just fielding their position. It’s part of the game, and the game itself shouldn’t be compromised by an irrational fear of injuries.

        • Matt in Woodside

          OK. I guess I’ll agree to disagree. As Rob said in his original response, the Mets organization tries to treat these guys cautiously while still letting them develop and play the game. And personally, I still think that Collins made the right call by allowing Syndergaard to try for a shutout, because Syndergaard is a person, not an elbow attached to a bunch of statistics and recommended best practices for managing MLB pitchers.

          And no, I was not making a call for less transparency from the Mets. I think the Alderson regime has been much better about disclosing and discussing bad news than the Minaya regime. But Horwitz is not a doctor, and none of the reporters had asked about Syndergaard’s health. A big part of his job is supposed to involve making it EASIER for Collins and the players to work with the media. Instead, he argues with Collins, has him drop this bombshell when no additional info is available, fueling about eight hours of baseless speculation on social media last night, spilling over into today, where you and I and Rob and Matt in Richmond are discussing the ins and outs of elbow health like we’re at some orthopedics convention.

          • Greg Mitchell

            What you’re omitting is the more likely reason for Terry’s explosion at good guy Jay Horwitz–Terry now had to storm out instead of facing tough (and deserved) questions about letting Noah pitch that 9th inning.

            And I hardly think that concern is “baseless” when you’ve had two MRIs on an elbow within 3 weeks.

          • Matt in Woodside

            Maybe? I don’t really see the room immediately grilling Collins about the wisdom of leaving Syndergaard in his prior start, although I guess anything is possible. 115 didn’t even break his career high, it’s absolutely normal to see starters go past 110 during the summer, and he had an extra day of rest before that game and again before this start.

            Collins did make the speculation much worse by storming out. But good guy or no, it’s Horwitz’s flippin’ job to help frame news about the team and its players in a positive light. Instead he agitated the manager to the point that he made a minor scene, and we are still arguing about an elbow almost 24 hours later.

    • Rob E.

      I’m not going to call it “nonsense” or “pathetic,” but I am going to call it “alarmist.” Yesterday 13 major league pitchers threw more than 100 pitches, including Adam Conley (114 pitches, the rookie that was pulled from a no-hitter), Eduardo Rodriguez (a second year pitcher coming off an injury), Daniel Mengden (108 pitches in his third ML start), and Trevor Bauer, who threw a 113-pitch complete game in one of those “runaway” 6-1 games. On top of that, Julio Urias, who is 19, threw 94 pitches in a big game against the Nationals.

      These are major league players, and this is the game they play. For all the information we have, no one knows why or when Tommy John injuries occur (see Stephen Strasburg, see Mark Prior, see Mike Mussina, see Nolan Ryan). You try to be as pragmatic as you can by treating these guys cautiously while still letting them develop and play the game, but trying to figure it out DEFINITIVELY is a fool’s errand. As long as you have humans playing a game against other humans, doing something the human body really wasn’t designed to do, there are going to be “x” amount of unexplained variables and injuries. Those variables have always been, and will always be, part of the game.

      Nolan Ryan threw the fifth most innings in history throwing as hard as anyone ever has, and throwing a pitch that is as hard on the elbow as any, and never had arm problems. Strephen Strasburg was one of the most hyped arms EVER, and he came up smack in the middle of the analytics age, was babied as much as any pitcher ever, and STILL blew his arm out. Blame Terry Collins or anybody else all you want, there will NEVER be an explanation for this stuff.

      • Greg Mitchell

        Yes, other pitchers, even young ones, sometimes throw 110 pitches in a game. Rather than claiming “no one knows why some get arm injuries,” you can look at studies that chart why so many of them likely occur. No, not all, (maybe) not even a majority of them, bur far, far more than the “no one one knows why” assertions. It’s hardly a “fool’s errand.” There’s “NEVER” an explanation for any of this? As the Ol’ Perfesser liked to say, you can look it up.

        Citing those other young pitchers throwing a lot of pitches is meaningless until we see the after-effects. The Dodgers have kept Urias’ pitches down pretty well so far, I think. And anyway: were any of them pitching a 9th inning of an 11-0 game? And doing that just three weeks after an MRI for an elbow worry?

        Really, you want to cite Mark Prior as an unknown when virtually everyone agree he blew out his young arm by overuse that one year? And everyone also agrees Nolan Ryan was a freak. The exceptions often prove the rule.

        • Rob E.

          I’ve never heard anyone say Mark Prior was overused. That one year he threw 211 innings….hardly onerous. I bring him up as an example of a pitcher said to have “perfect mechanics” in an age where teams were aware of overusing guys, and he still blew his arm out (Prior actually pitched LESS innings that year than he did the previous year across four levels). File that under “shit happening.” And Strasburg is the second verse of THAT song.

          As far as the stuff “you can look up,” there is definitely more information available, but NOTHING that says guys blow their arms out after 215 innings, or on the 120th pitch, or increasing innings too much year-to-year, or at ANY flash point. Maybe Nolan Ryan was a freak, but there are freaks among the current player too that we will never know about because of all the risk adversity. Sandy Koufax started more than 40 games three times; Clayton Kershaw has topped out at 33. How much would the Dodgers like to have 7 more Kershaw starts a year? Or The White Sox Chris Sale, or the Giants Madison Bumgarner? But we’ll never know because so far the solution is to treat EVERYONE like fine China. It doesn’t hold up in an historical sense. Nolan Ryan (or any of the pre-80s stars) would have lost about 1/3 of their careers by applying today’s philosophies. I’m not saying to just let these guys go back to throwing 350 innings, I’m saying the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and no one has discovered that line yet, and THAT’S why you let Syndergaard try to finish a game.

  • Matt in Richmond

    It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now. You need to learn about correlation and causation or perhaps the Latin post hoc ergo propter hoc. Or perhaps you’d enjoy my dad’s saying for people like you, “I woke up in the morning, then peed, then the sun came up, so my pee must have made a sunrise.” The point is, there is NO evidence that his elbow soreness is due to 115 pitches in his last start. Can you really stand by that with any real belief? Like if he’d only thrown 98 this wouldn’t have happened. The Mets employ trained professionals that monitor every aspect of players health down to exercise, nutrition, stretching, massage, medication, icing etc. But you know better than them right? Humility check time please.

    • Greg Mitchell

      Thanks for the Latin lesson and your pearl of wisdom from your Dad. I now realize what an ignorant boob I have always been. Talk about the need for a “humility check.”

      And, of course, unless you only see the world in black and white, no one can claim to be 100% certain about causation. The question is: Was it is wise for Terry to let a 23-year-old prize pitcher–who had a big innings jump last year and will again this year–and is hurling three weeks after a worrisome MRI on his tender elbow–and is pitching in a game in the 9th inning ahead by 11-0–not to mention logging five at bats swinging for the downs on every pitch Did that directly “cause” last night’s 2nd MRI? Who knows–there was already concern before then. Which is precisely why you don’t send him out to go 115 with an 11-0 lead.

      • Matt in Richmond

        Look, I think there is plenty of gray area here for us to agree to disagree. If you voiced some concern over Noah’s workload and that in your opinion he shouldn’t have pitched that ninth inning, my reaction would be “I disagree, but I see where he’s coming from.” My problem, as with the problems I often have with eric1973’s comments is the degree of certainty that you assert yourself with. I don’t know many people who have followed baseball more closely than I have for the past 20 years or so, and I can not speak with any certainty on the issue of pitcher’s arm health. The theories are are all over the map, and with millions upon millions of dollars at stake and uncountable time and effort spent studying the issue, there is still no consensus. Some feel innings counts are more important than pitch counts. Some think it is not total pitches, but pitches under duress. Some think pitchers should do more long toss. Some think they should do less throwing on the side. The only thing that seems to be clear is that pitching with the degree of effort required to succeed at this level is not a natural thing for the human body to do. This being the case, the vast majority of pitchers will suffer injuries during their career. No amount of judicious pitch counting or innings limitations will prevent this. And each pitcher is unique.

        Just to backtrack real quick to an earlier discussion. You were extremely up in arms “pun intended” about Collins’ use of Familia a couple of weeks ago. Claimed he was abusing him. Maybe you were right. I don’t think so though. He still hasn’t blown a single save and his last few outings have been some of his best all year. Point is, a lot of this stuff is a crapshoot.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Seattle starter Adrian Sampson was scheduled to pitch today and was pulled with elbow soreness after pre game warmups. He threw 85 pitches in his last start. Too bad they didn’t limit him to 70, because then he would have been fine.

    • Dennis

      LOL…..so right Matt. I wonder which pitch caused the soreness….pitch number 74? Or maybe it was pitch 81?

  • A reminder to everyone to please be nice to each other.

    Also: If you haven’t read Jeff Passan’s THE ARM, you really should. It’s a fantastic book that’s essential to exploring this stuff.

    And it’s just $2 on Kindle today. http://amzn.to/28PWcPi

    • Steve D

      These comments that get way too personal have really hurt my enjoyment of this blog and frankly why I don’t visit as much.

  • Eric

    With Colon, Wheeler, Syndergaard, and Cespedes suddenly all at risk, I’m relieved the news wasn’t worse, but it wasn’t an all-clear, either.

    The news on Syndergaard was too much like a flashback to Harvey going down. I’m relieved that Syndergaard’s UCL isn’t torn, but now we’re on notice that his elbow ligament is being strained to the point of injury. Cespedes’s wrist sounds like an incipient chronic injury.

    Wheeler’s issue doesn’t sound serious, but it also sounds like his return might be pushed back, though I wasn’t counting on him this season. If Wheeler can pitch well right away, that’s bonus. Colon has pitched well this season filling in for Wheeler, and I’m relieved that it sounds like Colon’s thumb is fine.

    Taking 2 close games from the Royals – exactly the kind of games they lost to the Royals in the WS – and the Nationals losing 5 in a row in strange ways to stay within reach of the Mets make me feel better.

  • Steve D

    I believe the increase in arm injuries is mainly caused by poor mechanics. The human arm was obviously not designed to throw a ball 95 mph, so having the best possible mechanics is key. I think coaches today either don’t teach correct mechanics or don’t want to change someone who has been successful. With good mechanics, I bet the MORE pitches you throw, the more endurance you would have, like a Seaver, Carlton, Ryan, etc. The other issue is the availability of the MRIs that reveal things that would never be seen 40 years ago…like slight tears and such.

    • You should definitely read The Arm. It’s fascinating. Puts the primary blame on year-round pitching at too young an age, but doesn’t claim that’s the entire story and acknowledges that this is all murky.

      • Steve D

        Thanks for the tip. BTW, I play softball and this year I did very light work on my rotator cuff with a 5 pound weight during the winter. The results have been great as I started the season at SS in mid-season form when my fellow players were in agony. So conditioning plays a big role as well.

  • eric1973

    Sure, ‘Shit Happens,’ but it happens a lot easier eonce you decide to sit on the toilet.

  • open the gates

    Re Jay Horwitz – I don’t envy that man’s job one little bit. He’s never going to satisfy everyone. That said, given the choice, I’d rather have more info than less about the medical stuff. I don’t think anyone was happy about finding out, after the fact, that David Wright had played a half season with a broken bat. And we certainly don’t want any more Ryan Churches. Maybe it’s not really fair to Terry to have him comment on the health of his players. Maybe the team should have a medical spokesman to deal with injury issues in a more technical manner. On the other hand, that’s why Terry’s being paid the big bucks. The crack about Jay was beyond uncalled for.

  • open the gates

    Oops – make that David Wright playing half a season with a broken back. Although I imagine playing half a season with a broken bat wouldn’t have been too much fun either.

  • Greg Mitchell

    I’ll leave my final word on this subject to none other than…Terry Collins. He is quoted in today’s NY Times as claiming (now) that in response to Noah and Matz elbow issues he will not skip starts but “limit their pitch counts.” I guess, contrary to so much posted here, Terry does NOT agree with view that “hey, you just don’t know what might cause an injury, if it happens, it happens.” Terry also said he would limit their work between starts.

    Also the same NY Times story quotes Thor himself agreeing that, yes, maybe he is undergoing too much “wear and tear” and the elbow problem likely caused by “the workload” and “throwing quite a bit more pitches than I did last year.” You can ignore that–but Terry and Thor apparently (now) are not.

    • Rob E.

      Terry Collins is also the guy who let Thor try to finish the game, so I’m not so sure what he believes or doesn’t believe about pitch counts. And my bigger point was that it DOESN’T MATTER in the absence of absolute data. So he limits his pitch count….then what? Is that going to guarantee that Syndergaard never gets injured? If you can guarantee me that then by all means I’m down with pitch limits.

      I understand Collins and Syndergaard making those comments, because they don’t know for sure (no one does), so you err on the side of caution. It makes sense on the surface but there are too many exceptions throughout baseball history to put too much stock in that. Guys on strict pitch counts have blown out their arms in the past (and will in the future), and others that have been absolutely abused never had serious arm problems (which we will never know in the future). I hate to keep beating the Strasburg horse (and you can throw Harvey and Jose Fernandez on that pile too), but those are three pretty good recent, high-profile examples of pitch counts NOT being the end-all statistic. It just doesn’t hold up. That’s NOT where these people should be looking. It may be PART of it, but if so, it’s part of a MUCH bigger picture.

  • eric1973

    You know what, just do the thing that makes the most sense, so that if/when the elbow blows out, we can all sleep nights without regret.

  • open the gates

    The fact is, Terry is actually very concerned about pitch counts, especially after injuries. Check out some of his interviews about the Santana no hitter – which really WAS once in a lifetime – and how he second guesses himself about whether that game cost Johan his career. Most of us don’t have to make those kinds of decisions and then read all the Monday morning quarterbacks in the next day’s paper.

  • […] to five days to heal. Syndergaard’s malady was harder to diagnose. It wasn’t the elbow, as we’re always going to fear until the day it is, but something the Mets called “arm fatigue.” That sounded […]