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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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Other People's Problems

Yep, this was all too typical of recent Mets games: in the seventh, the second baseman had a runner dead to rights at third, and hit the third baseman’s glove, only to see the ball bound away and skitter up the third-base line to bring the enemy go-ahead run home.

It wasn’t over — they fought back and had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second with nobody out in the ninth and the heart of the order coming up, but then, all too predictably …

What? Hang on a minute, will you? I’m typing here.

Really? Are you sure about that?

You’re sure you’re sure? All right, let me check.

Huh.

Those unfortunate things happened as described, but they happened to the Cubs, not the Mets. The second baseman with the ball who was eyeing a runner short of third was Javier Baez, not Neil Walker. The glove that ball went bouncing off of belonged to Kris Bryant, not Wilmer Flores. The runner on third in the ninth, just 90 feet from a tie game with two chances to get there, was Travis Wood, not Alejandro De Aza or Matt Reynolds. The pitcher in trouble really was ours — it was Jeurys Familia, who walked Miguel Montero and gave up a double to Ben Zobrist. At that moment he looked, unsurprisingly, rusty; he seemed, unsurprisingly, doomed.

But hold on again, I’m a little rusty myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

It didn’t start off well, not with Zobrist singling and Bryant golfing a home run into the left-field bleachers. (By the way, will we fans of a certain age ever stop remarking whether a ball cleared the now-secondary Great Wall of Flushing? It did.) The Mets were down 2-0 with 27 outs still to get, and Steven Matz looked miserable out there — the same Matz who’s pitching with a bone spur that’s caused him to jettison his slider and may lead to surgery. Matz, it’s said, is in no jeopardy of damaging his elbow and so must learn to pitch with pain; given Matz’s biography, I don’t blame him in the slightest for being anxious about a barking elbow.

Matz settled down and settled in, but was ambushed again by Baez leading off the sixth and trudged into the dugout two batters later. (He also was nearly decapitated by John Lackey and offered an angrily inquiring shrug to his counterpart before realizing that a) Lackey hadn’t thrown a strike in the last two minutes; and b) the pitch at his head had been a slider.) The Cubs were up 3-0, Lackey was squinting and glowering through a serviceable start, the Mets weren’t hitting a lick and it sure looked like you could fill in the rest of the blanks of this one.

With one out in the sixth, Lackey threw Yoenis Cespedes a 2-0 fastball and what happened next was pretty goddamn glorious. Last October, Cespedes hit one of the more jaw-dropping home runs I’ve ever seen, the missile launch off Alex Wood in Game 3 of the NLDS that he accompanied with an epic bat flip. That contact made a crack that was loud even in a raucous packed house, and the ball was almost instantly transported from home plate to the second deck.

That October blast, though, was nothing compared to what Cespedes did to Lackey’s offering. It was gone — that was instantly and jubilantly obvious, but it kept rising and wound up three or four rows into the third deck, officially measured at 466 feet away. That’s not just way over the Great Wall of Flushing but into a precinct never before reached in Citi Field during competition; the only blasts I can remember being more impressed by were both hit by Mo Vaughn: one was a 505-footer that dimpled the old Shea scoreboard halfway up the Budweiser wrapping; the other came less than a week later and scared the hell out of a Yankee Stadium vendor in the upper deck, coming within a few degrees of leaving the park entirely.

What Cespedes did was impressive; still, to quote Gimli in another battle, it only counted as one. The blast seemed fated to be a footnote, one that would make you smile and then immediately scowl. Remember when Cespedes hit that third-deck blast during the month when everyone got hurt and the Mets lost 12 straight to the Nats and Cubs and the goddamn Marlins?

But in the seventh the Mets started doing un-Metsian things. Travis d’Arnaud singled off Lackey with one out. The embattled De Aza worked a walk against Joel Peralta. That brought up Brandon Nimmo, and SNY’s cameras caught Walker offering the newest Met hitter a hasty scouting report.

Peralta went to work on Nimmo, trying to bait him into lunging at a splitter. It seemed like a good bet to work; Crash Davis wasn’t kidding when he warned a busload of Durham Bulls that they throw ungodly breaking stuff in the Show. But Nimmo, for all the questions about him that are yet to be answered, has shown that he’s got a good eye and a calm demeanor at the plate. He fouled off a trio of tough pitches and refused to bite at two more, then got a fastball that he was able to line past Baez to cut the Cub lead to 3-2 and send De Aza to third, with Nimmo alertly grabbing second on the throw. Peralta got ahead of Walker 0-2, but Walker managed to rap a little grounder to second, one De Aza got a terrific jump on. That set up Baez’s ill-fated heave to Bryant and, astonishingly, a 4-3 Met lead.

It looked like that lead would be erased and then reversed when Familia ran into trouble in the ninth, but the prospect of a hanging seemed to concentrate his mind. Mercifully, he showed no inclination to try quick-pitching any of the Cubs, choosing instead to bury sinkers on the inside corner at the knee. It was like a metronome: Familia threw that pitch over and over to Bryant until he struck him out, then (after an intentional walk to Anthony Rizzo) ate up Willson Contreras with the same relentless approach. He then went to work on Baez, coaxing an 0-2 pop-up from him to seal it.

And so yes, we actually did win despite the Cubs and ourselves. Maybe it was only a respite for a day, but I needed to be reminded that baseball’s karmic engines are not, in fact, only calibrated to do terrible things to the Mets. First-place ballclubs with gaudy run differentials and genius managers can throw balls away and gag with gimme runs out there too. Or, if you’ll dare to see it another way, battered clubs enduring horrific luck can still get up off the mat and persuade you not to give up quite yet.

28 comments to Other People’s Problems

  • Matt in Richmond

    If any team was due for a break it was us. As I’ve noted over the past few weeks, while the bats have been struggling for sure, there has also been an awful lot of bad luck. Meaning well struck balls hit right at fielders, bullets that go just foul, and tremendous defense from the opposition. Which is all just part of baseball. It’s why the saying about not being as good as you look when you’re winning and not as bad as you look when you’re losing has such merit. Cohen pointed out tonight that when Baez threw that ball away that was only the 5th error that any Mets opponent had made against them all month. That’s a crazy stat, but it didn’t surprise me.

    Just in last nights game, before we finally started getting some runs we’d had tons of solid contact. Cespedes, Walker, Cabrera and Flores all had hit bullets that resulted in outs. And even Matz hit one to the warning track. There’s been a lot of this recently and hopefully last night was a sign of our luck starting to turn a little bit. One thing that can’t be questioned, the fight and determination the guys are playing with. There were moments last night that seemed to almost have a playoff intensity. Great to see.

  • eric1973

    Sometimes, luck plays a role and you WIN instead.

    Pretty small sample there, but ‘Ya Gotta Start Somewhere.’ Love Nimmo’s approach, he appears to be a cool cat. Wouldn’t it be great if he and Conforto turned out to be the real deals.

    Also remember that these were the Cubs, and we’ve owned them since 1969 in most big situations, especially creating our identity at their expense. In crucial moments, the Cubs tend to even ‘out-Cub’ themselves.

  • Wheaties54321

    Baseball’s funner when the Mets win.

  • Chap

    I remember when the Mets were about to start their three day series with the Rockies. We had seen so many back to back home runs up until then, I was expecting the thin air to provide a real derby. It seemed like that was when things started to slide. Since then I have just wanted to see some manufacturing of runs. But the Mets just seemed hapless on the bases. So many stranded. So many Plawecki chokes. Finally we got to see how fun it is to watch manufactured runs. Sure it took Cubs pitching throwing a jillion balls in the dirt, but I’ll take it. Miraculously, D’Aza reaches base and then shows real heads-up hustle on the bags. And then that Nimmo and his infectious joy at playing the game. And the look of a squeak-by victory in Familia’s eyes as that final ball was caught–boy was it great to have fun watching the Mets again. Having it be against the Cubs was just gravy.

  • Dave

    Music got first dibs for me last night, I was at the Garden to see the Stone Roses. But of course I kept checking my phone, and a little while after the pleasant surprise that the Mets had somehow gone ahead, I see that Familia has runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, and I figure “back to the music, this isn’t going to end well.” But then as I was leaving the Garden I see a final score instead of a bottom of the 9th, and I think that this was a good night…saw a great concert and the team that can barely eek out a hit against the trying-to-suck Braves beats a team that seems like it’s already won 90 games this year.

    Mets beat the Cubs when it counted last October, and well, these games count too.

  • Ed Rising

    I think this is the start of something big! Remember June 30th folks…..mark it down and Lets Go Mets!

  • Dennis

    Great win last night. Seemed like it had some playoff atmosphere about with a lot of energy from the crowd and the team.

  • eric1973

    Q: How come, when Familia needs the work, TC puts him in with 9-run leads and 4-run leads, but refuses to put him in late in games down by 1 or 2 runs?

    These are very winnable games (two this week), and the inferior guys he put in instead gave up runs to help lose those games.

    Important managing philosophy where TC comes up short. Boggles the mind, actually.

    • Pete In Iowa

      Eric my boy, I’m afraid you need to brush up on “The Book,” which clearly states any manager shall only use his closer at the end of a game. In fact, these days, this concept has risen to become Chapter 1 of “The Book.”
      Never mind you might want to use your best reliever in the most important situation as it arises – whether that be the fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth. “The Book” says you should never do this.
      However, there is an appendix in Chapter 1 of “The Book” which does allow the use of said best reliever when there are one or two outs in the eighth.
      I’m frankly surprised you haven’t read “The Book.” After all, it must be a best-seller because EVERY manager has a copy of “The Book” in his back pocket for easy and timely reference.

  • dmg

    also liked nimmo’s superquick slide-and-bounce-up at third to take advantage of the errant throw. some other mets might have slid and then been slow to rise, and been stuck on third.
    http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/8879230/v876715783/chcnym-mets-take-the-lead-on-an-error-in-7th

  • Matt in Richmond

    Actually eric1973 the only mind boggling thing is what you are suggesting. They have been on the road, so the extra runs that you are talking about them giving up have been scored prior to the ninth inning. In one case it was Harper hitting a home run off our lefty specialist Blevins. To suggest that Familia should be brought in when we are losing, prior to the ninth, and/or to face a power hitting lefty when we have a very successful lefty specialist is some of the most bizarre baseball logic I have ever heard. It’s pretty simple. At home, you can start the ninth with him when you have a lead, or are tied, or even if you’re losing and he needs some work. On the road, you save him until you have a lead with very few exceptions.

  • open the gates

    Great to see Nimmo up with the big club and contributing to a win. Kid’s been trying for this so long, you gotta root for him. And he did it with heads up play and great baseball instincts. Maybe he’s not a “tools guy”, but many long careers have been had by guts who flat out played the game, and got the most out of their abilities. I’m guessing that when Sandy Alderson made Brandon Nimmo his first #1 pick, he wasn’t trying for the next Danny Heep, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, or Bobby Bailor. But we need one of those now. Maybe Nimmo us the role player we’ve needed all year.

  • eric1973

    Familia is more useful to the pennant race pitching the bottom of the 8th and holding the fort, rather than pitching in the 9th in a blowout.

    To hold him back for a lead that never comes, in favor of Gilmartin/Goeddel, is pure foolishness, to say the least.

  • Matt in Richmond

    You cannot be serious. When in the annals of baseball have managers routinely gone to their closer, on the road, in the 7th or 8th inning of games that they are losing? I would concede that once in a blue moon, if he hasn’t pitched in a week, or in an extremely crucial game, it MIGHT make sense to start the 8th with him if you were tied or down one perhaps. But you’re speaking as if this should be SOP. Absolute lunacy! He would be totally overworked, and not available for save situations. Furthermore, we have a pretty reliable bullpen. Reed and Blevins in particular have been fantastic all year. Sometimes you have to use the softer part of your bullpen. That’s just how it goes. And you use them in games that you are already losing or have a big lead. Perfectly logical and acceptable managing. You simply have the most transparent of biases against Mr Collins and are grasping at straws to impugn him. This may be your most far fetched attempt yet. Utter nonsense!!!

  • Pete In Iowa

    Jason – Just as we will always refer to the ball club from Miami as the “goddamn Marlins” we are also fated to forever noting if any homer to left cleared the “Great Wall of Flushing.”

  • Matt in Richmond

    Pete in Iowa, I assume by your rather sarcastic comment that your contention would be that TC is too beholden to “the Book”. But actually he frequently goes well outside the box of what most timid managers are willing to do these days. Just look to last year and the borderline shocking number of times he brought Familia in in the 8th, for 4,5 even 6 out saves. He adjusted based on need. At the time, we had no other relievers that could be counted on, so he took measures risks.

    Im all for creative thinking and bucking tradition when there is a logical defense for it. I can even accept that there may be ultra rare occasions where it could make sense to bring a closer in on the road in a game you are losing in the 8th. But those would be very rare. There is a reason you’ve got so many arms down there. They need to pitch too, and burning out your closer in games you are already losing, risking not having him available for games you ARE winning is lunacy. Not progressive smart thinking.

    • Pete In Iowa

      Certainly not limited to TC Matt. ALL managers in nearly EVERY situation use their best reliever exclusively at the end of games. All for no other reason than following “The Book.” All I’m saying is that there’s little doubt a game’s deciding moment can come long before the ninth. In my mind, I would want my best option in there when I deem that defining moment has arrived, and not be bound by some silly, unwritten and all to common these days, “decorum.” This whole notion of relievers having “roles” is ridiculous, but alas, it’s part of “how the game has changed.” In many ways, in my opinion, for the worse.
      I admire Collins for his rather liberal use of Familia in the eighth (which, by the way, is approved by “The Book”). One needs to look no further than the fifth game against the Dodgers in the NLDS last year. In fact, I remember many posters here screaming when he used him in the opening week at Citi against the Phillies in the eighth to lock down that win. By the way, I’m also a believer that games in April are just as important as those later in the season. Where would we be today without that 8 game winning streak in April?

      • Matt in Richmond

        Pete, super easy to say that the deciding moment may come in the 6th, but for practical purposes it isn’t feasible to have the closer ready to come in at a moments notice throughout every inning. Plus, it is often only with the benefit of hindsight that you can pinpoint these “deciding moments”. So, we are back to, the majority of the time the only logical course is to use the closer at the end of the game.

        There are other unorthodox things Collins has done to prove he isn’t beholden to the book. He lets guys swing 3-0 when few managers would. He has tinkered with the lineup (pitcher batting 8th etc) He lets his pitchers swing when almost any manager would have them bunt. Ultimately, he is limited by the ability to execute of his players, but he has proven time and again to have the guts to make “non traditional” decisions.

  • eric1973

    Pete in Iowa, I believe they asked TC what his favorite book was, and he answered “THE BOOK!,” followed by “The Bible.”

    Amazing how some people think, given the choice, all things being equal, that it’s actually a better idea to use him in the 9th with a 9-run lead, rather than in the 8th, down one. Actually, no logical argument was provided for this preference of one over the other.

    • Matt in Richmond

      I have repeatedly actually. I can only assume at this point that you still fail to grasp some basic elements of the way the game of baseball works. When you are at home, you bat last. When you are on the road, you bat first.

      When this topic was first broached by you, you questioned why Familia wasn’t brought in to pitch in some of the games we were losing recently. You attempted to compare these games to ones a while back where he was brought in to pitch with big leads. The KEY element that you either forgot or didn’t understand was that those games were at home. Therefore he was pitching in the ninth inning. There was no chance of him being needed later in the game. It is perfectly logical to use your closer in a non save situation at home when he needs some work to avoid getting rusty. It is much trickier on the road. Just imagine the flack that Terry would take if he brought him in the 8th inning of a game we were losing by 2, he ends up throwing 25 pitches, we tie it in the top of the 9th but don’t have him for the bottom and some “lesser” reliever as you called them loses the game. He would be roasted for it, and frankly rightly so.

      The ONLY scenario where I can see bringing in the closer in a game you are losing in the 8th inning would involve IMO a very important game, a closer that hasn’t pitched in a week, a strong confidence that he can go 2 innings, and some off days coming up shortly. Otherwise it just goes against all logic. I hope you understand this now, and importantly, understand the huge difference between home and road strategy when it comes to bullpen usage.

      One last thing I would like to point out, is the huge OVER performance we have gotten from our pen this year, and the near superhuman performance from Familia. Our pen was pointed to as a preseason weak link, and it is been solid to spectacular nearly all year. The back end in particular has shone extra bright. Why do I point this out? Because it is utterly baffling to me why anyone would even dare to question how JF is being used. His performance speaks for itself. He is probably our MVP so far. He isn’t being overworked, but he is pitching a lot. Seems to me, TC has pretty much hit the sweet spot with him. Only someone obsessed with complaining about the manager would gripe about the bullpen decisions. There just isn’t any there there.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Apologies to the moderators and eric1973 for allowing anything personal to seep into my comments. I thought I was simply debating the merits of the original statement, but I am fond of TC and indeed most of these Mets players and therefore tend to get defensive when they are criticized, particularly for reasons that I feel are patently absurd. I am an enthusiastic debater by nature, but I will make sure to dial it back, and comment on only baseball, nothing personal whatsoever in the future. Thanks

  • eric1973

    It’s ok, Matt. You’re a great debater.

    ————————————

    If anyone could possibly ever have less RBIs than HRs, it would be Grandy.

    Sure, nobody ever gets on in front of him in this lineup, but hitting .200 for 3 years straight can’t help.

    So finally, he is injured (yay!!!!!)—–(it’s minor) —— so we get an infusion of new blood, who we can root for to ultimately take his place, until, of course, the bloom comes off the rose, and he is eventually sent down.

    Like Herrera (last year injured and ineffective), Plawecki, Conforto, etc.

    Herrera is no proven commodity, yet his name is constantly bandied about when resolving the infield situation.

  • mookie4ever

    Eric1973, ah yes, the Cubbies and their curses. Always a victim, first of a goat, then a black cat in 69, then another GOAT Murph last year. Yeah would be nice to win 1, 2 or 3 more games off them here. They’re obviously not impenetrable, didn’t they just get swept by Cards and lose 3/4 to Fish? It would be great timing for our Mets and a big confidence boost going into Fish & Nats series. Also be nice to shut Ricketts up. #LGM

  • […] that had never been touched were reached on Thursday. Players that had been barely seen became stars on Friday. Leads teetering on the brink of […]