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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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Bystanders

It happens sometimes: life, that amorphous bundle of stuff, refuses to conform itself to the rhythms of 7:10 and 1:10 and 4:10. I thought I had my July 4th parceled out so three hours were reserved for the Mets game, but I hadn’t been paying attention to which day was which.

I’ve got a mental list of about 50,000 favorite things about baseball. Near the top you’ll find how the game stays rewarding at many different levels of engagement. You can watch in “lean-forward” mode, scrutinizing every pitch and trying to think along with the pitcher and the catcher against the hitters, in hopes of cracking the code and predicting victory or defeat. Or you can watch in lazy “lean-back” mode, letting the game be a companion as you do errands, read magazines, or just loll on the couch. (You might even nod off and miss an inning or four.) They’re very different experiences, both far better than an afternoon or evening featuring no baseball.

Then there’s the phenomenon of the game that happens without you, which is an odd mix — at least for me — of philosophy and superstition.

When I had to check out of Independence Day’s Mets-Marlins tilt, it didn’t seem like much of a tragedy.

First, I’d watched the Mets and every other team take the field in ridiculous MLB-mandated clown suits. I’m all for supporting our troops — we’ve collectively failed, as we collectively fail at so many things these days, at ensuring returning veterans get educational and job opportunities for their service and support for dealing with physical and mental injuries suffered during that service. But it’s beyond me why supporting that worthy goal means baseball teams should look like your TV’s on the fritz. The Stars-N-Stripes uniforms looked objectively terrible, like some intern went on Photoshop, slid team colors vaguely in the direction of red and blue, flung a cut-rate cap into the mix and logged off.

A suggestion for MLB: quit half-assing the aesthetics. How about putting each team in a uniform inspired by a military unit from its state? Here’s the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum in upstate New York. Design a July 4th Mets uniform inspired by that insignia and those colors. Or do something else — if my two-minute idea is already better than what MLB does, I’m sure smarter people could come up with something really compelling. What we’re getting now is an unholy mess.

(Before we charge on into Matt Harvey, did anyone catch the Nats and Brewers playing at 11 a.m.? The Brewers were caught batting out of order, which means Ryan Braun‘s single became an out charged to Jonathan Lucroy, who’d been the scheduled batter, and credited to catcher Wilson Ramos, who’d had nothing to do with anything. Lucroy then came up the second time through the order and lined out on the first pitch he saw. Which meant that, yes, Jonathan Lucroy was 0 for 2 in the box score after seeing one pitch in real life. It’s an unfair game.)

Anyway, Harvey took the hill for the Mets, looked good in the first and then stuff started happening. As has happened in a number of his 2016 starts, Harvey’s pitches were missing that little bit of finish that would make sliders dip across the margins of the strike zone and make fastballs wiggle in it. A bunch of those pitches got hit. So too did some better pitches that the Marlins happened to place fair — something we thought was dandy when it befell Jon Lester but were less amused by yesterday. And there were some things that could have gone Harvey’s way but didn’t: in the second, it looked like Mets would escape down just 1-0 after Chris Johnson was tagged out trying to advance to second. But the umps ruled — correctly — that Johnson had made it there safely. Three more hits, two more runs and a bunch more pitches followed.

Harvey made his own bad luck in the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, Martin Prado hit a one-hop grounder that Harvey fielded on the mound. A simple throw to Travis d’Arnaud, waiting with his foot on home plate, a relay to the sure-handed James Loney at first, and the inning would be over with the Mets down a not-insurmountable 3-0. Harvey spiked the ball into the dirt wide of d’Arnaud, then gave up a two-run single to Christian Yelich. 6-0 Marlins, exit Harvey attended by a whole lot of boos.

By that point I was prepping for the dinner I’d failed to account for schedule-wise. I heard Josh Lewin burbling outside of the shower (he was on At Bat, not seated on my toilet — that would have been strange for both of us) and emerged to find nothing substantive had changed. D’Arnaud hit a homer, followed by Curtis Granderson doing the same, but those seemed cosmetic and I headed out the door for dinner with my wife and her father-in-law having written this one off.

Between the appetizer and the main course, news gleaned from a surreptitious phone peek: it was 6-4.

More news a bit later from MLB In Lap: it was 6-4 but the Mets had runners on second and third with nobody out. That’s when the Mets have been least dangerous this year, but two things: a) you should read this nifty FanGraphs piece I keep failing to find a place for; and b) it feels like the worm’s turned over the last several days, as that piece suggested it might.

And indeed, a glance lapward as dinner ended showed that somehow it was 6-6. Amazin’!

Here’s where the philosophy/superstition arrives. Despite being a generally rational human being in an age of science, I find it hard not to believe that the universe — or at least the baseball part of it — is governed by laws about karma and right practice. I’d gone AWOL on the Mets when it was 6-2 and in my absence they’d tied the game. Clearly, if I reappeared as a fan I would be punished for dereliction of duty.

We went home and turned on the set.

After d’Arnaud got aboard on an infield hit, I knew Terry Collins would do two things, neither of which I approved of: a) he would give up a precious out by bunting; and b) he would not run for d’Arnaud because it was theoretically possible that Rene Rivera would get injured in the 512th inning. And so it was: Juan Lagares bunted d’Arnaud over, Granderson flied out, Neil Walker did what his name suggests (walking, not kneiling) and up stepped Yoenis Cespedes.

And well, ker-blam, up the gap on Fernando Rodney, shorn of his goatee by the Marlins and shorn of his skyward arrow by the Mets, at least for a day. So much for superstition and decrying 19th century strategy.

Enter Jeurys Familia and bring on some nail-biting. Perhaps feeling invulnerable after escaping my karmic comeuppance, I offered a semi-prediction with Johnson at the plate, one out and Familia’s pitch count in the 20s.

“This isn’t the guy who scares me in a situation like this,” I said. “Johnson’s a .248 hitter who’s already got three hits on the day. The guy who scares me is the .300 hitter who’s oh for five.”

Two pitches later, Johnson hit a perfect double-play ball to Asdrubal Cabrera. It’s nice to be right once in a while, even if you feel like you don’t deserve it.

21 comments to Bystanders

  • Matt in Richmond

    Bravo Mets! What a clutch time to come up with 5 great games, and in doing so, answer many of the concerns (real or manufactured) that had crept up in the previous weeks. Is the rotation sound? Yes. Can these guys score runs without homers? Yes. Is this team deep and talented enough to compete for October? Emphatic yes.

    On a different note, I wonder if the esteemed management of this wonderful site can lend me a hand. I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of this ongoing discussion regarding the use of Familia in non save situations, and in frustration have come across in a tone that I don’t wish to. My dilemma boils down to this. I love debating nuanced and complex issues in life, politics, sports whatever. I am open minded and smart enough to realize that I do not have all the answers…not even close. However, some things are opinion with shades of grey and some are just flat out right or wrong. I am quite certain this discussion falls into the latter category.

    Every single closer who has every manned the position has pitched in non save situations. This is not an opinion, this is a verifiable truism, and one doesn’t need to be a master logician to figure out why. If a manager were to hold out his closer for save situations only, there could be multiple occurrences where he may not pitch for week(s) at a time. Furthermore, and even more maddening, was the suggestion made by a couple of people on here, that after Terry used him in a blowout and he didn’t pitch well, that the next time a blowout situation came around and he didn’t put Familia in, that this was a sign that TC had “learned something”. Now again, this is on it’s face a preposterous assertion and devoid of any logic whatsoever. The scenarios are not the same. One time, JF had thrown something like 10 pitches in the previous 4 days, the other he had just converted 2 saves in 3 days.

    My appeal to you; I don’t wish to discuss this subject anymore. I don’t wish to get frustrated and say something unkind. The simple solution would be to just ignore the comments, and I wish I was that mature. I’m working on it. My appeal to you, as wonderful writers and communicators, and super intelligent baseball fans would be to say something on this topic and perhaps put it to bed once and for all.

    • Lord knows I’m all for THIS SETTLES IT, but absent marble tablets handed down from the baseball gods I don’t think we’re going to get there on this one.

      The arguments I find most compelling call for not pitching to the save rule at all — the highest-leverage situation may come in an earlier inning, yet no manager is blamed if the third-best middle reliever gives up a three-run homer in the 6th so the game’s lost by the 9th and the closer never stirs from the bullpen.

      There’s no manager brave enough to run a team that way, though. As with most everything, I blame Tony La Russa.

      As I see it, the arguments against not pitching to the save rule are primarily that players have roles and routines and don’t do well outside of them. I do give some credence to that, and think stats guys shouldn’t be as dismissive of it as they sometimes are. But the way I see it, now we’re arguing about a much smaller subset of situations — “OK, perhaps it’s dumb that the closer only pitches the 9th or maybe occasionally appears in the 8th, but since we can’t change that I think it would be less dumb to do X.” And at that point to me it’s like lineup construction — it’s just not worth the fight.

      Hope that doesn’t come across as a cop-out. I get annoyed when people’s answer is to try and change the parameters of the discussion, but I just did that.

  • Gil

    Nice job, Jason.

    AM Radio on the 4th of July listening to my Mets fight back was a nice way to celebrate.

    Time to make up some ground on the Nats. LGM!

  • Pete In Iowa

    Jason – Generally speaking, I’ve come around to your opinion of giving up an out to sacrifice, but not because of the explosion of sabermetic nuances. Rather, I have come to this stance based upon the fact that so few players can bunt any more. Years ago, it used to be that a sacrifice would yield the desired result 95 percent of the time. Since the “game has changed” however, I’d like to see what the percentage is for successful sac bunts these days. I’d be surprised if it’s better than 70 – 75% (especially for non-pitchers). If players could bunt these days, I’d take a runner at second with one out most of the time. Unfortunately, a team winds up with a runner at first and one out way too many times these days to make it a smart move.

    • That’s a good point about bunting being a lost art — Lagares, to his credit, laid down a beauty yesterday.

      Re the larger point, though, this is the chart I always come back to when thinking about bunts.

      The key question here is: What are the chances of scoring at least one run in a given situation? (Note we’re talking about situations where you don’t care how many runs you score as long as you score at least one.)

      So no outs and runner on first, your chances of scoring at least one run are 43.5%
      One out and a runner on second, your chances of scoring at least one run drop to 41.4%.

      A lot depends on who’s at the plate, of course: even an old-school manager like Terry won’t ask Cespedes to bunt there or have Bartolo swing away. But unless the hitter at the plate is terrible (in which case why is he at the plate?) it’s clear that the sac bunt is a bad play in that situation. It makes it slightly less likely that you’ll achieve the goal the bunt is designed to accomplish.

      Which isn’t a blanket prohibition against sac bunts. Here’s another situation from that table:
      No outs and runners on first and second, your chances of scoring at least one run are 63.6%.
      One out and runners on second and third, your chances of scoring at least one run rise to 68.6%.

      Again, you’d want to think about who the hitter is, what kind of pitcher’s on the mound, etc. But the sac bunt is a lot better option in that situation.

      I like that table because it doesn’t demand an advanced class in stats, which I’d fail, and it doesn’t ask you to accept everything that goes into FIP or WAR. Just simple probabilities based on 100 years of baseball outcomes.

      • Pete In Iowa

        Wow, that’s a cool chart. Just goes to show that statistical analysis exists for just about everything these days! One correction. In your second example, you should list ONE out and second and third at 68.6% – still a statistical advantage.
        Not surprised that Lagares got that bunt down. I’ve noticed more and more from him this year (in particular) of playing good, heady “old style” ball. You know, getting down the bunt, hustling out of the box, throwing to the right base, hitting cutoffs, backing up other outfielders, etc.

        • Fixed, thanks. It is a cool chart, isn’t it?

          And agree on Lagares — been fun to watch him improve as a player in ways a lot of guys don’t.

  • Dennis

    I hear you Matt regarding the endless “save or nonsave” discussion. And great point about the closer pitching in nonsave situations as being a fact……I went onto the Retrosheet website and in looking at the 2015 season, within a few minutes I found 3 instances like that for other teams, and that was without putting much of an effort into searching for that.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Thanks Jason. Certainly there are nearly endless situations where a viable debate could be had about when to bring in the closer or not. The specific argument I’m talking about came about when some commenters complained about JF coming in during a blowout game. They contended it was a waste to use him and one even proclaimed that TC was going to burn him out. It progressed from there to where they were flatly stating that it’s stupid to use a closer in such a situation and have held to that hard line (completely erroneous) position ever since. They apparently are unfamiliar with the concept of a closer needing to get some work in even though that has existed since the advent of the closer position. And once again the flawed logic that they used to belittle TC as having “learned something” when he didn’t put JF in the next game they had a big lead in the 9th. First time he needed the work, second time he didn’t. Pretty simple actually.

    I hope that makes the parameters of this topic clearer. If not, it’s my fault for not being able to explain it in a more succinct manner.

    • Nah, my fault for chasing a rabbit.

      Guys gotta get in work vs. guys are arguably more likely to do poorly outside of their usual role. Two perfectly fine arguments there, seems to me.

      I get annoyed when pitches get wasted — you can argue that this year’s starters have had to contend with the effects of a lot of October pitches thrown, and I thought it was crazy to leave Syndergaard in to chase a complete game a while back. But that’s starters. Relievers are different beasts.

      Familia getting in an inning when he hasn’t pitched in a few days seems like basic staff maintenance to me; Familia coming in when he arguably doesn’t need work and the Mets are up 4 or 5 seems dumb. Of course reasonable folks may see those situations differently; I confess I haven’t been hugely attuned to which might be which.

  • Luis

    Should Harvey ever stop throwing balls in the middle of the strike zone he might have a well pitched game…

  • Matt in Richmond

    Fair enough. The end result is that Familia is having an absolutely phenomenal year which might cause one to wonder, what are we having this discussion about in the first place? As I have said before, there just isn’t any there there.

  • Greg Mitchell

    The whole argument about Familia and potential over-use gets obscured (willfully, I believe) by referring to “save situations.” It’s such an artificial rule–and label. The issue is using often-overworked closers when far ahead in a game, however many runs you define that as. Unfortunately I have heard Terry several times refer to bringing in Familia because it was suddenly a “save situation” rather than just saying “the score was getting tighter and Posey was on deck.”

    As for pitchers “needing work”: The same people who will say after a reliever, who has just worked three days in a row gets bombed on day four, “you can’t prove there is any connection,” will then argue the proven, slam-dunk value of pitching an inning in a blowout after sitting out a few days.

    In fact, the whole argument here began after Familia was brought into that fabled blowout, and a few days later, after pitching heavily in that period, had his one very bad series of games all season. Other times he has pitched a lot and survived–but pitch counts were probably quite different.

    The argument against “pitching because he needs work even in a blowout” is mainly that you don’t know what run of games is coming up for the closer. It’s a completely different scenario when, let’s say, there’s a scheduled day off the next day, or two in the next four days. No problem in that case. But Terry has used Familia in blowouts when a big weekend series, or a run of 12 straight days with games, is coming up. Sometimes he is then not needed that weekend–great. Other times he has to pitch 3 or 4 days in a row–not so great.

    So when you hail “getting his work in” you have to also acknowledge the times, at least once a month, where Terry then announces, perhaps before a key game, “Familia is not available at all today.” At least partly because he was called on to hold a six- or ten-run lead a few days back.

    • Seems fair to me. Again, I don’t remember the particulars which started the argument. Which let’s please not relitigate. (A request I’m making of everyone, not anyone specifically.)

      One thing I try to do as a recapper is call it fairly based on what I thought at the time — bringing in Reliever X or playing hit-and-run with Hitter Y, say — and not on the outcome of the play. I think that’s important in such debates … except here, as you note, you may not know what the future holds and won’t know if a call was right for a few days. (If at all.) Maybe your closer is rusty Thursday but then you need him in all three weekend games. Maybe you worry about that and so don’t use him and then you get three blowouts, pitch him in the last one and he gives up four runs and everyone moans.

      Just Reason #189,355 that it’s a heckuva lot easier to be one of us than a manager.

      By the way, I appreciate that after a recent run to the contrary folks are being less personal, for the most part. Please keep it so. It’s fun reading smart comments about baseball and weighing in. It is not fun — at all — editing comments and giving folks vacations, or clicking over to one’s own blog dreading having to do one or the other.

  • Matt in Richmond

    “Reason # 189,355 that it’s a heckuva lot easier to be one of us than a manager”. A big Amen to that. Just a couple more points to throw out, the Mets have the 4th best record in all of baseball in 1 run games which doesn’t seem to point to any bullpen mismanagement. As to concerns over Familia being overworked, there is no discernible evidence of that and remember that last year he was frequently asked to get 4,5 even 6 out saves. This year the setup guys have done well enough that that hasn’t been necessary. Also, to my eye, as a sinker ball pitcher Familia tends to struggle more when he’s TOO rested and have better control and movement when he’s used frequently.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Jason, thanks for bringing up the oddity of batting out of order in the Brewers-Nats game. The flip side of Lucroy being 0-for-2 after seeing one pitch, is that “improper” batter Ryan Braun saw 4 pitches from Scherzer in the first inning, when “proper” batter Lucroy was called out for the third out. Since officially, Lucroy made the last out. Braun, who followed him in the order, then led off the second inning, and saw 6 more pitches before grounding out to third. A tip of the cap to Dusty Baker for knowing exactly when to make the appeal. It’s not something that happens every day.

  • eric1973

    Really cool to see everybody participating in interesting baseball discussions without personalities getting in the way.

    How about this?
    All things being equal, and I mean all things, would TC (or anyone) use JF DOWN 10 runs if he needed the work, or is it solely reserved for UP 10 runs, because he gets to close out a victory. Should be both if he needed the work, but I would tend to think not.

    Call me crazy (and many here have), but those psychological things are damn (sorry — language) interesting to me.

  • Matt in Richmond

    The answer is yes eric. Again, ALL closers throughout history have been sent out to pitch in non save situations when they need work. In fact, my understanding is that very often the manager has predetermined that closer “X” is getting an inning tonight regardless of the score or situation. If you think about it, how else could it be done? If you keep waiting for a save situation, or even a high leverage situation, you could conceivably have that closer rotting for a week or 2 with no chance to pitch.

    And by the way, I don’t think you’re crazy. Even though I’ve often disagreed with you (strenuously) you’re clearly a thoughtful and intelligent fan. The only time I thought you sounded a little crazy was a couple of weeks ago when you said only a simpleton would be optimistic at this point. Maybe now you’d like to take that back? Or perhaps you were just baiting me.

  • eric1973

    Definetely baiting, and my apologies, Matt. I accept my share of blame.

    With this team, there is always reason to be optimistic. Very talented bunch who just needs to play up to their capabilities.

    One thing we agreed on, I remember, is Robles. It looks like our man has turned the corner here, and is turning into a dependable fine reliever.

    • Stephen Kairys

      Eric,
      Good point about Robles. I think the game that turned it around for him may have been when he had to relieve Colon in the 1st inning when Bart took that ball off his hand vs. KC.