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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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Seasons Change

A penny for my thoughts? The team for whose chances I wouldn’t have given you a plug nickel a few weeks ago proceeded to turn on a dime and play like a million bucks, yet on Thursday night my paid admission entitled me only to watch them not amount to two bits for most of the evening, yet I was willing to gamble that they might cash in on a couple of late opportunities and hit the jackpot.

That and $2.75 deducted from my Metrocard will get me on the 7 Super Express amidst the decidedly more upscale U.S. Open crowd, albeit without a win rattling around in my pocket.

To coin a translation for those who do everything via debit these days: The Mets lost to the Marlins, an entity comprised of characters you wouldn’t want to get stuck on an elevator with, 6-4. The score indicates a close affair. It was closer to close enough; not blown out, not really in it. It was a game to be grinned and borne. Our boys weren’t going to reel off 32 in a row to close the campaign. The series had already been secured. A sweep would have been sweet. Two behind the Cardinals with 28 remaining will do.

We’re now in the month when the bottom line grows firm. Good signs, bad signs…that’s for when you’re feeling your way into summer. On September 1, when night games are suddenly taking place almost all in darkness and light bay breezes portend heavy sweaters, there’s no time for figuring out how the hell we’re gonna get where we need to wind up.

Yet our Super Express is being held at the station by a signal problem, and not just Tim Teufel’s. The state of second base. The state of starting pitching. The state of the quads, knees and shoulders that aren’t necessarily officially disabled but in a less stakes-driven month would be. It’s September. You’re two games out. You use as many limbs and joints as you can. If they bark in the park, you give them a belly rub and let them nap for no more than a few innings.

The phrase “hot mess” would seem appropriate if it didn’t carry negative connotations. The Mets are still hot. They’ve won 9 of 12 and made up admirable and serious ground in their quest to return to the playoffs. But how are they not declared a Metropolitan disaster area? The litany of injuries is familiar and depressing enough to not require repeating the identities of all those who have left us for the duration. Of most concern in the present are those who are trying to play and whose play is literally being managed by a manager who has no better options than massaging partial off days out of a demanding schedule.

In real life, the one where we’re trying to catch one more team after passing two, you think you’d not start Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera — arguably your two most vital “everyday” players — in a game against one of your primary rivals? In a different real life, the one before the 9 of 12, you think you’d play them and their aching bodies at all? Terry Collins has little depth and no choice, yet he is compelled to stretch the former and parse the latter.

Rosters were expanded Thursday, and the Mets still don’t seem to have enough players. Until further figurings, Neil Walker’s absence looms as a very serious impediment to roster dexterity, though potentially a boon to Peyton Manning’s Sunday get-togethers, for if brother Eli can’t make it, there’s an overflow contingent of unoccupied Mets who can gingerly come over and partake of his nachos and DirecTV Sunday Ticket — and Peyton really does seem kind of lonely.

(They do show that commercial a lot.)

Kelly Johnson, a wonderful asset off the bench, is now half an everyday player. If a blow is needed around the infield (and Terry is the East Coast distributor of giving his players a blow), Kelly won’t be there because he’s otherwise engaged at second. Ditto for Wilmer Flores, whose versatility may not be as finely honed as Johnson’s but is intrinsic to his value. René Rivera finished the game as Met first baseman for the first time. Didn’t see that developing. Ty Kelly has returned. T.J. Rivera and Matt Reynolds presumably will soon. The pennant chase will be either their proving ground or our chances’ burial ground.

And speaking of Jacob deGrom (talk about burying the lede), geez Louise we’re likely screwed if he can’t be fixed. Not as simple as fixing a cat, I’ll bet. The bit in Thursday’s game where Jacob motioned to grim reaper Ray Ramirez provided the buzziest in-the-stands moment I can recall since Wilmer was and wasn’t traded thirteen months ago. From my perch in 410, I saw a pitcher with neither velocity nor command nearly escape with five innings of one-run ball on his ledger. Had he eluded the lights of the guard towers for just a few more feet, we’d be telling each other how he struggled but persevered and it was a step in the right direction (I memorized that speech from one of Matt Harvey’s more encouraging starts). Instead, with two outs in the fifth, Christian Yelich, who must be stopped before he multiplies, snuck an innocent ground ball into right field. It found a hole that opened into a chasm that swallowed deGrom’s outing in one forty-ounce Big Gulp.

Yelich was on first. Then Yelich was on second (Travis d’Arnaud must be a hoarder, ’cause he never throws anyone out). Then wildly swinging Jeff Francoeur wildly swung and doubled, leading to a second Marlin run and the burning question, “How is Jeff Francoeur still a thing?” Next, Xavier Scruggs flattened another deGrom delivery into another double and it was 3-0, by which time Jake had thrown about a thousand pitches, six of them for strikes. Ah, the perverse pleasures of exaggeration after an earnestly aggravating defeat.

Why exactly deGrom motioned for Ramirez became the stuff of urban legend. All of us whose lack of x-ray vision prevented us from seeing through the dugout walls imagined not so much the worst but perhaps an explanation. DeGrom kept the season aloft every fifth day and now he was crumpling it up and leaving it by the curb for recycling. If it was physical, at least we could have a logical point from whence our darkest fears could overtake our imaginations.

But no such, uh, luck. Terry didn’t know what his interrogators were talking about after the game. Jake and Ray Who? Nah, never heard of either of ’em. Jake said something about mechanics and not falling off the mound the way he wanted to. Whatever. Nothing was mentioned about the cribbage match he and the team trainer had to get back to pronto. That had to be it, since Jacob swore he was fine.

The Mets trailed, 3-0, when deGrom was done, but they kept pushing. Josh Smoker pitched a perfect top of the sixth. Jay Bruce hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the sixth, which I called, not out of deeply held faith that Bruce was gonna come through for us and begin a monster September every bit as big as his August was small, but because, “Watch this, he’s gonna hit one now with the bases empty after all the times he’s done nothing with runners on.”

And people call me the optimistic one.

Bruce’s bomb to right ignited the BRUUUUUCE graphics package Citi Field’s A/V squad probably forgot it had created. We were back in the game, and if Smoker could be as good in the seventh as he was in the sixth…nah, that didn’t happen. He put the first two Marlins on before Yelich — who overcame a Brant Brown faux pas pretty quickly, damn it — hit a fly ball that might have been caught a couple of iterations of Citi Field ago, but we now play in something of a band box. Great when it works for us. Sucks when it works for others. The Marlins led, 6-1.

These 2016 Mets, though, they don’t fade to black like those 2016 Mets were known to (say, how is it we never see these 2016 Mets and those 2016 Mets in the same stadium?). New York newcomer Fernando Salas picked up for Smoker despite one of the diehard true believers behind me greeting his arrival with, “GREAT, ANOTHER WILPON SPECIAL. THEY GET THREE DAYS TO REPORT AND HE’S HERE TONIGHT, PROBABLY BECAUSE THE ANGELS COULDN’T WAIT TO PUT HIM ON A PLANE. I’LL BET THEY PAID THE METS TO TAKE HIM, THAT’S HOW BAD THIS GUY IS.”

Now that’s a scouting report you can take to the winter meetings.

Salas was fine, as was Sean Gilmartin and his 88 MPH fastball, which got us to the bottom of the eighth, which encompassed the great tease of Thursday night. Curtis Granderson doubled. Johnson singled. Bruce singled with a man on. The deficit was reduced to four runs, which is possible to eliminate with one swing under the right circumstances. When Flores walked, those circumstances arose. Michael Conforto, all crispy after his stay in Las Vegas, was the batter, having doubled in his first plate appearance and briefly embarrassed a clanking Yelich in his third. Man, how perfect would it be if Conforto laced into a Kyle Barraclough pitch and put a crooked number on the board?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know how perfect it would be because it failed to occur. Michael, bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America. Instead of doing anything that would have been remotely helpful, he grounded to Barraclough, who took a big bite out of our rally by turning it into a 1-2-3 double play. We still had second and third, and still had Cespedes the Lion King pinch-hitting, but even Send In The Clowns, Official Party Provider of the New York Mets, suggested we could follow Dandy Don Meredith’s advice and turn out the lights. Cespedes went down swinging.

The great tease was over, though a modest tease loitered in the ninth. D’Arnaud reached on an overturned call at first — do umpires even watch plays anymore? — and Cabrera, temporarily cast as a pinch-hitter, homered. It was 6-4. I looked forward to Bruce coming up with a runner on and making me eat my fatalistic words, but our last glimpse at him was in the on-deck circle as the third of three hasty outs was recorded.

Nevertheless, the baseball equivalent of the 28-hour Texarkana-to-Atlanta trail from Smokey and the Bandit is in progress. You don’t need GPS to understand the logistics. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there. Maybe we can still make it if we can keep the Trans Am in one piece.

***

For another perspective on this very same game that no doubt you can’t get enough of, I recommend a visit to the exceedingly excellent Shea Bridge Report, whose gifted resident author, James Schapiro, joined me Thursday at Citi Field. We spent much of our pregame sorting through the detritus of imploded relievers from the previous decade, but unlike our rear-row neighbor, at least we waited for them to implode before picking over their bones. I don’t know what Fernando Salas will do for the Mets between now and October 2 (or beyond, knock wood), but based on recollections raised from James’s and my conversation, I’d already rank him ahead of Ricardo Rincon, Aaron Sele and Ambiorix Burgos, with Luis Ayala and Scott Schoeneweis in plain sight.

18 comments to Seasons Change

  • kdbart

    You can always count on #MetsTwitter to be sensible. For the past couple weeks, it’s been clamoring, “Why are we wasting at bats on DE Aza”, for the return of a hot hitting Conforto from Las Vegas. As soon as he hit into the DP, it became “Send him back down”. “He’s awful and a bust.”

    The life of #MetsTwitter. The team wins 9 of 11 to get back to 1.5 games of the WC. Bandwagon fills up with fans for the chase. Lose one game, bandwagon rapidly empties with screams of “Season’s Over!!” and is lit on fire with occupants still on it.

  • eric1973

    Thought TC should have hit for C onforto while the iron was hot. I know you cannot expect to win 32 in a row, so the base ball gods must have made this decision..

  • Greg Mitchell

    Smoker has been a one-inning pitcher his entire career, now several years long (you can look it up). Yet he got a second inning–even after trading for Salas for depth–and was still in after one hit, then another. Oh yeah, and then lefty got to face lefty.

    Still mocking NY Times ten days ago claiming deGromm worn out? Even after 1) he agreed 2) Terry agreed 3) Terry tried to skip a start, though only ended up a bit delayed 4) after his struggles last night? Oh, that’s right, he struck out five, so he must be as good as new.

    No problem with Conforto hitting with bases loaded. Had hit two shots.

  • Dennis

    Would have liked the sweep but hard to complain about taking 3 of 4. Winning series is what it’s about.

  • Rob E.

    Whether deGrom is worn out or not isn’t really the question…the question is WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO ABOUT IT? What are the OPTIONS? We are already down Harvey and Matz and people complain that we’re throwing Montero and Lugo out there in big games. So if you shut down or skip deGrom on top of that, now you have to add a Gilmartin or Ynoa into the mix in a pennant race.

    You seem to want EVERYTHING here. You want them to treat these pitchers with the kiddest of gloves (you also complained about them pushing Matz and Syndergaard), and then you want them to also have Harvey/Matz/deGrom V2 waiting in Vegas to just step right in and take over (along with clairvoyance regarding which relievers to use and when and for how long). It’s not reasonable to expect all of this.

    It’s September baseball…EVERYONE is tired and banged up. This is what the game is about. If you want to shut down key pitchers to protect them, fine, but then don’t also complain when they slip out of the race. You can justify either path, but pick ONE because we almost certainly can’t go down BOTH.

    • Seth

      The reason people want EVERYTHING is because we know NOTHING about deGrom’s issues, or what to do about it (your exact first question). No one has an answer, so…. we carry on.

  • Gil

    The long hair, in his post game, mentioned in ’14 he had a few bad starts in a row. He also said there is nothing physically wrong. But alas, I’m as mystified as Terry and everyone else who saw that motion from deGrom before heading down the tunnel. Did he motion for him because, like Nelson Figurola (purposefully spelling his name wrong because I loathe him) suggested, deGrom wanted someone to supervise him hitting an innate object with a bat to let out his frustrations? Nelson also went on to say that the Mets could gain some ground on the Nationals this upcoming series… Nelson, there are 29 to play and they are 9.5 games ahead of us. Goodness, I miss Bobby O.
    I think we can only hope that he sleeps it off and that its just one of those things that can be fixed with a BP session or looking at some tape. Shoot, sometimes the ball just feels different in your hands. Its baseball, by god, who could possibly know why he’s lost his command! All we can do is hope he finds it.

    Lets get these Gnats. Another huge series. Looking forward to Lugo on the 4th taking on Wild Eyes, but who can look past mighty Thor? Time to get mean.

    LGM!!!

  • LeClerc

    Where’s Rafael Montero when we need him ?!

  • Kevin From Flushing

    “Bruce’s bomb to right ignited the BRUUUUUCE graphics package Citi Field’s A/V squad probably forgot it had created”

    https://youtu.be/qmaiQhiOFC8?t=9s

  • Pete In Iowa

    No doubt, this game turned on one pitch.
    After retiring the first two in the fifth, DeGrom had Yelich 1-2. Next pitch (too good on 1-2), base hit. Ball game.
    So it goes….
    Really need to take 2 of 3 from Nats. Thor MUST be Thor tonight. I kind of like our chances of taking one of the next two with Gs and Lugo.
    LGM!!!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I figured Conforto and his .850 (or whatever) Las Vegas Batting Average would hit into a double play in that situtation, but I didn’t think he’d get so creative about it that he’d find a way to do it without a run scoring. This loss is on him, with help from Smoker, and Collins for leaving Smoker in there. Mets really really coulda won this one. Welcome back Michael.

  • Matt in Richmond

    As optimistic as I’ve been about the team as a whole (and as much as they’ve proven me right to be so) the biggest niggling concern I’ve had is that the loss of Duda might be the one injury we couldn’t overcome. As admirable a job as Loney has done, there is a reason he was essentially unwanted by the entire rest of the league. It’s hard to win with a first baseman that provides as little oomph as he does. He mitigated his lack of power with a whole lot of soft hits early on, but lately his lack of production has become harder to overlook.

    The good news is that we are starting to get contributions from just about every other spot in the order. If that can continue, than with enough pitching we could overcome this obstacle. I just think it’s ironic that the injury that has probably been the most overlooked by the average fan is in fact the one that could have the biggest impact. In the meantime

    LGM

  • eric1973

    Nope, sorry, don’t need Duda. He was a black hole in themiddle of the lineup for the majority of the year. Flores is better than he was, is more clutch, and given a full season would hit more homers than Duda.

    And about last night, does anyone seriously think that C onforto, a minor leaguer having a horrible season, was a better choice than Ces in that situation. No way.

  • Matt in Richmond

    That’s your perception but it isn’t reality. Duda last 2 years average OPS of .834 and average WAR of 3.3. James Loney average OPS of .675 and WAR of negative 0.6.

    Wilmer isn’t really a first baseman, but even if you are going to use him as a comparison, his numbers are OPS .744 and WAR 0.6.

    Duda is actually quite more valuable than either of them. His cold streaks are frustrating, but his hot streaks win games, plain and simple. Plus, his mere presence in the lineup helps everyone.

    Not sure what the gripe is regarding Cespedes. Conforto had hit 2 ropes so far, and YC got his chance anyway and struck out.

  • Eric

    Conforto’s double play was a big letdown.

    deGrom continuing to struggle is the big takeaway. If the Mets lost with deGrom’s ace back on track, it wouldn’t have been a win, but the game still would have been an encouraging development for the stretch run.

    deGrom’s continuing struggle is better than losing another key Met for the season, but it’s in that ballpark for handicapping effect and fan concern.

    The Mets are in the WC race and that’s a gift, but deGrom’s outing is a sobering reminder that staying up in the race is going to be a struggle.

  • eric1973

    Amazing how every infielder plays every infield position,and every outfielder plays every outfield position. Never seen anything like it.

    BTW, rooting for a .500 team to make the playoffs is bound to be frustrating, as it’s win, lose, win, lose, etc.

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