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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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Countdown to the Final Four

The Mets are 84-74. They have never, in the history of the franchise, been 84-74 before. There is no inherent significance to having achieved this statistical milestone. It’s simply something I deduced after staring at their record for a moment.

To have ever been 84-74, the Mets would have — in the segments of their past that were less than illustrious but more than intolerable — had to have ended a season with between 84 and 88 wins.

They’ve never ended with 84.

They’ve never ended with 85.

They’ve ended 86-76 once, in 1976, but after 158 games were 86-72, on their second of five consecutive losses that took a bit of the shine off an otherwise rousing finishing kick (34-16 in their previous 50) that was, sadly, a harbinger of absolutely nothing where the immediate future was concerned.

They’ve ended 87-75 once, in 1989, but after 158 games were 83-75, letting down everybody in sight before sweeping a four-game series in Pittsburgh to make the year look better than it felt.

They’ve ended 88-74 three times. Once, in 1997, it couldn’t have been sweeter; twice, in 1998 and 2007, it couldn’t have been more sour, proving perhaps that numbers are only numbers until they are cast into context. The 1997 team was a scrappy unit that rose from the depths of a theretofore dismal decade and delighted us diehards with provisional progress that promised even better days ahead. The 1998 and 2007 teams crafted and carried expectations that wound up crushing them in their respective final weeks. 1997’s quiet ascension is rarely broadly invoked despite the invigorating leap forward it encompassed. 1998’s fast fade lingers a little louder in the collective subconscious, though ultimately its generational pain was eased by the rewarding seasons that lay directly ahead of it. Historically, it was consigned to also-collapsed status by the next 88-74 season to come along. 2007 endures as a legend of the genre.

What binds the three 88-74 finishes in Mets history, for our current observational purposes, is none of them occurred after an 84-74 pit stop. I clearly remember how each of those years’ final four games played out: 3-1 in ’97, 0-4 (80% of an 0-5 free fall) in ’98, 1-3 in ’07. Because I know how those endings unspooled and can do a little Base 162 arithmetic, I know no Mets team that could have been 84-74 ever was 84-74.

And? And I guess it goes to show that when you get to this juncture of a very long season, you realize that though the vast majority of games are put in the books, it’s the palmful yet to be played that can still define what the season was and how it will be recalled.

After 158 games of 1976, 1989 and 1997, all that was left to be determined was which numbers would be written in ink. Those Mets’ seasons were already defined as whatever they were. Their spurts of contention, whether illusory or exhilarating, were over. But after 158 games of 1998 and 2007 — plus a few other years when the records may have been markedly different but the stakes at hand were essentially the same — we didn’t know what we had and required the entire schedule to play out.

Which returns us to our present 84-74 circumstances, elevated from 83-74 following a rollicking Tuesday night victory in Miami. The Mets beat the Marlins, 12-1, pitching wonderfully and hitting spectacularly. Noah Syndergaard was back on the hill and strepless as could be for six innings: no walks, five hits, eight strikeouts. Jay Bruce’s bat, recently thawed from cold storage, continued to scald. He landed a two-run homer in Dee Gordon territory in the second and whacked everything with authority all night. Yoenis Cespedes, whose slumps last only as long as it takes to realize they’re occurring, launched a ball past the adorably garish monstrosity in center (no, not you, Christian Yelich) and presumably sculpted a hole in the ozone layer with his third-inning missile into space.

Yo’s blast made the score 4-1, where it stayed stuck for much of the evening, but like a 158-game record in the midst of a 162-game season, it was bound to change. After hitting into a bit of bad luck here and there, the Mets plowed through another National League East bullpen in the late innings, adding five runs in the eighth and three in the ninth. The most encouraging contributions were elicited from Lucas Duda, 2-for-3 with three RBIs and perhaps emerging as the starting first baseman he used to be before four months of injury inactivity, and Juan Lagares, a barely distinguishable speck on the DL radar who is suddenly revealing he can not only run, catch and throw, but swing. Juan chipped in a tack-on sacrifice fly that would rate zero mention, except Juan and his surgically repaired thumb ligaments weren’t supposed to be able to grip a stick of lumber for any purpose larger than bunting.

In the words of Curt Gowdy from the 1969 World Series highlight film, “Some bunt.” No, Lagares in Game 158 at Marlins Park didn’t go yard like Dave McNally (let alone Donn Clendenon or Al Weis) in Game Five at Shea Stadium, but just the thought that he might be a capable righthanded bat in the four games ahead…and any games beyond that…is a small miracle unto itself. Duda, too. Didn’t see either of them coming, or coming back, but that’s been the Mets’ way in 2016. After this chronically decimated team took the last two of four in San Francisco in August to put them at exactly .500, the goal — in my head, at any rate — was win every series. Do that, and they could conceivably compete for a playoff slot. Given how they’d performed most of the summer, that kind of output would be a miracle.

Twelve series remained, ten with three games, two with four. My aspiration for them was therefore a 26-12 record over their final 38 games, which would land them at 88-74. In 1997, 1998 and 2007, that was enough to book passage directly into the offseason. It wouldn’t have done them any good in 1976 or 1989, either. But this is the age of the Second Wild Card. 88-74 looked pretty solid from the vantage point of 62-62 considering where all other prospective foes stood five weeks ago.

Here we are, 84-74, with not quite every series thus far taken, but enough contests captured in the interim to catapult the Mets into a slim yet stubborn lead for the First Wild Card: a half-game ahead of the Giants, a game-and-half better than the Cardinals. Each contender scored twelve runs on Tuesday and each put pressure on the others. The Mets may have to win 88 games to ensure playing more than 162. It’s possible a slightly lesser number will take care of business, but that’s not desirable to consider. We need every available win just as we need every available body. We need Duda. We need Lagares. We need Bruce and Cespedes and tonight’s starting pitcher Seth Lugo. We could use Wilmer Flores, but probably won’t be able to, which is why noticing Juan’s refreshed skill set provided such a pleasant revelation. We will definitely need Thor again, maybe this Sunday, maybe next Wednesday. We may need a starting pitcher between Sunday and Wednesday if things shake out weirdly enough.

We need the Mets to excel over their final four games, the four games that will define what kind of story we will eventually tell about 2016. I’m hesitant to put a precise number on it, but 88-74 certainly sounds like a happy ending.

29 comments to Countdown to the Final Four

  • Matt in Richmond

    “…the adorably garish monstrosity in center (no, not you, Christian Yelich)…” Thank you for that unexpected early morning laugh.

    What a bizarre statistical quirk. (84-74) But in a season as odd as this one, maybe it makes sense to add another unique layer to it.

    I guess Noah was fine after all. Quite a statement outing by him.

    Many kudos to Bruce for having the wherewithal to snap out of his funk, and Collins for having the wisdom to keep playing him. I’ve kept saying our upside is greater with him in there, just as our upside was always limited with Loney instead of Duda at first. I say that despite having a lot of appreciation for the job Loney did filling in. He didn’t kill us….but he’s limited. Duda is special, and despite his propensity for cold streaks and too many strikeouts, he wins games and strengthens the lineup. So glad to have him back.

    LGM

  • GroteFan

    Hey Matt, curious why you believe that Lucas Duda is “special.”
    I am not a Duda hater, by any stretch of the imagination, but in my opinion he really is a pretty marginal player.
    Granted he hit a combined 60 home runs in 2014 and 2015, but he also struck out 273 times and at best he is an average fielder, and IMO, below average.
    He is also now 30 years old, and not unlike out friend Granderson, has wild ups and downs….

    • Matt in Richmond

      Hey GroteFan, sorry it took me so long to reply…I’ve been “unplugged” all day. I call Duda “special” because he has some abilities that are very rare. I am not blind to his shortcomings, as I stated in my initial comment, namely his propensity for extended slumps and too many whiffs. However, the totality of the impact of Duda in the lineup over extended periods of time leads to wins. Just by comparison, Loney’s OPS the last three years (including 2016) is .716, .680, .686. Lucas Duda in 2014 and 2015 .830 and .838.

      Loney makes more contact, but over the long haul is far less valuable. He doesn’t walk nearly as much and doesn’t offer near the lineup protection of a Lucas Duda.

      Duda has rare power. He is one of those guys that can go deep on good pitches. He has the strength to take a down and away pitch and just flip it out to left. I remember last year on a Sunday night ESPN game when he took a fastball that was WAY up and in and somehow jerked it down the line and kept it fair for a HR. The announcers were just going crazy, they couldn’t understand how he did that. He may never develop into an All Star, 1st base is a tough position to qualify at, but he is definitely a net positive. Average WAR the past 2 years 3.3.

  • Collins did not “keep playing” Bruce. He buried him for 6 of 7 games and he only got another start because he hit a HR–as a pinch hitter. So he got to finally start again and has made the most of it–and of course Terry has kept starting him–thank god.

    Will be fascinating to see playoff roster when it must be cut way down and Mets with so many pieces now (with Duda and Lagares back and Conforto again in mix)… Does Terry actually keep Campbell as righty first sacker? And so on. Even the pen, where one assumes Henderson is out, also thank god.

    • Matt in Richmond

      Bruce definitely needed to be sat down, I commented as such earlier. However I didn’t want him to stay down, just have some time to gather himself. I don’t think I’m out of line in suggesting that many wanted him sat down for good. That is all I meant by being grateful that Collins didn’t write him off as some wanted.

      Totally agree with you re: the postseason roster. I NEVER remember a year when there were so many difficult choices.

  • Dave

    Bats appear to be heating up just in time. There were a lot of scorched balls last night, and I can just imagine what the score would have been had a few in the earlier innings not been hit directly into Marlin gloves. Six weeks ago this looked like a lost season, and now it’s going down as one of the franchise’s greatest down-to-the-wire races ever. Off the top of my head, I don’t know if the Marlins have seen Lugo and his curveball that’s best explained by someone with a degree in physics, so if they have not, that bodes well for tonight’s game. Then we hope that the Phillies approach the final weekend like a team whose bags are packed and the cab is waiting with the meter running.

    84-74 is nice, 85-74 nicer. 88-74 better still.

  • mikeL

    quite the bounce-back last night – though i could have sworn SF was on their way to losing when i called it a night!
    very exciting to see bruce and duda continue to factor. perhaps lucas was out during his regularly scheduled cold streak and his return will have him raking from here on – before he can think/doubt too much about it.
    the cherry on top was lagares, up to bunt…and placing the ball on the warning track. those hands looked fast!
    we lost our pitchers (and wilmer this far) but got some hot hands from the DL.
    quite incredible that with 4 to go, the mets control their destiny. perhaps this year the mets can be THAT team that enters hot, stays hot and…who knows.
    first things first but more faith than fear at this stage, at this unicorn won-loss!
    LGM!!

  • GroteFan

    Listen, the Fish are not good. After the emotion of Monday, they were bound for a letdown, and frankly, if I am them, Sunday, and the end of the season cannot come soon enough.
    By all accounts Jay Bruce has been an awful trade. I root for the laundry, so happy to see him hitting, but it doesn’t change the fact we have too many lefthanded hitting corner outfielders.
    Despite the manager, the Met’s are in position to make the post-season, but frankly, I expect little against the Cubs.
    I guess I should just be focused on the next four games……

    • dykstraw

      i agree…the marlins were eliminated by the SF win last night so at this point i think they will be going through the motions tonight. tonight is so big because with the off-day tomorrow we get four chances at help before we take the field in philly. (and there is a lot of rain in the forecast there over the weekend…)

      best case scenario for us is a (relatively) comfy WC1 with SF and StL forced to play a tiebreaker for WC2.

      worse case, other than an outright miss, would be any kind of tiebreaker involving us. i just don’t see how this team could deal with extra games between sunday and wednesday and then be in any position to have a chance vs. chicago.

  • JoeG

    I apologize if this isn’t the place to ask, but I suspect folks will know.

    I am going to the last regular season game this Sunday in Philadelphia, to cheer the team’s remarkable season. In similar situations I’ve seen on TV visiting Mets’ fans bunched together in a section of the park.
    (I was at the last World Series Game last year and saw a similar herd of Royals’ fans, but I’d rather forget that.)

    How does this happen?
    Do visiting fans just find each other by virtue of attire and cluster organically, filling seats vacated by home team fans?
    I would imagine a rule of thumb would be to get seats behind the visiting dugout?

    Or is there some kind of Tinder app for baseball fans so you can locate kindred spirits in your vicinity? (I’m kidding about this last one, but perhaps a business opportunity?)

  • GroteFan

    Joe-Mets’ fans are going to be the only ones in the ballpark.
    You won’t have a difficult time identifying them, they will be the ones wearing Blue and Orange.
    I suspect you’ll be able to cluster accordingly.
    Have a blast!

  • Gil

    Might as well be a playoff start tonight as far as Lugo is concerned.

    • Pete In Iowa

      When you get right down to it Gil, Lugo and Gs have had nothing but playoff starts since they were called up, especially after Gs pulled off his miracle debut in StL, which BTW, seems like ages ago. I like our chances with anyone but Ynoa or Montero.

      • Gil

        Agree. I heard such great things about Montero but I guess his AA numbers were a bit padded due to him throwing a mediocre slider in fast ball counts and getting AA batters to bite and miss on breaking stuff. He aint a big leaguer, at least not now. We don’t want Gilmartin starting any more games either. Love his stirrups, though.

  • Pete In Iowa

    “Some bunt!” Right on Greg.
    Remember and know it well — with the fake bat-hitting-the-ball sound effects, Pearl Bailey, shoe-polish, JC Martin, Rod Gasper and all.
    Fortunately, for us with enough years under our belts, watching it unfold before our eyes with Curt Gowdy calling it live is truly something which will live forever and is much sweeter than any highlight reel.
    LGM!!!

  • Late call-up? Tim Tebow just hit first pitch he saw in an MLB instructional league game for Mets for a HR, off a lefty no less.

    • NostraDennis

      And Tebow went yard against the same Cardinals we’re currently trying to fend off at the major league level.

      Stranger things have happened. But not very much stranger.

  • mookie4ever

    Apropos to 1969, the movie Frequency with Harrison Ford, is a wonderful trip down memory lane. The WS was central connecting theme for the plot. Very good movie, I highly recommend it for any Mets fan, even younger ones. It kind of brings that time and the legendary stories to life.

  • mookie4ever

    Greg, oops, right you are. For some reason I always get them mixed up! Must be all that time travel.

  • Eric

    Marlins and Pirates now cleared.

    Besides Reds and Rockies wins, I’m rooting for a Dodgers win and Nationals loss tonight to set up the Dodgers to compete for home-field advantage when they face the Giants.

    Last start of the season for Lugo tonight and yet another clutch performance needed. He and Gsellman – once again, leftover organizational scraps after Alderson’s spending spree last season – have patched big holes in the starting rotation over this stretch run.

    Alderson’s fishing and flyers and the oft-maligned Mets minor league system have impressively patched a number of big holes this season.

  • it’s 5 a.m. in Venice and I couldn’t sleep before flying home later today. 2 of 3 against phils,and,we’re playoff bound.
    LGM!

  • Mets Fan in Exile

    It’s great to share a week like this with my 2 boys (even though they’re big boys now!). The Mets are driving hard and their “next-man-up” mind set in the face of such historically unprecedented injuries just might offset the steep post-season odds against them. But that’s what amazin’ seasons are all about! Go make history…Go Mets!!

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