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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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Whatever Doesn’t Kill You

I took strange comfort in Daniel Murphy’s first-inning grand slam off Zack Wheeler Sunday night. Very strange, admittedly, but comfort nonetheless from looking at it this way:

What’s the worst Daniel Murphy can do to the Mets with a given swing?

He can hit a grand slam.

Well, he already did that. That’s a 4-0 hole courtesy of the guy who drills more of them at Citi Field than Deepwater Horizon ever did in the Gulf of Mexico. My counterintuitive thinking was if that’s the worst Daniel Murphy can do, and the game isn’t immediately ruled over, maybe we’ll be not necessarily OK, but less dead than you’d suspect.

Even with Max Scherzer on the mound. Even with half the Mets unavailable or physically unfit for service. Even with the bloom off April’s rose, the shine off expectations’ silver and the telecast on ESPN. If Daniel Murphy has done his worst in a month whose sense of demise defies exaggeration…in a ballpark where doing his worst is Murph’s standard operating procedure…how much worse could a Sunday night game that begins Nationals 4 Mets 0 become?

Surprisingly, no worse. Not tangibly better, mind you, as the Mets did go on to lose, 6-3, absorbing an eighth defeat in nine outings; getting swept by their ostensible archrivals; and falling 5½ lengths from first place, a position we could have sworn was their reasonably attainable goal this season.

Murphy hit a grand slam. Scherzer went eight and struck out nine. The Mets never led or fully contested the inevitable result. Nevertheless, it felt like it could have been worse.

After a stretch of 1-8 baseball, the Rheingold mug can be judged no more than 11.1% full, yet there was just enough to sip on and feel sated from within the context of relative doom. The pitch Zack Wheeler threw to Murphy was the last of 101 total to irreparably harm him. He settled down, gave the Mets seven innings and the Nats no more runs. His command was sharp, his pitch count was manageable and his return from two years gone continues encouragingly. Make no mistake: he gave up a four-run homer to the fifth batter of the game, and that will deflate your win probability pronto, but if we assume we’re not smothering the rest of 2017 in a hastily flung towel, Zack’s post-slam recovery is a very good sign.

The Mets demonstrated the difference between presumed dead and confirmed buried. Wheeler’s efforts were made competitively worthwhile when Michael Conforto fired back immediately at Scherzer, leading off the bottom of the first with a homer and then notching two base hits at the stellar southpaw’s expense besides. It was right around this time last year when another star hurler, Madison Bumgarner, confounded Conforto and halted his post-rookie joyride. Michael began rowing his boat onto the rocks of a sophomore slump which ended only when 2016 did. It’s a year later. Bumgarner’s the one whose decidedly nonmetaphorical conveyance has taken a spill, while Conforto may be making himself an immovable object from the top of the Mets order, lefty-lefty matchups be damned perhaps (though, Scherzer is, you know, a righty).

This potential next step in Conforto’s steady transformation from bench caterpillar to lineup butterfly can be construed as another very good sign to emanate from yet another pretty bad night. As can Neil Walker stroking a two-run homer to push the Mets within one of the Nats in the third (though Walker producing half as many runs as his predecessor seems sadly apropos). As can the preternaturally gimpy but relentlessly game Asdrubal Cabrera withstanding a visit from the Grim Trainer in the first. As can Jeurys Familia tossing his first immaculate inning of the year, albeit an inning after Ryan Zimmerman sullied Josh Smoker’s ledger with a messy two-run blotch. As can WOR’s audio, via SiriusXM, syncing beautifully to ESPN’s video while my remote’s mute function maintained television silence. As can Yoenis Cespedes standing upright in the on-deck circle with a bat in his hands. Yo emerged in deference to the extremely remote chance Jose Reyes could extend a modest last-chance rally, which is to say there was one on with two out and the Mets down by three in the bottom of the ninth. Jose and his classic rock batting average — .104 on your dial — proved incapable of reprising any of the hits he used to be known for, but at least we had visual evidence that Cespedes lives and breathes and might even be ready to take another swing real soon.

As will the Mets. It’s the best they can do.

29 comments to Whatever Doesn’t Kill You

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Greg, am I missing something? What “stellar southpaw” did Conforto touch for 3 hits. We’re you watching the game in a mirror? Scherzer is right handed.

    Last night’s unfortunate 1st inning was set up by Eaton being barely grazed by a pitch and Turner beating the throw to first by a whisker.

    Also, Zimmerman never would have hit in the 8th inning if Conforto had caught the ball off Harper’s bat.

  • Wheaties

    I have a theory. It goes like this. Remember how the Mets would often start strong back in underwhelming days of 2010, 2011, 2012, etc? Well, here’s to the idea that this new and more complete version of Mets is fixin’ to flip that script in 2017. They’ve finished strong the past two seasons and we all prefer it that way. It’s early. Really early. As long as the Mets are back at the .500 mark at the quarter mark of the season and our pitching staff is healthy (as in no injuries to Thor, DeGrom, Harvey, Familia, Reed), I gotta believe this team will turn it around.

  • LeClerc

    Conforto is a big positive – although probably not against authentic stellar southpaws.

    Wheeler going seven – with six of them very strong – also a plus.

    Familia foregoing bowling for dollars – deciding to throw strikes instead – – – more goodness.

    Suggestion: send Gilmartin down, bring Matt Reynolds up (If Cabrera doesn’t get a breather, he’s headed to the DL as well. He can’t play on crutches).

    Otherwise Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

  • Gil

    The ESPN booth is comically bad. Jose Reyes, too, is comically bad. The skunk, TJ Rivera, looked crappy in his first start at 3rd, but if we are willing to watch Jose not hit, fumble hard hit balls, drop pop flies (even though that was 50/50 with Trav), make suspect throws to second, and read about his personal life perils on page 6, maybe its time to put Rivera back in. He only has one family, had a nice WBC, has hit over .300 at every level, and plays big league defense. Reyes doesn’t need a day off, he needs a month off. The skunk will stink less, and just might start getting on base. If he gets a hair cut, he might even pull a pepe le pew and find some love at the corner. Hit or sit. We need base runners.

    • Lenny65

      I don’t want to go off on yet another rant about Reyes as I’ve made my feelings about him quite clear, but IMO it’d be a fine first step to kick him to the curb. The first step is admitting you have a problem, as they say. And Jose is definitely a problem. I just don’t see what there is to lose by jettisoning him, whatever internal options they have can’t possibly be any worse, as finding someone else to bat .100 shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

  • Dennis

    The offense is a mess, but starting pitching has been very good. Still early, but sweeping the Braves would be a nice send off before the road trip.

  • K. Lastima

    Bring Rosario up, move Cabrera to 3B, problem solved . . . however, the chances of the Mets doing that are exactly zero

    P.S. – Someone please ask Gary Cohen if Murph is still a “net negative”

  • Harvey Poris

    Team Batting Average is now .210, 29th in majors (only KC at .206 is worse). Half of runs scored result from homers. You can’t win too many games like that.

  • Pete In Iowa

    I can’t imagine how tough it must be to be a starting pitcher in the majors knowing you have to be damn near perfect to have any shot to get a win.
    How many times over the past few years have top-shelf pitching performances gone for absolutely nothing? I really feel for those guys….

  • Gil

    How can it be April and this team is making me lose sleep??????

  • Dave

    The positives: Scherzer didn’t pitch a perfect game; he had fewer than 72 strikeouts; Wheeler pitched well after he pitched badly enough to put the Mets in a hole they couldn’t dig out of.

    Negatives: the game was played.

    Reyes. He’s hitting about 60 points lower than Brad Emaus hit. Surprisingly, his OPS is lower than Bartolo Colon’s was last year, but his slash line is almost identical to the combined performance of the current Mets pitching staff. Therefore, I recommend that Reyes become the long man out of the bullpen. As much as a pitcher wearing a single digit uni # makes me cringe, how much worse could it be than the contribution he’s making now?

    • Jose always did have a strong arm.

    • Lenny65

      IMO it’s time for a proverbial “wake-up call” and cleaning out Reyes’ locker would be a dandy start. Send a message…”perform or go away”…maybe the rest of them will take heed. And even if they don’t it’s still addition by subtraction.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Waiting for the Reyes defender(s) to appear. You know, “just pressing,” “always starts slow,” “records proves he will hit at least .260, just wait.” Although I guess they won’t use “great character guy” or “just starting slow because he’s distracted by news about being deadbeat dad and having second family, while abusing his wife.”

    • Lenny65

      Well, I’m certainly not looking to bait anyone, I mean it’s just my opinion and I’d merrily eat my words if Reyes suddenly came to life. But I still wouldn’t really trust him either. If he’s going to bust out it needs to happen soon, this team doesn’t have the luxury of waiting around forever, not the way they’re going right now. And not a 2-4 day followed by another 1-30 spell either, anyone could do that.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Everyone better hope Jose turns it around. For this team to play at its best, we need a productive Jose in the lineup 5-6 times a week. He’s our best defensive option and our only speed. I’m admittedly reaching a little bit, but he actually had 2 good ABs yesterday, getting a clean single and working a full count after being down 0-2 before hitting a bullet to right. He still is popping up way too much, needs to cut down on the swing and concentrate on hitting line drives. I’m just repeating myself now, but while it’s unrealistic to expect him to win another batting title or steal 60 bases, it’s equally unrealistic to think he has completely forgotten how to play in the few months since sparking our playoff run last year. If he can’t turn it around then he will lose more and more time, but 3 weeks into the season is too soon to be panicking.

    For all the negatives, there are quite a few positives. This team was always mainly built around our starting pitching and that has been fantastic. The silly panic over Thor’s blister amounted to nothing, the pessimism over Harvey’s preseason struggles seems light years ago, Jake has his velocity back and has been fantastic other than his uncharacteristic walks last game and Zack looks healthy and has pitched far better than his numbers would indicate. How many teams would kill for anything close to to that much quality in the top 4? Now that Familia is back and TC has wisely gotten him some work to get the rust off, our bullpen will improve. This was a tough week with all the injuries, but I’d rather have bad luck in April than October. There’s much to be positive about. I spent lots of time in 2015 and 2016 making similar comments while people were panicking and performing self-immolation left and right.

  • eric1973

    Matt, if you foresaw the successes of both Gsellman and Lugo last year, which put us over the top, then I tip my cap.

    • Eric

      True. The Mets’ 2016 WC berth wasn’t like the Cubs-Pirates WC game in 2015. Unlike them, the Mets went on a highly unusual run late in the season concurrently with other WC contenders stumbling.

  • Greg Mitchell

    And TJ Rivera, who hit .358 in Sept (and even got hit in wild card game), vs. Reyes .234.

  • Matt in Richmond

    I was not trying to pat myself on the back or anoint myself some kind of Amazing Kreskin. Rather, I was trying to illustrate that this group has shown a real knack for overcoming adversity and playing some great ball after periods of struggle. I also feel that objectively there are quite a few positive early signs despite the terrible week we just had. Mostly, I wish more fans weren’t so fair weather and didn’t act as if the last 2 years didn’t happen. It’s disheartening that all it takes is one bad week for cynicism and pessimism to completely take over. Our rotation is stacked. Our bullpen will improve with the return of JF. Reyes and Granderson will either hit more or play less. We won’t lose 4 key offensive pieces every week. Maybe it’s not crazy to retain some optimism? That’s all I’m saying now, and that’s similar to many comments I made last year and in 2015.

  • eric1973

    10 more days like yesterday, and we’ll be tied with Washington.

  • Eric

    I like Conforto leading off for this season to keep his focus on getting on base with a good eye and a level swing rather than upper cutting for HRs. The HRs will come as a by-product of his hitting ability. He’s no burner, but he’s not slow and he’s a good base runner.

    If Reyes keeps struggling, the next step is hitters’ rehab at AAA, not release. And if Rosario or another player (eg, TJ Rivera, Reynolds, or Cecchini) spark with the big club while Reyes is at AAA, that’s too bad for Reyes.

  • LeClerc

    D’Arnaud to catch Syndergaard Wednesday night ?

    If so, this is a Collins “offense trumps defense” strategy. Hope it works out.

  • eric1973

    So now Gsellman is pitching tonite, so Harvey can face the Nats this weekend.

    Bet you this decision came from Sandy, as this was a no-brainer in the first place, which should have been made originally and immediately by our own no-brainer as soon as the game was rained out.