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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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A Pip of a Win

Gladys Knight wasn’t wrong when she concluded, over radios everywhere as 1973 became 1974, that she really had to use her imagination to keep on keepin’ on. Yet her compadres the Pips couldn’t have been more right when they offered her this message of positive reinforcement:

You’re too strong not to keep on keepin’ on.

If you’ve been watching these Mets since April and you haven’t given up hope, you’ve probably really had to use your imagination. The statistics, the setbacks, the pervasive sense that anything that could go Mets would go Mets…staring down reality wouldn’t do you no good, double-negative notwithstanding. Per the lyrics Gerry Goffin penned with songwriting partner Barry Goldberg, darkness was all around us, blockin’ out the sun; emptiness had found us and it just wouldn’t let us go; and we had no choice but to make the best of (best of, best of) a bad situation.

On Wednesday night, the Mets faced several bad situations. Matt Harvey gave up home runs to the first two batters he encountered. His velocity on hiatus, he made due with offspeed stuff for four innings. One of his pitches, to Kyle Schwarber, crossed Shea Bridge when it came to it. The 467-foot shot seemed a death blow to the Mets’ slight chances in this particular rematch of 2015 NLCS combatants. The score was 4-1, Harvey couldn’t throw hard, and he wouldn’t stick around. Soon, Matt would join as out of action for the evening Neil Walker, the second baseman who attempted to bunt his way on in the third inning only to do something unspecified but obviously horrible to his left leg between home and first. An MRI awaited Neil and, if appearances weren’t deceiving, a trip to the DL, too, where he projects to keep company with his double play partner and t-shirt buddy Asdrubal Cabrera and Josh Smoker. Smoker was deployed for four innings during the previous night’s blowout, looked absolutely gassed at the end of his yeoman stint, and revealed in its wake a strained left shoulder.

Smoker was replaced on the roster by Rafael Montero, the pitcher who’ll never be mistaken for a Hallmark card, a Hallmark card billed as being what you send when you care to send the very best. Montero lands in our mailbox again and again postage due from Las Vegas. You toss him on the pile next to Neil Ramirez and wonder why you keep receiving so much junk. Meanwhile, nominally active were Yoenis Cespedes, except he is bubble-wrapped for his own protection every third night, and Michael Conforto, whose stiff back couldn’t possibly be a concern despite it preventing the Mets’ #WriteInConforto campaign from gathering much momentum. Michael, ostensibly the Mets’ best player if you take your cue from the club’s wishful All-Star hyping, didn’t start any of the three games against the defending world champions. As candidates who forget to visit Wisconsin might remind you, that’s no way to win an election.

The defending world champions aren’t accomplishing much amidst their breathlessly anticipated incumbency. The power — Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ in the first, Schwarber in the Bullpen Plaza — was certainly on for the Cubs versus the Diminished Knight, but the part where they put their gloves on and attempted to catch baseballs vexed the heck out of them. Their visible discomfort with fundamentals was the Mets’ lone saving grace for a while. In the second, Kris Bryant fumbled a third out and allowed the Mets’ first run. Still, with Harvey unable to find the fifth one night after Zack Wheeler didn’t see the third; the Mets’ bench depleted to its splinters; and Schwarber presumably preparing to break ground on a condominium complex where the 126th Street chop shops used to stand, you’d have thought Chicago could get away with a few yips.

Chicago would get away with nothing, because the Mets…yes, these Mets…they’re too strong not to keep on keepin’ on.

The first sign that this wouldn’t be the night New York died was when the Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth en route to the floor of their order. Harvey was due up with one out, but Harvey was done. Terry Collins could have pinch-hit Cespedes here, except Cespedes’s rigorously timed leg-preparation routine didn’t sync with the sudden arrival of the critical juncture at hand. He could have pinch-hit Conforto here if the prospective People’s Choice had a back that would allow Michael to be ever so briefly written into the nine-hole. #NoDiceNotYet. With Walker already removed and Lucas Duda having entered the fray in his stead — T.J. Rivera shifting from first to second to take over defensively for Neil — René Rivera, the backup catcher, was left as Collins’s only conventionally conceivable pinch-hitting option. Yet Terry couldn’t conceive of using René here, and with decent reason. As Casey Stengel cannily suggested, if you don’t have a backup catcher, you’re reduced to praying a meteor doesn’t hobble Hobie Landrith (something like that; you could look it up).

So Terry opted for Steven Matz, pitcher, to pinch-hit in the fourth inning. The oddity was unorthodox enough to likely make Joe Maddon contemplate sending one of his catchers into pitch, but Collins wasn’t seeking genius credentials in this spot. No Mets pitcher had ever successfully pinch-hit any earlier than the seventh inning. Not too many Mets pitchers pinch-hit in general. When they do, the situation borders on desperate. Who has desperate situations in the fourth inning?

This team. Also, this team has a pitcher who has now successfully pinch-hit in the fourth inning. Matz generated a ground ball tailor-made to confound Cub fielding and then ran his Long Island ass off until he and it reached first base safely. Steven’s unlikely PH line in the box score thus encompassed an RBI, and the Mets were within two runs of the lead. Then they were within one when Juan Lagares — pretty good player you sort of forgot existed for a couple of years — lifted a sac fly.

This team. Too strong not to keep on keepin’ on. Seriously. Here came Paul Sewald, back to being a savior in relief, giving the Mets a scoreless fifth and sixth. Here came that Juan again, tripling in Curtis Granderson to knot the night at four in the bottom of the sixth. Here came Jerry Blevins, taking over for Fernando Salas with one on and two out in the seventh, striking out Rizzo. Here stayed ostensible lefty specialist Blevins for a mind-boggling frame-and-a-third, fooling Bryant the righty for the eighth inning’s second out and freezing righty pinch-hitter Willson Contreras for its third.

A ballgame tilting inexorably toward the Cubs and decidedly away from the Mets as recently as the top of the fourth hung in the balance as the bottom of the eighth commenced. When Granderson stepped to the plate to lead it off, he had 299 big league longballs to his credit. When he next saw the plate, he was stepping on it. Grandy took Carl Edwards, Jr., on a trip deep down the right field line and collected a milestone along the way, home run No. 300. It didn’t fly nearly as far as Schwarber’s, but it couldn’t have been any more effective in influencing the course of Wednesday events. The Mets — post-Walker, post-Harvey, post ipso facto undermanned and overwhelmed — were ahead, 5-4. The Mets portion of the Citi Field audience, ascendant at last, applauded enough to recalibrate Granderson’s steady businesslike demeanor from sportsmanlike to crowdpleasing. He took the quickest of Curtis Calls. It was Grandly deserved.

Keepin’ on begat more keepin’ on. Jose Reyes walked. Cespedes was carefully unwrapped for a pinch-single. Robert Gsellman pinch-ran for Yoenis in a sentence you didn’t expect to read as long as you lived. Edwards left. Hector Rondon entered. Reyes swiped third, nearing his own milestone with 498 bases stolen since June 15, 2003, fourteen years ago today. Gsellman resisted the temptation to add an SB notation to his fine print on the back end of Jose’s daring dash. But Robert would have the chance to trot in short order, for Duda took care of a three-run insurance premium payment, depositing it convincingly in the vicinity of where Grandy had recently dropped off his homer. The Mets led, 8-4, and chose to increase their coverage a little more. The Cubs may not have been the good hands people on Wednesday, yet the Mets wisely insured against a catastrophic slam by adding a fifth eighth-inning run on singles from Wilmer Flores, Jay Bruce and Rivera…T.J., that is. René remained in reserve. You can’t be too careful these days.

All that was left at 9-4 in the ninth was for Addison Reed, who’d been warming up when it was 4-4 in the eighth, to come in and throw more pitches than one would care for him to throw, nineteen in all. The Cubs loaded the bases, but unloaded none of them. The Mets won by five after trailing by three and refusing to wallow in the least. Normally, you’d term it the greatest of nights.

The Mets, you may have divined, aren’t normal. Sometimes the glass is half-full. Often the glass is chipped and a pitcher gashes an index finger picking it up to innocently take a sip and, next thing you know, Rafael Montero is booking his favorite seat on JetBlue. Sure, the Mets thrillingly won a game you wouldn’t have suspected they weren’t slated to lose. Just as sure: they’re still 8½ to the rear of the Nationals (and further behind the Wild Card bunch out west), and no, we don’t know how bad Walker’s leg is, nor can we be certain when we’ll see Conforto starting or Cespedes regularly. Oh, and Harvey — how did he diagnose his outing? “My arm was not working at all,” Matt cheerlessly reported afterwards. A doctor’s visit was scheduled. The next sound you heard was Montero creeping inevitably up the rotation depth chart.

You’ve really got to use your imagination to envision the 30-34 Mets rising to legitimate contention, yet they were the 25-33 Mets less than a week ago. The Washingtons, assumed by consensus to be as impregnable as the Chicagos, are coming to Flushing with a battered bullpen, a bruised psyche and a margin over the Mets that is 3½ games slimmer than it was last Friday. The Nats have lost five of six, the Mets have won five of six, and maybe you don’t have to press all that hard to think of good reasons to keep on keepin’ on.

Hope to see you at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan tonight at 7 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Mike Piazza’s June 15, 2002, home run off Roger Clemens, some other Met anniversary involving some other Met Hall of Famer, and a little book-signing besides. If you can’t be there, please tell the Mets to resist the temptation to fall behind in the first couple of innings. I’d like to catch them from ahead for a change.

25 comments to A Pip of a Win

  • Great column Greg that captures as well as anyone could a great — in a Mets way — game. Thanks.

  • Lenny65

    It all demonstrates how useless pre-season (and in-season) “predictions” really are. The Cubs were supposedly a budding dynasty, the Nats were loaded for bear and the Mets would go as far as their dazzling pitching would take them. Baseball almost always turns those narratives on their ear.

    • I think you’re right, but there’s an industry that needs to have something to talk about before there’s actual baseball to pick apart.

      • Lenny65

        Oh sure, but watch this game (and especially the Mets) long enough and you see it’s all folly. Like the 2017 Mets, for example, whose running theme seems to be creating glimpses of hope them cruelly smashing them to bits. I wouldn’t even bat an eye at a, say, Twins/Rockies World Series, it’s baseball, it’s weird.

  • Wheaties54321

    These next four games should be fun! Ok, let’s be honest the series will be a helluva lot more fun for us if the Metsies can win tonight and further bruise the Washingtons once-considered insurmountable lead.

    Great post! LGM!

  • Gil

    Went right to youtube and played Gladys while reading. Excellent stuff.

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but Terry once responded to a letter I had written him thanking me for writing and added, “I promise our team will play hard.” And they sure do. They never wilt. Great comeback last night and a gritty win. 2-3 from the World Champs.

    There are little moments in the game that bring joy. One of them for me last night was watching Contreras take a “too close to take” curve ball, toss his bat, and proceed to first. But the pitch was called a strike. He proceeds to walk achingly slowly back to retrieve his bat, slowly digs in, and gets the exact same pitch again. Which he takes again. And gets punched out. And when the pitch hit the Glove Blev was heading to the dugout before the umpire even moved. Joy. I really like Jerry.

    • That interlude was fantastic. Dude was probably a quarter of the way to first when he realized, no, that was not ball four. Jerry indeed brought joy.

      Great response from Terry. And thank you.

  • LeClerc

    Yes – there have been three or four other great games this season – but this one is my favorite so far.

    Matz, Lagares, Sewald, Salas, Blevins, Granderson, Reyes, Cespedes, Gsellman, Duda, Wilmer, Bruce, TJ, Reed: Ball Game.

    Extra added bonus: Rizzo hit the first pitch of the game for a home run. He hit the last pitch of the game for a ground out.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Whew! That was fun. Great line about Maddon contemplating sending in a catcher to pitch. So happy for the Grandy Man. It was painful to watch him for the first month+ of the season, but he has rather quietly been hitting over .300 for a month now. As for All Star consideration, why isn’t Bruce getting more hype? He’s on pace for 44 HR and 114 RBI.

  • Bob

    Greg–
    You & Jason just keep getting better & better!
    Game last night—what can you say–?
    just AMAZIN’!

    Bob

  • Tom Clark

    One of the best of many great summaries, and wonderfully droll.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Mets just called up shortstop from AAA! And it’s…Gavin Cecchini? Note: Dodgers, back in April, after outfield injuries, called up young prospect Bellinger, thus ignoring 1) claims he wasn’t “ready” 2) thus might “ruin confidence” plus 3) they lose control over him for one less year. All he’s done is save their reason. Hit HR #18 last night. And if they were concerned about his fielding–Cabrera almost leads world in errors.

  • Eric

    “René remained in reserve. You can’t be too careful these days.”

    Especially not when Travis d’Arnaud is you’re starting catcher.

    That was a fun game with inning-by-inning twists and turns like a play-off game, except the extra action was compelled by hurt players and a funky roster instead of hyper-focused players and obsessive game strategy.

    The Cubs bullpen was touted all game by the broadcasters because of Montgomery’s expected short start. When the Mets didn’t hit him in the 5th when he appeared gassed, that was a bad sign. But the hype just sweetened the drama for the Mets comeback and win.

    Matz bats like a confident everyday player. I didn’t predict he’d get a hit, but I expected decent contact.

    I hope Lagares can keep up his hitting. His glove work in 2014 was exciting, he has speed on the bases, and I’d like for him to hit enough to keep his glove on the field and his legs on base. Triples are good, but sac flies are fundamentally satisfying, too.

    Blevins’s curveball was a thing of beauty. It was unhittable for the Cubs’ lefties and righties. And it was the 1st time I realized Blevins can tweak the pitch like a Bartolo Colon fastball.

    Cringing moment of the game: When RHP Gsellman pinch ran and dived headfirst to the 1B bag with his RH on a pick-off throw. I guess he’s a pro ball player who knows how not to jam his pitching fingers, but that dive still made me nervous. He’s starting tonight.

    I understand he was warmed up, but I still don’t like that Reed pitched the 9th with a 5-run lead. On the other hand, I also understand the Nationals field elite lefty hitters and Blevins may not be available or at least not as sharp tonight, so it made sense to hold back Edgin for tonight’s game, too.

    Good win. Worried about Walker and Harvey. Maybe Cecchini will provide a spark. Rosario can’t be too far away now. (Unless he’s being kept at AAA to protect his trade value?)

  • Greg Mitchell

    Now Harvey’s out. Mets will now probably call up Montero out of habit, forgetting they already did that. Or they will try to get Gilmartin or Dario Alvarez back. Jeff Reardon probably available.

  • Eric

    Ouch.

    Neil Walker: partially torn hamstring.
    Matt Harvey: stress injury to scapula.

    Both expected to miss several weeks on the DL. At least these aren’t the kind of injuries where they’ll stay on the active roster in a gray zone.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Fun fact I just read. Before Grandy’s clutch dinger, hitters were 1-27 off of Edwards’ curve this year.

  • Dave

    As Andy Warhol once said, in the future every Met will be healthy for 15 minutes. Gotta pick up the pace of these games before more players drop.

    And they’d have a replacement pitcher on hand tonight if the people in Buffalo wanted to deal with anyone named Wilpon. But they don’t, and no way to get someone here from Vegas quickly enough.

    But I digress. Great game, great post Greg. Nobody else can tie the Pips into this.

  • Brian

    Great recap, as per uge. It seems beyond explanation to me that IF both Conforto and Cespedes were going to hit last night that Matz would get that AB in the 4th inning. Bases loaded in the 4th, down by 3, Matz hits? One runner on, down by 1 in the 6th, Conforto hits? Matz can hit lefties but Conforto can’t? Cespedes can pinch hit but not till he’s unwrapped and we already have a lead? Was there any explanation for all that?

  • LeClerc

    Harvey is out. Walker is out. Cabrera is out. Smoker is out.

    Cecchini’s up. Montero’s up. Rosario’s not. Pill’s not. Bring the “nots” up. Send the “ups” down.

    They’re sticking to a six man rotation – therefore Pill – not Montero. Right Sandy? Right Terry?

    Conforto’s back is still stiff.

    Except for his heel, hamstring, and quads – Cespedes is fit as a fiddle.

    Familia’s getting ready to rehab – Syndergaard not so soon.

    Just trying to keep track of all of this…,