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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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The Company Jake Keeps

The new Metropolitan standard of excellence by way of archaic statistics is Five Wins and Six Losses. That’s right, 5-6. Never mind the likes of 25-7, 19-10, 22-9, 24-4 or 20-6. Move over, Messrs. Seaver (those first three), Gooden and Dickey. You were Amazin’ in your respective Cy Young seasons, but there’s never been anything like what Jacob deGrom is doing.

Jacob deGrom is crafting a Cy Young-caliber season with increasingly Anthony Young-style results.

We all understand that AY pitched better than the 0-27 stretch that came to define his major league career. We also understand that 5-6 is laughable when attached to the year deGrom is producing, though none of us is producing the slightest chuckle that the best pitcher in professional baseball is saddled with what is commonly referred to as a losing record. The losing is primarily on the team for which deGrom labors. Jake is a winning pitcher. The Mets are allergic to his excellence.

In Pittsburgh on Saturday night, deGrom threw a shutout for five innings, which was, naturally, good enough to engage him in a tie with Trevor Williams. Trevor Williams might have been throwing an excellent game as well, but who can tell? Funny how the deGropposition is inevitably Jake’s equal. The Mets’ most imposing threat came in the fourth when they loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. With one out, Devin Mesoraco stepped up and grounded the first pitch he saw into a double play to end the imposition let alone the threat. Remember when we were congratulating one another on swiping Mesoraco from the Reds for that washed-up Matt Harvey?

DeGrom was so thrown off by his batterymate short-circuiting the closest thing the Mets had to a sure-thing rally that he threw a scoreless bottom of the fourth and then doubled in the fifth. He was still doing what he does in the sixth, striking out the first two Pirates on his docket to continue pushing his constant companion boulder uphill. That made it eight consecutive Buccos retired. But then — there’s always a “but then” — Jake allowed the softest of singles to Gregory Polanco. Polanco then stole second off erstwhile steal Mesoraco. Moments later, Colin Moran placed a ground ball out of the reach of Wilmer Flores and, bam, deGrom is down, 1-0.

Jake stayed in to hit in the seventh, because it was both the right thing to do for Jake or the right thing to do for the Mets. Why would you take Jake out of a game that he’s trailing, 1-0? Being Jake, he singled. Being the Mets, nothing came of it. Thus, it was back to the hill for the man forever trudging up one, and that’s where those Anthony Young vibes began to filter in. Not that deGrom didn’t deserve to keep pitching (who would you rather see?), but the experienced Mets fan knew the chance to reverse a nagging narrative trend had been definitively bypassed for the evening. In 1993, it meant we rooted for Young in the full if unspoken knowledge that something was eventually going to go wrong enough to place him beyond the reach of common winning decency. And in the seventh on Saturday night, deGrom cracked a little, allowing three more hits and two more runs. With two innings to go, the game was over, and by “game,” I mean the chance to keep deGrom’s record from dipping below .500. The eventual outcome, in which the Mets would lose, was already in the foregone conclusion category.

So Jacob deGrom, possessor of a 1.82 earned run average, is, to prevail ourselves of outmoded nomenclature, a 5-6 pitcher. It’s unlikely that if any of us had seen him walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge after the game Saturday night, we would’ve said, in the spirit of the splendid Ted Williams documentary currently streaming at PBS.org, “There goes a 5-6 pitcher,” even “There goes the greatest 5-6 pitcher who ever lived.” We don’t think in those terms anymore, right? We all get the flaws related to the assignment of wins and losses to individual pitchers. We got it in theory a long time ago and, boy, do we get it in practice in 2018. We get it, yet we simultaneously find it hard to cope with such a pedestrian won-lost record linked to such a lofty four-month performance. We want the 1.82 pitcher to be something more — way more — than a 5-6 pitcher.

Yet if Jacob deGrom is a 5-6 pitcher, there must be something to be recommended from being a 5-6 pitcher. Actually, we didn’t need Jake to let us in on that statistical secret. Mets history is dotted with stars, legends and immortals who now share one undeniable commonality with deGrom: they, too, were 5-6 pitchers.

Eight different Mets have finished a season 5-6. Fingers crossed, deGrom’s season isn’t done (though you never can tell in these parts). But since we seem to be at the stage of his campaign where the best we can hope for out of the Mets is to furnish him a dozen no-decisions in his final twelve starts, let’s say our prospective MLB ERA champ winds up the year where he is in terms of wins and losses. Let’s say Jacob deGrom really is a 5-6 pitcher.

He would be in pretty good company. Granted, the members of the company weren’t necessarily at their best when they were 5-6, but they were still who they were despite compiling a record that lingered uncomfortably south of mediocrity.

Kevin Kobel went 5-6 for the 1978 Mets. At face, this is probably the least impressive example of a 5-6 Mets pitcher, but let’s not let that detract from the loyalty the scruffy Kobel elicited during his three-season tenure in Flushing. Inside the 1979 Mets Official Yearbook, the one whose discreet cover was the orange NY logo set against a blue warmup jacket, a page was devoted to letters from children (or adults with largely undeveloped handwriting). The first one printed came from wee Michael Settanni, and boy did he let us know who his guy was:

My favorite player is Kevin Kobel and he is a great player. I hope they are in first place. He is a great pitcher. He is a great batter to[o]. I am a met fan.

When you’ve got a kid like that in your corner, what do you need with run support? Kobel was something of a proto-deGrom forty seasons ago, compiling a 2.91 ERA in 108 innings pitched. The former Brewer lefty appeared in 32 games, starting eleven and completing one (one more than Jacob to date). In his starts, according to Baseball-Reference, the Mets scored 3.6 runs per 27 outs while Kobel was in the game, or the same as they did for Craig Swan, whose 2.43 ERA led the National League despite what was considered a rather wan won-lost record of 9-6. Nine-and-six would look pretty good on Jake a dozen starts from now, huh?

The Mets are scoring 2.9 runs per 27 outs while deGrom is in the game as a starter. All of them presumably came that one start in Colorado.

Charlie Williams went 5-6 for the 1971 Mets, pitching 31 times, nine of them starts. There was nothing inherent in his lone Met season to suggest greatness awaited on the righty’s horizon, except the following May he was traded to the Giants for Willie Mays. Nobody’s greater than Willie Mays. That oughta count as extra win on Charlie’s ledger.

Ron Darling went 5-6 for the 1991 Mets in 17 starts. His Met season indeed ended in July when he was traded to the Expos for Tim Burke, a previously effective closer whose skills were apparently confiscated by customs en route to Shea. Darling requires no introduction here, though the 1991 version is unrecognizable versus the younger, sharper righty who helped pitch the Mets to the postseason twice and generally excelled throughout the 1980s. This was the beginning of the period of 1990s Mets baseball Ronnie regularly claims no memory of during SNY telecasts despite taking the ball from Buddy Harrelson those 17 times. He would later rediscover his abilities for a division-winning club in Oakland. Burke, not so incidentally, was a Cy Young-level human being. Pitching isn’t the only thing by which we should recall pitchers.

Pedro Martinez went 5-6 for the 2008 Mets. Seven summers later he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pedro was ticketed for Cooperstown well before he signed a four-year contract with the Mets in December 2004. The fourth year was considered extravagant, but worth it to have him in 2005. In 2005, when Pedro was still regularly flashing Hall of Fame form, who was worried about 2008? In 2008, 33-year-old Pedro struggled amid injuries and the ravages of age, though now and again reminded you he was Pedro Martinez. His final start as a Met was a lesson in grit and determination. He kept the Mets on life support as they pursued one final postseason appointment for Shea, leaving the game of September 25 in the seventh, two Cubs on base, nobody out, scored tied at three. After Jerry Manuel removed him, we had the presence of mind on this raw, rainy night to stand and applaud for all he did in his four seasons as a Met and he had the presence of mind to acknowledge our appreciation of him, pointing at every slice of the stands as he returned to the dugout. It was such a beautiful moment.

Then Ricardo Rincon came on and gave up a three-run homer to Micah Hoffpaiur, sticking Pedro with two extra earned runs and reminding us how hard it is to get to the end of a season, a contract and a ballpark. Fortunately, the Mets rallied and forged their last Shea walkoff in the ninth. Unfortunately, there was no postseason. Had there been a one-game playoff for the Wild Card, Pedro was probably going to pitch it. In light of the 5.61 ERA he posted in 20 starts (and the Rinconian relievers who were forever warming up behind him), I don’t know how that would have gone. But I’d have taken my chances with a diminished Pedro Martinez over most anybody else.

Carlos Torres went 5-6 for the 2015 Mets, pitching 59 games exclusively out of the bullpen. Torres’s three seasons as a Met, encompassing a couple of handfuls of spot starts, were the essence of a 5-6 pitcher, if not the one we’re presently pulling for. Torres tended to pitch well when you weren’t paying attention and blow games when you were. That was what made me think of him as Carlos Tsuris. Sadly, an injury kept him from being part of the pen of which he’d been such a staple from 2013 forward when the Mets finally visited October for real, but Carlos did enjoy one signature moment while the Mets pushed toward their pennant. On August 27, working in the tenth at Citizens Bank Park, Torres’s foot fielded a shot off Jeff Francoeur’s bat that bounded into the vicinity of first baseman Daniel Murphy. Murph being Murph — and this being 2015 — it resulted in one of the most scintillating outs of the season. Murph grabbed for it, flung it to first sans glance on the slight chance that somebody would be there to retrieve it on the fly…which Torres was. Francoeur went down and, three innings later, so did the Phillies.

The winning run that wild Thursday night was scored by Torres, too, Carlos having led off the thirteenth with a single. It was great batting that a now older Michael Settanni would have appreciated.

David Cone went 5-6 for the 1987 Mets, but there was no mistaking that, unlike Devin Mesoraco, he represented a long-term steal for the Mets. The Mets used to pull heists on unsuspecting GMs all the time, and prior to their most recent championship-defending season, this one was a doozy. The Royals needed a catcher. They wanted Ed Hearn, able backup to Gary Carter in 1986. They were willing to give up this promising righthander with the unusual delivery (Laredo, we’d learn it as) in exchange. We wouldn’t express such a sentiment come November of 2015, but thanks Royals! Cone was not yet a skilled batsman or at least bunter in his first Met season. We lost him for two-and-a-half months when he broke a finger while attempting to bunt in late May. But young David returned and contributed to the Mets’ ultimately doomed quest to repeat. Five-and-Six didn’t describe how good Coney was about to become. Twenty-and-Three in 1988 did the job much better.

Sid Fernandez went 5-6 for the 1993 Mets, a team that rarely went 5-6 in any isolated eleven-game span. Sid missed three months while the 1993 Mets were leaving their mark on the darkest recesses of our souls, but when he returned from injury in late July, he was essentially the same El Sid who was a featured fifth of all those great contending Met rotations of yore. The contending was only a memory for the Mets of 1993, but Sid was still bringing it in that often unhittable, intermittently frustrating fashion of his. After tossing seven innings of two-hit ball at Joe Robbie Stadium in the next-to-last game of that sullen season, Fernandez lowered his ERA to 2.93…and raised his record to 5-6. Next time Sid put his left arm to good use, it was as a Baltimore Oriole.

Tug McGraw went 5-6 for the 1973 Mets. I don’t know that we can say Jacob deGrom has given us the greatest 5-6 season in Mets history as long as we know Tug McGraw went 5-6 for the 1973 Mets. Tug McGraw was the embodiment of the 1973 Mets, and little in life is better than recalling the 1973 Mets. Tug, of course, was mostly a reliever, though he did take two starts in ’73, mostly out of desperation on Yogi Berra’s part because Tug was having such a dismal season relieving. As of August 20, Tug was an 0-6 pitcher no matter when he entered a game. Not that relievers’ won-lost records amount to much in the way of a metric, but McGraw was consistently awful and the Mets were stuck in last place.

But you know what the screwballer said — You Gotta Believe. Tug did and we did and, in a veritable blink, Tug won five in a row, saved a dozen (without blowing a single game) and the 82-79 1973 Mets, following the lead of their 5-6 fireman, Believed their way to the National League flag. Nineteen-and-Ten Seaver was rightly voted that year’s Cy Young, but Tug won a place in our hearts that transcends the glitziest of awards not to the mention the drabbest of statistics.

Jake has already secured a spot of that nature with us. Sure would be nice to see the Mets bump him up beyond .500 before this season is over, though.

Yup, sure would.

6 comments to The Company Jake Keeps

  • LeClerc

    On Friday night, Kevin Plawecki had an opportunity to hit into a double play with the bases loaded. He failed to do so, and merely struck out.

    On Saturday night, Devin Mesoraco realized the promise that had eluded Plawecki the previous evening. With the bases loaded, Mesoraco hit Trevor Williams’ first pitch into a neat, clean, soul-crushing double play.

    Williams had served up a meatball that could have well resulted in a grand slam home run. But Mesoraco would not be denied.

  • ljcmets

    Pedro, Cone, Ronnie, Sid, deGrom and Wheeler. That’s a damn good rotation; add Tug as closer. All 5-6. Misery loves company.

  • Michael in CT

    If Jake ends the season with a 2 or so ERA that leads the league, how likely is it he will win the Cy despite a mediocre W-L record, say 9-8?

    • I think if given the choice between that kind of won-lost record/ERA combo and, say, Max Scherzer winning a traditional Cy Young amount of games while still being Max Scherzer, we’re gonna be modestly celebrating the only second-place finish available to us in 2018.

  • Daniel Hall

    Hadn’t glanced at the results all of Sunday or Monday, so when I got home last night I remembered that this game was a deGrom start and I was not spoilered yet and could watch it from the archives. Oh that will be fun!

    Rats.

    I hear Murph’s a free agent, maybe we can resign that dazzling defense for second base again? Because let’s face it, even if the Mets had a prospect to put there, they’d still rather stick Reyes there. This year, next year, and ten years from now.