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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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Great Isringhausen’s Ghost!

You don’t have to be from east of Queens to know Long Island’s Own Steven Matz can do only so much for us. Tuesday night in Philadelphia, LIOSM did more than Mets fans from Montauk to Great Neck (and beyond) could have possibly asked.

• Did he throw five scoreless innings despite walking five Phillies? Yes.

• Did he make a behind-the-back grab of a sizzling line drive, practically deploying his glove as a cesta in manner that would fill a jai-alai player with envy? Yes — or bai, which is yes in Basque.

• Did he turn that sparkling catch of Roman Quinn’s liner into a double play by alertly throwing to first to eliminate baserunner Rhys Hoskins, whose own name is Dutch for Rosh Hashanah, on Erev Yom Kippur? Yes — and good yontif to all.

• Did he go deep for a second consecutive start just as the most recent Mets pitcher to do so was discussing that time he went deep over two consecutive games nearly three decades ago? Yes, LIOSM was the master of third-inning timing for SNY viewers who heard Ron Darling recalling, at Gary Cohen’s behest, that pair of swings when Darling homered two outings in a row 29 years prior mere moments before Steven equaled Ronnie’s 1989 (and Tom Seaver’s 1972) feat. Matz indeed blasted a ball that landed over Citizens Bank Park’s florally accented left field wall five days after he distributed a souvenir to scattered patrons in a comparable vicinity at Citi Field.

So if LIOSM checked all those boxes, surely he must have been the WP…or at least the Mets must have been the WT, as in winning team.

Right?

Alas, you can’t always check what you want, for no, the Mets did not win the game Steven starred in on multiple sides of the ball. The 5-2 loss surely wasn’t on Matz, however. We’ve taken a master class in masterful starting pitching not necessarily accruing to the credit of the masterful starting pitcher this season. Jacob deGrom hasn’t homered, but he has hit and fielded well and pitched better than any living being. Other than leadership in earned run average and plethora of peripherals, see where it’s gotten him. Steven has. LIOSM had the presence of mind during his postgame media chat to dedicate his home run to deGrom’s star-crossed Cy Young quest, seeing as how it was hit off of Aaron Nola, one of Jake’s two prime award rivals.

Matzie isn’t going to be nominated for any pitching-related accolades, but he did give us one entertaining half-game that won’t show up in the standings. The more decisive half-game was forged when the bullpen — specifically Jerry Blevins and Drew Smith — imploding in the sixth, following Steven’s departure. Smith and Blevins allowed five consecutive Phillie baserunners, all of whom grew up to become Phillie runs. Why no more Matz as early as the sixth? The starter had thrown 91 pitches (oh those bases on balls), and loaded bases in the top of the sixth tempted Mickey Callaway to send up a pinch-hitter in place of Slugging Steven. He could have removed Tuesday’s objectively finest Mets power hitter after letting him hit, but maybe that would have been pushing everybody’s luck.

Wilmer Flores was the pinch-hitter instead. Hey, remember Wilmer Flores? He’s on the Mets, just as he’s been for years, but he seems to have faded into the September background, getting about as much playing time as Tim Peterson (whose last appearance was in one of David Wright’s simulated games), Devin Mesoraco (who sits stoically in a hoodie as he tries to not any further aggravate his not so great neck) and Jose Lobaton (who was recalled to back up Mesoraco and whose only recent camera time was logged attempting to roust that rat from underneath the Mets bench at Fenway Park last Friday). Wilmer has often been the toast of Flushing, but right now he’s relegated to the final weeks’ crumbs. Jay Bruce needs first base time. Dom Smith — who doubled in a run in the fourth Tuesday — needs first base time. Jeff McNeil isn’t yielding second base time. This team isn’t big enough for two long-tenured, well-loved third basemen to be penciled in at the hot corner days in advance. And that outfield experiment Callaway discussed in Spring never seems to have taken hold.

There’d be no joy in Metville once little-used Wilmer struck out in Philly. He is a man without a National League position. The stock line is everybody knows what Flores can do. A helluva critique to apply to someone who’s only 27 and who’s never started as many as 100 games at any one spot in any one year. It’s not wrong to have set Wilmer aside at this stage of this season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a little sad.

Happier thoughts arose when Matz connected for that home run off Nola because precedent indicated we had this game in the bag. In the previous nineteen games in which a Met pitcher had homered, the Mets won. The nineteenth of those games was Matz’s previous start, though it took two even more dramatic wallops — from Michael Conforto and Todd Frazier — to tie and win it for the Mets in the bottom of the ninth. Perhaps the streak was due to snap as all skeins inevitably will.

What a streak it was, though, encompassing a span of 23 seasons, a total of 20 homers and a virtual 16-man pitching staff comprised of both household names and semi-obscurities. The run began with Paul Wilson in September 1996, also in Philadelphia, also at the ass end of a season much like this one (even more disconsolate, but with good times in the offing). Wilson had no more homers ahead of him as a Met, which wasn’t particularly surprising, and only one more start, which would have been shocking to have known. Wilson wasn’t yet one-third of a cautionary tale against expectation. He really was the prospective ace of the future. And he could hit a little.

Come 1997, when Wilson and his promising right elbow were sidelined, the Met pursued several Gen K Plan B’s to fill their rotation. They may not have been power arms, but those bats packed some thunder. Armando Reynoso homered in May, Mark Clark in June, Rick Reed in July. Clark would be traded by August and Reynoso would be shelved much of the following year, but Reed proved a two-way keeper, homering in April 1998 en route to his first of two Met All-Star berths.

The last Mets Home Opener of the 20th Century was started by Bobby Jones, who chose the auspicious occasion of April 12, 1999, to deliver his first and only major league home run. Three seasons later, miscast avenger Shawn Estes failed to plunk Roger Clemens as widely desired, but did reach him for a home run, which represented a pretty good shot to the Rocket’s self-esteem. Four years would pass before the next Mets pitcher round-tripper, off the bat of Steve Trachsel, an authority on taking his time.

If you were a fan of slow, you should have seen John Maine circle the bases in 2007, the last instance of a Mets pitcher homering at Shea Stadium. Not normally much of a hitter, John probably didn’t know his way past first base. In 2010, Johan Santana, who you were convinced could do anything, found his way into the right field stands with a batted ball, the first Met hurler to hit one out at Citi Field. Two years after that, Jeremy Hefner, who we didn’t know from a hole in the head, drilled in our mind the image of a pitcher who could go yard.

Then came the modern era of Mets pitchers who thought deep. Noah Syndergaard versus the Phillies in May 2015; Matt Harvey versus the Diamondbacks in July 2015; Bartolo Colon (!) at San Diego, the first hurler road dinger since Wilson’s, in May 2016; Noah again (twice!), on the same West Coast road trip as Bartolo, at L.A.; Noah yet again that August in Arizona; and two cheerful respites from 2017’s pervasive gloom, via Jacob deGrom against the Nationals in June and Seth Lugo off the Rockies in July.

Finally, LIOSM did it to the Marlins on September 13, 2018, for the 19th consecutive game in which a Mets pitcher homered and the Mets won. Delightfully, all of the above were Mets wins. Of course they were. What’s the point of a Mets pitcher homering and the Mets not winning? For events to unfold otherwise would be like being served a glob of whipped cream and being notified there would be no sundae underneath it.

I guess we found out that not everything that goes great together always comes together. The Mets are now 19-1 in their last 20 games when one of their pitchers homers, 44-12 overall since 1962. It had been so long since a loss was attached to the long ball that it became difficult to remember victory wasn’t automatic. Prior to Matz, Wilson’s Generation K brother in arm misery Jason Isringhausen was the last Mets pitcher to homer in a game the Mets didn’t win, two months before Wilson started the streak that carried on for more than two decades. On July 24, 1996, Izzy experienced the quintessential Coors Field evening, belting a two-run homer (off future Met slugger Reynoso) and giving up six earned runs on fourteen hits over six innings. The Mets, in their own quintessential 1996 fashion, went on to lose, 7-6.

It was the second home run of Isringhausen’s season — and the ’96 Mets’ second loss despite an Isringhausen homer. In June, he rocked Zane Smith for a two-run job at Three Rivers Stadium to stake himself to a 5-2, fourth-inning lead. Still up by one in the eighth, Izzy loaded the bases full of Bucs before giving way to Doug Henry. Henry gave up the lead and the game. The loss, like the homer, belonged to Isringhausen. At least he got something for this trouble.

Now that you’re curious, the other Mets pitchers whose homers couldn’t prevent losses were:

Dwight Gooden twice (in 1990 and 1993; Doc also homered in five Mets wins);

Rick Aguilera (in 1986; Aggie also homered in a pair of Mets wins);

Seaver (in 1972, in the first of his consecutive homer games; Tom also homered in five Mets wins, including the second of those consecutive homer games);

Tug McGraw (in 1971; in relief, no less);

Jerry Koosman (in his otherwise stellar rookie campaign of 1968);

Don Cardwell (in 1968; Don also homered in Mets wins the last-place year before and the Miracle year after);

Jack Hamilton (a grand slam gone to waste versus the championship-bound Cardinals in 1967);

and Little Al Jackson (whose big fly off eventual teammate/Hall of Famer Warren Spahn couldn’t make a sufficient enough dent to defeat the Braves in 1964).

You can see Long Island’s Own Steven Matz is in good company. Win or lose, any Mets pitcher who homers is the kind of company we love to keep. And you can keep the designated hitter far, far from our lineup card, thank you very much.

10 comments to Great Isringhausen’s Ghost!

  • Seth

    Please, if the baseball gods are listening, DO NOT make us suffer the designated hitter. It’s just too much fun without it…

  • LeClerc

    In the tradition of Montero, Ramirez, & Sewald, Blevins comes in with a two run lead and walks the lead-off batter. Bullpen malpractice.

    Send the Smith brothers back to the cough drop factory.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Thanks for the trip through pitcher home run nostalgia, Greg. I particularly remember the Mark Clark homer because I was at Shea that day with both my sons, my brother and my nephew. It was during the first ever inter league series. The Red Sox were the opposition. Clark hit a Tim Wakefield knuckleball off the left field foul pole.

    Great memory. Thanks, Greg.

  • DgInOz

    Haven’t thought of Doug Henry in a long time. Hard to say whether he or Doug Sisk was worse torture to watch.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    FWIW, Matz IS nominated for the Clemente award.

  • Daniel Hall

    And yet, Jeremy Hefner will live forever in terms of weird highlights, not for his homer, but because he was pitching in a game where the SNY cameras developed a weird fascination with a guy in the stands who could not open a bottle of water despite a strong pair of arms. As Keith Hernandez remarked then, Sir, you got the wrong workout!