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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Paying Proper Pitching Tribute

In a sixty-game season with all the irregularities passed off as the new normal, it wouldn’t have been terrible to have halted Sunday afternoon’s Mets-Phillies game once it went official. Not for the usual reason that the Mets led after four-and-a-half and the bullpen later blew up, but because, in the middle of fifth inning of the 41st game on the schedule, the Mets led, 4-1, with the Mets’ pitcher of record the closest thing we’ve seen in sometime to No. 41.

The Mets kept playing, the Mets kept scoring and we’d have to “settle” for a 14-1 Mets win, which is close enough to the numerical Tom Seaver salute I had in mind (to say the least). The presence of Sunday’s No. 41 stand-in might have worn No. 48, but Jacob deGrom channeled the Seaverian spirit as well as could have been hoped for.

This was the Met tribute I’d been waiting for since we learned of Tom’s passing. Moments of silence, smudges of dirt and patches in black were all properly respectful, but nothing could pay most Terrific homage like a most Terrific outing by the reigning Met ace. We surely had the right man on the Citi Field mound to take care of the stylistic and statistical details.

Jacob deGrom was about as good as he usually is, which is to say he was the best pitcher in baseball on Sunday. He went seven innings, the 2020 equivalent of nine, and he all but shut down the Phillies, allowing one run on three hits (Andrew Knapp’s first-inning homer the only actual damage). Dealing fastballs and sliders, Jake walked two and struck out twelve. Seventy-four of deGrom’s 108 pitches were strikes; thirty-five of his 74 strikes were swung on and missed. Nobody had eluded that many bats in a major league game in more than four years.

Pretty much baseball as usual for Jacob, except he got a win for his trouble. I’d love to announce his record was raised to 4-1, but no, let’s not go crazy. The best at what he does in his sport has three wins against one loss forty-one games into a season that has but nineteen games and not nearly enough deGrom starts remaining. But an ace win is an ace win in the shadow of the passing of someone whom Jake himself referred to during his postgame Zoom as “the all-time great here.” A self-evident description of Tom Seaver, perhaps, but deGrom had been asked where he saw himself when compared to the Franchise. It’s a mouthful of a topic but perfectly understandable given what deGrom’s put on the board since 2014 — particularly since 2018 — and how thoughts of Tom hover over our all our Flushing pitching musings these days.

Jake looked a little embarrassed by the question. “It’s an honor to be compared to somebody like Tom and what he was able to accomplish in his career,” Sunday’s winner said, “but as far as that goes…how he was appreciated here, how he treated the fans, he’s definitely somebody I looked up to, but he’s probably got me beat here.”

Not too many other pitchers let alone opponents can say anything close. A little help from the hitters is always welcome and fourteen runs of support is more than Jake usually sees in a month. The Mets hits five homers. Pete Alonso smashed two of them and underscored the spirit of the afternoon by opening the first official DeGrom for Cooperstown office when he spoke to the media. “He should be a Hall of Famer,” Pete said of his teammate, overlooking eligibility requirements demand three more seasons of playing and five years of waiting once the playing is done. We’re not in any rush to usher Jacob to immortality just yet. He’s got a 1.69 ERA to build on. Or build down from. For now, with fewer than three weeks to go in this irregular season, we’ll be delighted to hang in there with Jake and Pete and every other Met who was looking great Sunday and see how far they and their talents take us.

___

As if losing one Hall of Famer in a week isn’t sad enough, word came down Sunday evening that Lou Brock has died at the age of 81. Brock was a Cub who homered into the right-center field bleachers against the Mets at the Polo Grounds, and if you’ve seen Willie Mays go back on Vic Wertz, you know that was a blast. Brock, then 23, took Al Jackson unconscionably deep on June 17, 1962, the same day Marv Throneberry didn’t touch second or first when he pulled into third with what he thought a triple. Brock’s blast was just as legendary, considering that other than Joe Adcock, Hank Aaron and Luke Easter, nobody else ever hit one in that vicinity going back multiple decades.

Brock’s early promise in Chicago got the attention of the folks down in St. Louis, and they traded for the outfielder in 1964. Only history changed as a result. When the Cardinals acquired Lou Brock for former twenty-game winner Ernie Broglio, both the team and the player were off and running. The Redbirds won three pennants and two World Series in their first five seasons with Lou. Brock shattered the standards for base-stealers in the 1970s, breaking Maury Wills’s single-season mark in 1974, with 118 bags, and bettering Ty Cobb’s career mark by 1977, piling up 938 in all before retiring a couple of years later. By then he’d also passed 3,000 hits and mentored the next generation’s very impressive Cardinal hitter, Keith Hernandez, to the cusp of stardom.

Lou Brock jumped out of a cereal box for me when I was seven years old, in all his three-dimensional glory. It was almost as exciting as watching him run.

Lou stole 97 bases against the Mets in his career, his fourth-highest total versus any team. It might have been more, except for the balance of Brock’s speedster heyday, we had Jerry Grote catching, and one of Jerry Grote’s core competencies was throwing Lou Brock out at second. Those were great duels, a game within the game, the top arm behind the plate challenged by the most devastating set of legs on the basepaths. I never wanted Brock to be safe, of course, but, my goodness, I was blown away by his unparalleled tools and how he used them. With a couple of exceptions when I was a kid, I didn’t really scorn great opponents. I admired them. It didn’t cost any extra to acknowledge to myself that, wow, that’s Lou Brock, he’s fantastic — now let’s get him out.

Maybe that’s why I so loved the All-Star Game. It was a chance for one night to root for all the greats of the National League and know no matter what happened, the Mets couldn’t lose. The 1967 All-Star Game left us perhaps the most charming Midsummer Classic legacy this side of Ron Hunt starting and Lee Mazzilli walking. It was Tom Seaver’s first All-Star Game, and the 22-year-old rookie was showing his age as he entered the visitors clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium, which was to say not a lot of it.

As Tom and Lou each enjoyed retelling, Brock saw Seaver and instructed him to grab him a leading brand of cola. Brock thought the Mets’ representative to the All-Star team — the Franchise in the making! — was the clubhouse boy. Seaver did as told, fetching the soft drink, and then introduced himself. No hard feelings. They’d share plenty of All-Star clubhouses in years to come, plenty of pitcher-hitter battles and that small patch of real estate few ballplayers will ever know, up on that stage in Upstate New York where a man is handed a plaque and is enshrined as among the very best in his business for all time. Lou Brock and Tom Seaver are together in the Hall of Fame. One would like to believe they’ll be sharing a beverage and a few laughs again soon.

5 comments to Paying Proper Pitching Tribute

  • eric1973

    Lou Brock….what a classy guy, and will be missed.

    He and Bake McBride at the top of the order drove teams crazy with their speed.

    And, of course, he invented the Brock-a-brella, that little gizmo that sits atop your head when it rains.

  • Inside Pitcher

    A fitting and beautiful tribute to a couple of pro’s pros.

  • Daniel Hall

    That game was fun. I got to yell PEEEEEETE like a madman twice! And once JEFF MCNEIL! Yes, I yell his full name. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know myself.

    But it’s 2020 and we can’t have any fun. None. Poor old Keith Hernandez. His soul is not having a good week…

  • eric1973

    Mike Piazza was a missionary for the Mets who put up some gaudy numbers for a few years until that was that.

    If you wanted a 3 run homer in the bottom of the eighth to turn a 6-1 game into a 9-1 game, Mike was your man.

    And his poor defense cost us in the 1999 playoffs, when we won with Pratt, and lost when he returned.

    And nobody would disagree that Gil Hodges, Jr. should have closed out Shea with Seaver, as well as received that first pitch thrown by Seaver to inaugurate Citi Field.

    That would have been most appropriate and would have been a real tearjerker, considering how Seaver and all of us felt about his Dad, the great Gil Hodges.