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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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The Perils of Young Pitchers

One of my more searing minor Mets memories — to use a very Mets-fan turn of phrase — is from May 3, 1996.

That was Paul Wilson‘s sixth career start, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Wilson, one-third of the vaunted Generation K, hadn’t exactly streaked out of the gate: As the second month of his big-league career began, he was 1-1 with a 6.92 ERA. Yet as Mets fans we knew — or at least devoutly hoped, with an intensity that felt like knowing — that he was far better than that. He’d been unlucky and hurt by some bad bullpen work, but he’d also shown flashes of being the shove-you-around power pitcher prophesied by so many breathless scouting reports.

Against the Cubs on May 3, Wilson took a 2-1 lead into the ninth, having struck out eight and scattered three hits. After a leadoff bunt single, Wilson struck out Brian McRae and Ryne Sandberg and stood an out away from his first career complete game — and, I was certain, the first steps along his path to glory.

I was at my old high school that day for some reason; I vaguely recall it had something to do with advice for the kids who ran the student newspaper, which now seems like a terrible thing to let me offer. That was before cellphones, but I had a Motorola Sports Trax beeper that kept me abreast of Mets games through little LCD runners, changing numerals and bleeps and bloops. I waited and waited and then recoiled in disbelief as my little beeper emitted a disconsolate bloop and then a dreadful, from out-of-nowhere verdict.

CHC 4 NYM 2 (F).

The details had to wait, but that made them no less dreadful. Despite having John Franco in the pen, the Mets had left Wilson in north of 100 pitches, opted to walk the dangerous Mark Grace, and pitched to Sammy Sosa — who Wilson had retired three times, twice via strikeouts. Wilson’s first pitch to Sosa was his 107th, a slider that hung in the strike zone. Sosa hit it onto Waveland Avenue. From a complete-game victory to a sour defeat in a few lousy seconds.

(If you want more there’s video, but why do you want more?)

Somehow that was a quarter-century ago. I’ve now watched dozens and probably hundreds of sequels to that moment of decision: young Mets pitcher, glittering performance, a lot of pitches thrown, a tight game. What do you do? Take him out with the proverbial good taste in his mouth and trust the bullpen to handle the rest? I’ve seen that fail more often than I’d like to recall. Leave him to persevere and finish matters himself? I’ve seen that one go badly awry too. The only lesson I’ve ever drawn is the right course of action is obvious afterwards but not so much in the moment.

So, anyway: The Mets played the Rays in St. Petersburg Friday night, with both teams wearing camo caps and stirrups that looked like puttees — a new wrinkle in baseball military salutes though not necessarily a sartorially wise one. David Peterson was terrific. So was Tyler Glasnow. They dueled through a taut, interesting little game in which nothing much happened except for a couple of brief flurries in which everything happened all at once.

Glasnow looks like an action figure come to life: six-foot-eight, barbarian-hero hair, blandly handsome face. And he’s got superhero stuff: a fastball that can hit 100 and a curve best described as deadly. His arsenal would have been unimaginable when I was a kid, the kind of thing that would make you accuse your little brother of messing with the videogame settings, but it elicits little notice today, which is just one of the many extraordinary things about the modern game we take for granted. For Glasnow, the flurry of unwelcome activity came in the fifth: After retiring the first 14 Mets, he gave up an infield single to Kevin Pillar and a homer to Jonathan Villar. Villar was the only one involved who’d thought his ball was going out, and posed beneath its arc in admiration; he was also correct. Just like that, Glasnow’s excellent day had seemingly crumbled.

Peterson’s flurry came in the eighth, with a 2-0 lead and a pitch count in the 80s — up there but not necessarily alarming. With no one out and the Mets’ bullpen quiet, he threw a fastball to Mike Zunino that caught too much of the plate and crashed into the upper deck, which was fortunate because otherwise it might have broken a car window in Orlando. The next hitter, Kevin Padlo, doubled for his first big-league hit, a milestone I can normally celebrate but that left me muttering and swearing given the circumstances. Peterson got Brett Phillips on a strikeout and yielded the mound to Trevor May, who recorded a lineout on a nifty grab by Villar but then surrendered a game-tying double to Manuel Margot, who somehow has a career average of 1.100 against the Mets with 526 RBIs and whom I do not wish to discuss further in this post or preferably ever.

Should Luis Rojas have let Peterson start the eighth? Should he at least have had someone hot so Peterson didn’t face anyone after Zunino? Should he have done what he did and then joined us to shake our fists and moan at the heavens? Beats me. I didn’t know in the moment, having seen every strategy go wrong at one juncture or another, so I won’t pretend to know now.

What I do know is that the rest of the game felt like a depressing variant of Clue — some Ray was going to kill us and I wasn’t particularly motivated to find out exactly who and in what room and with which implement.

Still, the coup de grace was creatively cruel. With one out in the ninth and the bases loaded, Aaron Loup was brought in to face pinch-hitter Joey Wendle. In that situation, so many things can be your undoing that if you lose you shrug and say, Well, of course. But Loup struck out Wendle looking. One more lousy out and the Mets would have a free runner on second and various ridiculousness would ensue, possibly involving victory.

Phillips was up, and he served Loup’s first pitch over the infield. It didn’t land on Waveland Avenue or anything, but it went far enough and now I was annoyed where 30 seconds earlier I would have shrugged.

That’s another scenario I’ve lived through before, and will live through again. Baseball will kill you if you let it; my only advice is not to let it.

10 comments to The Perils of Young Pitchers

  • Daniel Hall

    The young pitcher was fine (finer than in previous times out at least). It would have helped to score more than their usual two runs, though…

    Lindor with Phillie Phanatic hair (seriously!?): 0-4, 3 K
    Pete with his usual hair: somehow even worse


    Also, I may have related this before, but here it goes (again); Margot (the T is not silent here) is an out-of-fashion female German given name, and then there’s the delightful Southern German / Bavarian version of an exclamation of “For God’s sake!” – “Herrgott!”. So whenever THAT GUY does grim things to the Mets again on the weekend, you lot are invited to join me in a tortured, exhausted outcry of “Herrgott, Margot!!”

  • Peter Scarnati

    Had the “pleasure” of attending the game in person last nite. Will also be there on Sunday. Actually was at this dump about 25 years ago to watch a HOCKEY game. Sad to say, the place hasn’t changed a bit. Completely antiseptic. Piles of concrete with the same rows of blue seats (where tarps aren’t covering them) everywhere. Down the lines, the seats must be oh, some 9,000 yards from the field. Don’t even bother to attempt to listen for anything the PA announcer has to say — nothing but garbled mumblings barely above a whisper. Rather than plainly posting on the light poles what aisle you have parked in, they decided to stencil paint it on the roadway. Nothing but honking car alarms after the game as everyone is frantically looking for their ride. $8.50 for a bag of peanuts, and they are apparently averse to utilizing the video board for video replays to any significant and helpful degree.
    I did note however, that in the 8th inning the game was not yet 2 hours old. The last 2 innings took nearly an hour to play.
    BTW, I can’t blame Peterson or the bullpen here. We had some absolutely horrid at bats with runners on and/or in scoring position. Should have tacked on at least one or two runs.

    • Rudin

      The monstrosity was built in the waning days of domed, multi-purpose stadiums and when major league baseball in Florida was a promising concept. Both are relegated to the dustbin of history and if there’s any justice the team will be re-located to Montreal.

    • It’s an unfortunate park, but the ray tank is kind of charming. Though it does smell powerfully of chlorine.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Amid all the claims of Lindor “breaking out” it’s worth nothing he is still below the Mendoza line and with one of worst overall batting records among starters in MLB…

    Also, did everyone note Kellenic’s arrival and 3-hit night and dinger? Where have you gone, Robbie Cano, the Mets Nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

  • eric1973

    Lindor appears to be an attention-starved clown who now looks like one, while also playing like one. Can’t wait ’til he turns it around so I can change my opinion.

    “What I do know is that the rest of the game felt like a depressing variant of Clue — some Ray was going to kill us and I wasn’t particularly motivated to find out exactly who and in what room and with which implement.”

    After they tied the game, they could have played 100 more innings and we weren’t going to score.

    I still think we can win in spite of Rojas. Felipe was shown in the stands, and too bad they couldn’t change places.

  • Daniel Hall

    Jason must have ghost angst already. Khalil Lee optioned without making it onto the field. :-P