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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 Whims of October

But — I said to myself — I want to get in. This is a World Series opener. I’d never seen one. There is nothing in baseball equal to it…
Arnold Hano, A Day in the Bleachers

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying, “If you keep letting the Braves make the playoffs, sooner or later a pennant is gonna fall their way.” Alas, it is true. They earned postseason entry a dozen times between 2000 and 2020 yet went home before the World Series. Because the last World Series they made was at our expense, it had been satisfying ever since to watch them depart the stage with their tomahawk between their legs no later than the NLCS.

So much for satisfaction. The Atlanta Braves are the National league champions. Our champions, so to speak. Yeech, of course. But it was bound to happen eventually. The reason I didn’t think it had much chance of happening this year, as late as late July, was they were missing Ronald Acuña, Jr., and they were missing Mike Soroka. No best player. No best pitcher. While I never fully rule out a mathematical contender, it didn’t seem likely to me they’d step up, never mind step over us. No Acuña. No Soroka. Little chance.

I kept leaning on that, sort of like I leaned on the Cubs couldn’t win the NL East in 1984 because they were the Cubs who hadn’t won anything since 1945, or the Nationals couldn’t storm through the 2019 postseason because the Nationals had never won a single postseason series before 2019. The Braves lost eight consecutive NLDSes between 2002 and 2019 plus the inaugural NL Wild Card Game in 2012. They also coughed up a playoff berth down the stretch in 2011 and crumbled like a Drake’s coffee cake in September 2014. All of that would have been enough for an instinctual advertisement for not believing in them in October 2021 — that and the blowing a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the 2020 NLCS — but I wasn’t even going there in July. In July, they were without Acuña and Soroka. Being in shouting distance of first place in the East wasn’t going to do them much good if they were missing a couple of their primary vocal chords.

The Braves got themselves a larynx transplant via a fistful of trades that brought them Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, who in NLCS play proved a latter-day Eddie Perez. As sometimes happens, the team trailing in late July becomes a somewhat different team by early August. We kind of remember that being our case six suddenly going on seven years ago. It’s more fun when it happens for us than for somebody we go from leading to trailing. On July 28, the night Michael Conforto gunned down Abraham Almonte at home plate to secure a save for Edwin Diaz, the first-place Mets led the third-place Braves by five games. The Braves beat the Mets the next night and the trade deadline the next day.

By August 14, the Braves were slightly ahead of the Mets. By August 21, the Braves were farther ahead of the Mets than the Mets had been ahead of the Braves before those transformative trades. While we kept straining to glimpse glints of daylight as the California darkness descended upon us, the Braves’ immediate future turned so bright they should’ve worn shades. Atlanta (or wherever they play) finished 6½ ahead of the Phillies in second and 11½ ahead of us in third. That the Braves of Travis d’Arnaud and Guillermo Heredia won a mere 88 games didn’t matter. They were a division champion. Now they’re a league champion, having brushed aside the 106-win Dodgers like they were the 77-win Mets. The cauldron that is the National League East apparently toughened them up good.

I don’t hate the Braves like I hated them in 1999, the last time they went to the World Series. It would be physically impossible to hate the Braves like I hated them in 1999 or 2000 or up to the late-July weekend in 2006 when we definitively ended their divisional dynasty. After that, the Braves receded from archrivalry. Hate became dislike, sometimes deep, sometime de facto. It was, as noted, satisfying to see them fall short. It wasn’t life or death.

It still isn’t. They beat the Brewers in this year’s NLDS, and it didn’t particularly bother me, probably because I was preoccupied by the Giants and Dodgers. Then they took on L.A., and I didn’t really have a side. I don’t like either team as a rule. My contemporary dislike for the Dodgers traces mostly to the presence of Chase Utley on the basepaths in 2015. Utley hasn’t been a Dodger since 2018, but as long as there remain active players in Dodger uniforms who gave Utley an approving pat on the ass for taking out Ruben Tejada at second, he’s still spiritually one of them and they are essentially one of him.

Nevertheless, I didn’t life-or-death the Dodgers’ demise in the NLCS because that would have entailed getting behind the Braves, and being behind the Braves — from a standings perspective — was something I’d experienced too lately for comfort. And I couldn’t life-or-death the Braves’ demise because, yeesh, Utley. So I let it play out and found myself not wholly unhappy that the Braves of d’Arnaud and Heredia were heading to the World Series and at least a little delighted the Dodgers weren’t, though I think had their series gone in the opposite direction, I would have come out of it in a similar mood. The Dodgers of Albert Pujols (who I could swear was already inducted into the Hall of Fame) would have seemed admirable. The Braves would have been done, which is forever satisfying.

Either way, I watched. I’m not one of those Mets fans who ducks out on the postseason when the Mets aren’t anywhere near it. You don’t have to be absorbed by a Metless postseason like it’s 1986, but you shouldn’t take a bow for taking a pass. You’re entitled to sit on your high horse or apathetic alpaca, but I can’t endorse your celebration of not watching or not caring. I’m also not one of those Mets fans who replaces “Meteor” for “Mets” in LGM at every unpleasant October turn. Yankees-Phillies in 2009 was meteorworthy. Yankees-Braves in 1999 was meteorworthy. Perhaps you spot a throughline. Dodgers-Braves was good, survivable baseball. Even if it had been lousy baseball, it was postseason baseball. It was baseball. Come back to me in no more than ten days and tell me that’s not worth something. (Come back in December and you might really be jonesing.)

Over in the American League, I would have preferred the Red Sox as champion, but got the Astros. With the most recent 30 for 30 still playing in my head, the best part of the 2021 ALCS may have been it wasn’t a rematch of the 1986 World Series. It certainly wasn’t life or death for me. I got my life-or-death out of the way in the AL Wild Card Game. Everything after that among Boston, Tampa Bay, the South Side of Chicago and Houston was Not the Yankees, which is all I can ever ask out of the American League.

Granted, the Astros have an elephant in the video room, and one can’t watch them for more than a couple of pitches without remembering they were nefariously identifying the pitches to win a World Series not too many years ago. The Astros, however, are pretty good at being chameleons. They were the Colt .45s at birth. They were baseball avatars of the Space Age with their next chosen identity. They settled in and blandly occupied the Astrodome during the Eighth Wonder’s first decade, rarely being abysmal, never being spectacular, usually thwarting the Mets. They dressed in horizontal rainbow stripes and at least looked exciting. They rose up in spurts, threatening our Once Upon a Time in Queens fairy tale at their peak. Then they ditched the rainbow stripes; disappeared from the top of their division; ditched the residual rainbow accents; changed divisions; and eventually succeeded on a consistent basis, albeit with relatively few noticing.

The Astros kept going to the playoffs in the late ’90s and early ’00s with barely a lick of readiness for prime time. Or perceived readiness. They went 0-for-4 in NLDSes when they started making them almost annually and went almost unseen even as they got the hang of October. For those who miss the golden days of afternoon World Series contests, consider the Braves and Astros met in the NLDS five times between 1997 and 2005, and they were almost exclusively a matinee attraction: 16 day games in 19 dates. ESPN, Fox and whoever else was involved back then would have preferred to show a test pattern in prime time than spotlight the best baseball the Sunbelt had to offer.

Toward the end of the Killer B’s run, the Astros of Bagwell, Biggio and import Beltran — playing on the site of an old train station and dropping the Space Age motif from everything but their name — neared the World Series in 2004, losing the NLCS to the Cardinals in seven. Then, with Carlos B. ensconced in Flushing, they reached the World Series in 2005, only to be swept out of it by the White Sox from the American League. Eight years later, after intentionally falling through the competitive floor, they were in the American League. A couple of blinks later, their process of losing a ton morphed into winning a lot, then winning it all in 2017. It was a great story until details emerged rendering it considerably less great.

Yet here they are in the World Series in their latest incarnation, America’s Anti-Team. The Astros’ roster has mostly turned over since ’17, but the cream of their crop remains and they haven’t missed a single postseason since winning it all, no matter how they won it. Their manager is possibly the most sympathetic figure in all of baseball, Dusty Baker. Baker wasn’t a part of the Astros’ analytical process nor on hand for the surfeit of strategically aimed cameras and voluble trash cans. He’s the lifer who came up under the wing of Henry Aaron and paid more than a half-century’s worth of dues, winning almost everything with almost everybody, save for a World Series ring from the helm of the dugout. Maybe the only feelgood story that comes close to Baker’s is that of his Fall Classic counterpart Brian Snitker, an organization man in the best sense of the phrase. The Braves gave their mostly unknown minor league fixture a shot in 2016 and aren’t they glad they did? Snit has guided Atlanta to four consecutive postseasons, inspiring love and loyalty along the way. And he’s done it in a Braves uniform, for goodness sake.

I adore a postseason when a team I don’t follow comes along and sweeps me up on its journey. This hasn’t been one of those postseasons, and as this postseason pulls to within four to seven games of a conclusion, I don’t have a pennant-winning dog in its ultimate fight. I’m just looking to be optimally entertained and fleetingly engaged. Don’t tell the fans of the remaining playoff teams. It’s life or death to them.

There’s plenty to root against if that’s your jam. There’s something to root for if you let yourself. There’s the pair of teams that survived the gauntlet of a full season and the heat that gets turned up in October. The Braves and the Astros have played some wonderful baseball to get here. It’s wonderful that baseball is still being played. Hell yeah, I’m gonna tune in. This World Series may pit two teams we’re not crazy about, but it’s the World Series. It belongs to us all.

15 comments to The Whims of October

  • Eric

    My attention span for a World Series sans Mets, or to a lesser extent Yankees proximity, is I check in more or less the same as I do for games during the regular season that don’t affect the Mets. The gist and highlights will do. If something exceptional happens, I’ll look for a video clip of it.

    That said, on the occasions I watch a non-Mets World Series game, I appreciate the usually more-intense, superior baseball played.

    I’m not rooting for the Braves but I like their team culture as the NLE version of the Cardinal Way, which I want for the Mets. So if the Braves beat the Astros, the benefit is a good validated model standard in the division.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    I won’t know who I’m rooting for until one of them scores, at which point I’ll let my instincts guide me to cheer or boo (usually how it goes), but I will be watching, as usual! A good World Series is something you can reflect on with a smiling face, again and again and again.

  • Tad Richards

    They were originally the Houston Colts. When they were afraid that people might associate them with young horses and not with guns, they changed it.

  • Matt of DE

    I’m going with the Dusty Baker has never won a WS angle. My hated of the Braves has subsided a bit from the 90s and 2000s, but still, they’re the Braves.

  • eric1973

    And who can forget the 1977 movie “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training,” starring the Houston Astros of Bob Watson, Enos Cabell, and the Houston Astrodome, with Bill DeVane imploring the umps to “Let Them Play,” sung to the tune, BTW, of “Let’s Go Mets!”

  • open the gates

    I don’t celebrate my not caring. I simply don’t care. I kind of wish I did, but I don’t, other than vaguely feeling good about Travis d’Arnaud making it to The Show. Me, I’m ready for the hot stove league, which promises to be very entertaining this year.

  • eric1973

    How come WE couldn’t get Bob Melvin?

    Oh yeah, no President and no GM.

    Very Metsian, once again!

  • chuck

    Reluctantly supporting the Atlanta team because I think the Astros were not sufficiently punished for the cheating.

    But I’m just glad it’s not the Y_______ and the Dodgers. If that had happened I would have rooted for the work stoppage that looks like it’s gonna happen anyway.

  • Eric1973

    Gotta root for Houston because, even though they cheated, they cheated to beat the Yankees!

    So all is forgiven!

  • I used to hate Braves too, not as much as b4 anymore. Great article!

  • Seth

    I will never, never, until the sun burns out, root for the Braves and their moronic, insulting tomahawk chop. Rooting in this series is a no-brainer (though not looking too great for the non-bad guys).

  • eric1973

    And so Zack Scott is gone.
    Good riddance to drunken rubbish.
    Maybe at his next job, as GM for the Jailhouse All-Stars, he will hydrate with water rather than alcohol.

    Compliance, indeed.

  • open the gates

    That’s gotta be the least surprising baseball news of the last month. I was only surprised that they didn’t kick him to the curb the same day they fired Rojas. Better late than never. And maybe they need to be a little more careful about their managerial/GM hires – between wrongdoing and incompetence, they’ve become the most unfunny joke in baseball.