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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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Max On, Max Off

The withstanding has begun. The Mets are 1-0 in the What The Hell Are We Going To Do Now? era. It will last anywhere from six weeks to eight weeks to whenever it actually ends. When you see Max Scherzer glaring from a mound near you, you’ll know it’s over.

For a spell on Thursday, it was hard to feel good about a team in first place by a healthy margin playing a close game because what did it matter what 25 other players did if the most significant among them — certainly in the top tier — wasn’t going to be available for his next start or the start after that or several to many starts after that? The original plan was to supplement Jacob deGrom with Max Scherzer. Then the plan was to cope without Jacob deGrom because we had Max Scherzer. The next plan won’t be nearly so glamorous. Scapulas. Obliques. The body parts pile up. The multiple Cy Young winners don’t.

Yet there were the Mets, facing down the Cardinals in a matinee that gripped your attention beyond the IL bulletins. It had everything you could want unless all you want out of every game is a stomping of the opposition (not an unreasonable desire). It had the Mets in front, the Mets tied, the Mets back out in front, the Mets holding on for dear life, the Mets having dear life all but slip from their fingers, the Mets behind and the Mets winning on one of the biggest swings you’ll see in any year. It had legends leaving our midst in Albert Pujols, playing first base like a real National Leaguer and nearly hitting one to the Marina before it politely declined to exit the park, and Yadier Molina, called into action as an injury replacement and unleashing one final mind’s eye glance of the ghost of Aaron Heilman (2022 postseason pending, because it’s not crazy to speculate a rematch of 2006 might be in the Cards). It had underappreciated superstar Paul Goldschmidt on fire, with a homer, three hits and four RBI. It had a new nettlesome Redbird, Juan Yepez, delivering three hits and the notion that the Cardinals never go away.

And those were just the visitors. The home team held its own and then some. It had Jeff McNeil, making like Bobby Ewing, discovered as alive and well and taking a shower by wife Pam on Dallas. Bobby was assumed to be dead for an entire season, but it was all a dream. That prime time soap opera’s jawdropping plot device serves a template for 2020 and 2021 where Squirrel’s resurrected career is concerned. The McNeil we see now is the McNeil of 2018 and 2019, and don’t we want to keep tuning in? Jeff drove in three runs, spread left field leather and has updated his status to essential Citi worker. Francisco Lindor was on base a bunch, too, and kept the ball in the infield while on defense. And, oh yeah, the Polar Bear roared, especially on that final crack of the bat, the two-run homer that rescued the Mets from a tenth-inning deficit with a ball that traveled two or three galaxies, or far enough to seal a 7-6 win with a two-run homer. The Mets rally began when MLB put Lindor on second to start the inning, eerily similar to how the Cards’ push in the top of the tenth began. I wish they wouldn’t do that. The Mets and Cardinals solved a 25-inning game once up on a time, a 20-inning game another time and an 18-inning game in fairly recent memory. Extra innings should be allowed to breathe.

As long as Pete Alonso is allowed to swing.

Chris Bassitt, the new ace of the Mets’ rotation, gritted per usual into the seventh. Neither Drew Smith nor Edwin Diaz was leakproof. Winning pitcher Colin Holderman got as much of the job done as he needed to. He came in with an unearned runner on second. Can’t blame him for that. The Cardinals scored their go-ahead run on a weak infield hit that moved said ghostly figure to third and Pujols grounding into a DP, which for much of Pujols’s career would have been an optimal outcome. Man, Pujols. After Pete treated his helmet like a basketball and shot it into a crowd of his teammates surrounding home plate — nobody got hurt — an SNY camera found Prince Albert heading down the tunnel for the final New York time. There goes greatness, I thought. When Albert retires, that’s basically it for that sense, unless Miguel Cabrera comes by next year. Otherwise, Albert is it from my perspective.

There are other superb active players of tenure who’ve built long, superb careers still in progress, but I haven’t experienced them quite the same way. Nobody whose National League bona fides go back quite long enough to seem like they didn’t commence “a few years ago”. Nobody who I don’t sort of see as a “youngster,” even if they’ve reached an advanced baseball age. Albert Pujols was the best hitter/player in the National League twenty years ago, right there with Barry Bonds. He endured at the top of the game for a decade. Then he departed St. Louis and continued to ply his craft out west in the junior circuit. The bottom line numbers increased even if his pace fell off drastically. The aura wasn’t what it once was once it was transplanted to Anaheim. I continually read that his presence had morphed into a liability. I didn’t want to hear it. To me, Albert Pujols was Albert Pujols in the way that Willie Mays was Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron was Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente was Roberto Clemente, and Frank Robinson was Frank Robinson when I was a kid. You get older, hardly any opponent resonates with you like that.

Pujols did. I didn’t want him to beat the Mets on Thursday. I never particularly welcomed any of the 93 career hits out of his total 3,314 and counting that were registered at the Mets’ expense. I was just happy to see him out there in Flushing one more time, playing first, still at it as he might have been at Shea, where Mays as a Giant and Aaron as a Brave and Clemente as a Buc and Robinson before he was an Oriole all excelled and could be applauded for what they’d done and who they were. When that ball Pujols hit off Smith to end the seventh somehow fell into McNeil’s glove at the track in left, keeping the Mets ahead by one…well, I surely didn’t want it to go out with the game on the line. Yet I wouldn’t have begrudged the man. Cursed a little, perhaps. But not begrudged.

Priorities are priorities. The Maxless Mets had to win yesterday. Had to. With no Scherzer joining no Megill, never mind no deGrom, you can’t squander a Bassitt start. The starters who are staples — grinding Chris, along with Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco, have to give us competitive outings and we have to back them up with ample support when they do. When we’re into David Peterson and Trevor Williams territory, we might need the bullpen to crank up a little sooner. Players need to emerge from slumps sooner. It was good to see Eduardo Escobar stinging the ball. It’s wasn’t so good to see him having trouble picking it up, but that’ll happen. What’s really good is everybody picking each other up. Yesterday was a had-to win because if we’re gonna be staring a bit into the abyss, giving it a glance with a seven-game lead as we are currently is about as ideal as we could imagine. Same for this just-completed homestand: three one-run losses that didn’t stop us from securing four wins and climbing twelve games above .500.

Let’s not gloss over where we are, even as we ask, “What the hell are we going to do now?” The Mets are seven games in front after forty games. Not impenetrable (we were memorably seven games in front after 145 games in 2007). But this is a solid lead constructed by a solid team right when it’s most needed. It may be hard to reckon good news within the context of doom Scherzer’s diagnosis wrought, but if a seven-game lead doesn’t seem encouraging, then you may need to reread the standings. Having built a seven-game lead is a damn sight better than being seven games behind. Building the lead to eight games, then nine, then more, would be optimal. If that becomes too tall an order, then withstand as you did on Thursday. The Mets closed out the first quarter of the season on a high note on the field. The more you win in the first quarter, the less damaging a given loss in the next three quarters will be. Pete Alonso, pretending to play hoops after going yard, obviously knows about first quarters and fourth quarters and the quarters in between. Winning on Thursday felt more gargantuan than simply taking one out of 162. Losing one on Thursday would have loomed even larger in the wrong direction. Losing No. 21 was bad enough.

Winning on a walkoff home run is a favorite thing for any fan, but there are others. National League Town explores a few more of them here or wherever your 447-foot blasts take you.

6 comments to Max On, Max Off

  • BlackCountryMet

    Have come over for the last 2 v Cards and am now inDenver ahead of the 3 v Rockies (bloody cold)

    Sat in the “Coke Den” yesterday it’s an outstanding view imo. Never a game I felt comfortable during, more one I always had hope. Would have preferred we won in the 9th for Edwin however a great way to win with a blast from Polar Pete (he’ll be at home in Denver with these temps)

    It’s a massive loss, Max but as you say, the Top 3 now need to step up, a bit more offense on their starts and just get what we can from the back end of the rotation

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I still don’t get all the optimism (I haven’t all season). A year ago today the Mets were also in first place and the only +500 team in the Division, and optimism was in the air then too. Granted, they were only 5 games over 500 and only 3 games up on the Phillies, but they still had DeGrom in the rotation and a solid Bench Mob. I felt better about that then than I do about this now. And look what happened.

    • I enjoyed the Bench Mob’s exploits but suspected it had an expiration date. Feels like the depth is more well-rounded — less bench players than role players. Real McNeil. Stabler Lindor. Let us not forget Marte. Better everyday team. Pitching will tell the tale.

  • Seth

    Both Pujols and Molina were part of the 2006 Cardinals, and both hurt the Mets. Yeah, I get that they’re “good for baseball” and all that, hall of fame, yada yada yadier, but I won’t miss seeing them.

    Maybe Max will heal quickly, we can only hope.

  • Great post! The third paragraph had me cheering.

  • Eric

    The McNeil jump, catch on Goldschmidt, and throw to 2nd to double off Donovan was more to Guillorme’s credit than McNeil’s. McNeil’s jump and landing were awkward because apparently the ball tailed back more than he anticipated. As a result, McNeil’s throw to 2nd base was on line but weak. Donovan beat the throw to 2nd. He was only out because Guillorme blocked the base so Donovan’s foot was stuck on Guillorme’s foot for the tag.

    Guillorme has made some moves at 2nd base in recent games that show he paid attention to Baez’s ‘El Mago’ moves last season. The day before, Guillorme slapped down a quick tag on a base stealer off a Mazeika throw that reminded of Baez’s signature tag.

    Guillorme has been doing good things with his bat the last few games, too, which makes me feel less anxious about letting Cano go.

    With Guillorme maybe getting comfortable at the plate, Escobar can use an extra day or two off. Notice he dropped Alonso’s helmet on the free throw.

    Holderman looks useful so far, especially his Familia-like sinker.