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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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First Test Passed

This is the stretch that will send the Mets down one of two postseason roads: a  newfangled bye that advances them to the division series, or a dogfight in the scrum of the wild-card round. Three with the Phillies, four with the Braves, four more with the Phillies, two with the Yankees.

Well, so far so good.

Our good friends from Philadelphia came into Citi Field, scored a conventional run off Max Scherzer immediately on Friday night, sent a ghost runner home against the luckless Mychal Givens later that evening, and … oh wait, that was it.

Nothing against Jacob deGrom and three relievers on Saturday. And nothing against Chris Bassitt and four relievers on Sunday.

Bassitt doesn’t have the raw stuff of Scherzer and deGrom, which is no insult whatsoever, but he’s cut from a similar mental cloth: intense, furiously competitive, ornery. There are the long shake-off sessions with catchers, the chess games he likes to play with hitters, and the “grind you till you break” philosophy articulated in spring training and now immortalized in his heavy-rotation Mets profile ad. (Hapless customer: “Uh, sir, I just came to this weird deli to get a pack of smokes — please no grinding or breaking. Also, why is this place infested with ballplayers?”)

I’ve come to admire Bassitt’s gunfighter stare and that violent pitching motion — the knee coming high as the arm cocks low behind him, then whips overhead at a slightly odd angle. Not to mention the array of pitches that might emerge from that delivery: three varieties of fastball, with the sinker most prominent; a slider; and a curve.

Bassitt had all of those pitches working Sunday, and needed them for heavy lifting in the fourth and fifth innings, facing two on and no out in each frame. No matter: In the fourth he fanned J.T. Realmuto on three pitches, got Nick Castellanos to fly out, and elicited a comebacker from Darick Hall; in the fifth, facing second and third, he fanned Matt Vierling and Bryson Stott, walked Rhys Hoskins after a lengthy duel, and erased Alec Bohm on a liner to second.

Runs had been hard to come by for the Mets, too, but on Sunday they finally woke up and swung the lumber against old friend Zack Wheeler, with a four-run fourth putting the game effectively out of reach. That inning’s scoring ended with a bonus run, as Jeff McNeil scrambled home to punish a bit of lackadaisical defense from Brandon Marsh and Jean Segura.

(I’d say Keith Hernandez must have uttered a belated “told you so,” but between Keith’s being elsewhere this weekend and his living in a highly Keith-centric world at all times, I’d put decent money on him having no idea that he gave the Phils bulletin-board material or that they responded by playing essentially airtight defense until then.)

The lone blemish of the Mets’ series win, if you don’t count the Marlins’ pacifism in getting steamrolled by the Braves, was the sight of Luis Guillorme limping home in the Mets’ uprising against Wheeler.

It’s been a joy to watch Guillorme have the breakout season I’d stubbornly insisted he had in him, sometimes without much evidence. That was a long time ago. Now, with two outs, I’ll urge enemy batters who can’t hear me to “hit it to anybody,” but with games on the line my plea is more specific: for some opponent to hit it to Guillorme, because I know he’ll do exactly the right thing. And none of that admiration has touched on his emergence as a useful if not terribly powerful bat; his glorious beard worthy of a Babylonian bas-relief; or his vaguely ironic mien in going about his business.

Guillorme has also been a key to the Mets’ positional flexibility, able to move seamlessly between second, short and third in various infield alignments. Hopefully the Mets will be without him only for a few days as this critical stretch continues. And, hopefully, said critical stretch will continue to be a showcase for smothering starting pitching, hitting in whatever quantity necessary and that most vital currency of all, series wins.

10 comments to First Test Passed

  • Seth

    Mets pitching has just been lights out. I love Keith, but he needs to give his performance art a rest. It’s hard enough for professional MLB teams to compete for a World Series championship without needless distractions from the broadcast booth.

    • Keith is a legend, thoroughly deserved having his number retired, and still brings invaluable baseball knowledge when engaged. But “when engaged” is doing more and more work, and it’s now not uncommon for me to note that the booth is as good or better when it’s just GR.

  • mikeL

    yes keith likely had some responsibility for the phils’ unusually seamless defense, but apparently unable to walk and chew gum at the same time their offense suffered mightily (fantastic mets pitching notwithstanding)

    and yes, this is the time of tests. what a crazy stretch of must-not-miss mets tv! and how fitting it starts against strider. himself a bulletin-board presence.


  • Eric

    I agree. The improved defense is an element of the improved pitching and Guillorme’s gold-caliber glove at 2B, 3B, and SS is a major piece of the improved defense. I wonder if his bat fading and the groin injury are due to fatigue from the increased playing time, though.

    The Escobar and Guillorme injuries, coupled with teammates apparently fatiguing (Walker) or playing hurt (Marte), remind that the Mets are an older, veteran club. The younger Braves’ unrelenting pursuit of the division title that they’re accustomed to winning makes the regular season more fun. But with an eye on the post-season, it behooves the Mets as an older, veteran club to sew up the division ASAP to skip the wildcard round and rest and recuperate as much as possible ahead of the playoffs. Carefully manage Scherzer and deGrom in particular. Carrasco and Walker are concerns, too.

    For the Braves and Phillies, this stretch for the Mets is the 2 chasers’ best chance to catch up to the Mets. It’s likely their last realistic shot at the division if they fail. The Phillies have their wildcard slot to worry about, too.

    Splitting the series against the Braves would be like adding an extra game to the division lead because 2 wins clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Braves. The Mets already clinched the tiebreaker against the Phillies.

    I look forward to finding out what the Mets will do about Guillorme and Escobar and who they call up if either or both go on the IL. The Mets season can peak this week if they win. Facing the Braves in Atlanta and the Phillies in Philadelphia shorthanded over 8 games in 7 days with the course of the remaining season at stake is a test. The Mets have been passing tests all season.

    • mikeL

      it would be intriguing to let both rest and bring baty up, plug him into this very well-tuned mets machine.
      canha could be the other option at 3rd, to relieve some pressure on a call-up.

      • Eric

        Deven Marrero. Glove first, light bat, utility infielder in the Guillorme mold rather than Baty or Vientos. I guess because Baty and Vientos’s gloves are suspect and they don’t play around the diamond. Maybe if Escobar, who’s supposed to be bat first but hasn’t been much and has been nearly exclusively 3B, goes on the IL, then Baty or possibly Vientos would be called up.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    What’s most amazing is, if not for a perfect throw home from some left fielder I never heard of until then, they would have swept the series.

  • dmg

    i have never bought a mets jersey, but if i do, it’s going to be guillorme’s. (if they’re available.)

  • Joey G

    I can’t fault Keith for being honest to a fault in his description of the Phillies’ defense for most of the year. Those of us who have watched them defend like a poor Little League team for 12 games this season cannot quibble with Keith “telling it like it is,” which is what a journalist or broadcaster is supposed to do. Keith’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization formerly known as the Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. By way of comparison, the glove work routinely flashed by Mr. Guillorme and the other Mets this season has been a revelation, and presumably relished by a connoisseur of fine defense such as Keith. Unfortunately, Keith may have not been paying attention to the upgrades made by the Phillies at the trade deadline, since they are a much more capable defensive team going into the stretch run. As far as bulletin board material goes, Keith’s mostly accurate assessment pales in comparison to neophyte Spencer Strider’s “Mets are lucky” comments. It will be fun to see how that plays out tonight just off Pasqual Perez Memorial I-285 Highway in Cobb County. LGM.