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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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Of Phillies and Phantoms

I’m assuming the five-day interregnum between the conclusion of the League Championship Series and the commencing of the World Series was built into the postseason by MLB this year to give us time to get used to the nearly unfathomable presence of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2022 Fall Classic.

But here we are, four days since the Phillies won the National League pennant and, nope, I still can’t wrap my head around it. Granted, the Phillies don’t play for my phathoming. Usually they exist so we can have phun with alternate spellings of the f-sound. When the Phillies succeed, we tend to make a pretty definitive f-sound.

My reaction to the Phillies’ elevation to National League champions boiled down to “go phigure.” The same Phillies on whose backs the Mets produced a week’s worth of prospective SNY offseason prime time programming — we reveled in at least five instant Mets Classics at their expense between April and August, by my reckoning — are on to bigger and better things, perhaps the biggest and best thing baseball has to offer, the Rob Manfred Memorial Piece of Metal otherwise known as the Commissioner’s Trophy awarded to the team that wins the World Series.

Which could very well be the Phillies…which I can’t get used to. Not that they’re not a team full of highly capable players, not that they haven’t circled the concept of contention for several seasons, not that they didn’t qualify for the playoffs. They’re just so…the Phillies. Perhaps our vision of them is skewed from those fourteen of nineteen games the Mets won from them in 2022. Perhaps we, like Keith Hernandez, couldn’t take their phundies seriously. For all the talent they’ve brought in, they continued to embody the spirit of Don Buddin, the 1950s shortstop immortalized in The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, the sort of team that “would perform admirably, even flawlessly, for seven or eight innings of a ballgame, or until such time as you really needed” them, after which they would fall apart like “a cheap watch or ’54 Chevy”.

Maybe that was the Phillies when the Mets played them. Still, an 87-75 record, while adequate to vault a ballclub into its league’s six-team tournament, doesn’t indicate they were avatars of ability against everybody else. Yet here they are, the six-seed that defeated the three-seed Cardinals, the two-seed Braves and the five-seed Padres, who themselves succumbed to Philadelphia after taking down the one-seed Dodgers on the heels of their upset of the four-seed Mets.

Remember that bunch from this postseason? It’s been a while. The Mets were ousted on October 9. The World Series starts Friday, on October 28. On paper, it’s all of a piece. In my gut, it barely registers. Of course, I remember all too well the pertinent details, but the loss isn’t haunting me the way these sorts of losses usually do. The wound, contrary to Billy Joel’s assessment of a sour relationship in “Stiletto,” isn’t so fresh I can taste the blood. Most postseasons that don’t go according to our wishes throb eternally with some degree of phantom pain. That’s OUR next round. That’s OUR World Series appearance. That’s OUR World Series parade. I can feel it, even if it isn’t there. Check Baseball-Reference again!” Some years when we don’t make it to the playoffs come off that way. At the peak of our anti-Phillies animus, in October of 2008, I ached for Shea to be hosting whatever Citizens Bank had going on. This should be in OUR ballpark, dammit.

Not so much these last few weeks. Maybe it’s because given how the postseason now grinds on round by round, series by series, there’s time to shake off the shock of no longer being a part of the party if your team inadvertently made an early exit. Once the NL boiled down to Philadelphia and San Diego, the Mets’ technically recent participation in the very same tourney seemed a footnote.

Or a phootnote.

Before I forget, congratulations Phillies (I’m sure they’re standing around practice at Minute Maid Park waiting to read those words). I wouldn’t say I’m rooting for them to carry the National League banner to ultimate victory, but I also don’t know that I’m wholeheartedly rooting against them. It’s not 2008. It’s a little like 1980, a year when I absolutely did not root for the Phillies, but they did have an ex-Met of note pitching for them, Tug McGraw, and they faced in October an Astros club featuring another ex-Met pitcher of note, Nolan Ryan. That, of course, was in the NLCS, the historical consensus pick as the searingest best-of-five championship series contested between East and West winners.

I rooted like hell for those Astros in that series, partly because they were new blood, mostly because I really hated those Phillies, McGraw notwithstanding. In 2022, the Phillies have three former Met pitchers, two of whom earned serious Flushing cachet — Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard — and one of whom is Brad Hand. Hand was a Met for a month. Wheeler and Syndergaard loomed as the future when the future was all we had. It was a big deal to trade for them as minor leaguers, giving up Carlos Beltran in 2011 and R.A. Dickey in 2012, respectively, so we could secure and nurture such promising right arms. Each developed from dream to reality. The results were mostly good. The first half of the 2010s was all about cultivating young pitchers. Zack. Noah. A kid named Rafael Montero, who didn’t quite pan out as a Met, but maybe you’ve glimpsed him in the Houston bullpen being essential to another American League championship.

Those are the phantoms I’ll keep my eyes on, I suppose. Montero missed most of 2015. Wheeler missed all of it. Syndergaard came up and teamed with 2010 first-round draft pick Matt Harvey, 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and Burt Moller’s southpaw grandson Steven Matz to form a World Series rotation. For a spell, young Met pitching lived up to expectations, a quartet of starters who topped out in age at 27 and in ceiling at unlimited. They’d already forged their potential into a pennant. Wheeler was making his way back from Tommy John, and if we ever got anything out of Montero, it would be gravy.

Wasn’t all of that just yesterday? I swear it seems more recent than the Mets-Padres series.

A new episode of National League Town toggles between dismay that the Mets didn’t go further and admiration for how far the Phillies have gotten. You’ve been warned.

9 comments to Of Phillies and Phantoms

  • eric1973

    I, too, rooted for KC against Tug’s Phils in 1980. I was just 15 and too young to realize TUG McGRAW!!! was on that team.

    If given a mulligan, I would certainly root for the 1980 Phils, and in retrospect, I am glad they won.

    Interesting interview with Tug later on. When he got the final out, he was elated and was looking around, thinking “Where is Everybody?,” as nobody else was jumping up and down.

    That’s just how that team was.

  • Matt in DE

    Living in the Philadelphia sphere of influence and being a New York fan of multiple persuasions, is definitely a mild hell right now. Between Phillies fans videos filling up my Tik Tok feed, Wawa’s Schwarberfest (née Hoagiefest) and the general obnoxiousness of their fans, it’s a bit much!!!

    My 9 year old is also trying to convince me that we should be rooting for the Phillies since they are the nearest team to us. While a logical argument, I just can’t get there.

    Therefore, the white board in my cubicle now proclaims:


  • Eric

    A part of it is that the Braves series feels like the elimination series, and the Padres series was just more of the same.

    At least the Mets didn’t suffer the further indignity of being beat by the Phillies in the wildcard round.

    As far as phantom pain, part of me is still confident that Harvey is about to win game 5, and deGrom and Syndergaard will take games 6 and 7.

    • Matt in DE

      Yes, losing to the Phillies in the NLDS would have been apocalyptic. We’ll have our Blue and Orange October…some day.

  • The horror, really, is that nothing is guaranteed. 2015 felt so very much like the beginning of something, like 1984 all over again almost, and we seemed ahead of schedule – so it was that to some fans (and a manager), just getting to the World Series seemed like enough. More would certainly be coming….

    It doesn’t work that way.

    As optimistic as I am about the new ownership – in almost every way the opposite of previous ownership: deep pockets, probably not so nice in person, rabid fandom, desire to win at all costs – there are no guarantees 2022 was the beginning of something.

    Max is old. Jake, also old-ish, could leave us, as could Nimmo, Diaz, and what seems like half the roster. Pete and Squirrel and Lindor seem like sure things – but are they?

    Make hay when the sun shines, is my point – and as much as I share a general not-so-awful feeling about the looming World Series, and our absence from it, I am terrified that it’ll be a while before we have a team that seems so good again.

    Of course, look at the 2022 Phillies – you cannot tell me that’s a better team than the 2022 Mets. So maybe next year we can be just good enough to get in, but figure out a way to get a few breaks as the post-season progresses.

    2023: 87 wins or bust.

  • Seth

    One must root for the Houstons… bad taste but less Phillie-ing.

  • TJ O'Neill

    Knowing how many Phillies fans threw all of their energy into rooting for the Royals/against the Mets in 2015 has soured any effort to get me to cheer for Philadelphia baseball, in this series or any other. Simply will not happen.

    Wake me up when free agency begins and Cohen mobilizes his fleet of Brinks trucks.

  • Jacobs27

    It does seem like yesterday.

    Sorry that rain prevented Syndergaard from starting another WS game 3 actual yesterday.

    Wheeler looks pretty gassed, but I would enjoy seeing both of them pitch well, whatever phate awaits the Phillies.

  • DAK442

    I know a lot of Philly fans. The only time I’ve ever rooted for the Phillies was against the Yankees. Lets Go Stros!