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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
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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Energy Crisis ’17

Which Met crisis was the overriding one Friday night? It’s hard to keep them straight. Harking all the way back to April 27, Noah Syndergaard not being able to lift his arm was the worst possible news. Then it was Yoenis Cespedes limping into second hours later. Oh wait — Syndergaard grabbed something and left a game in the second inning. Could it get any worse than Ces and Thor both going on the DL? How about Matt Harvey being suspended, missing a start and being surrounded by loud whispers of discomfiting concern? That was huger than huge…until Jeurys Familia was found to be experiencing a serious-sounding condition that required immediate surgery and has him sidelined for the bulk of the rest of the year.

With Familia’s long-term absence the most recently spotlighted crisis, it was easy to forget Harvey was making his first start since his five-alarm suspension. The fall of the Dark Knight couldn’t have been a bigger story for a few news cycles. By the time Matt took the mound in Milwaukee, it all seemed so three days ago.

Unlike last weekend, Harvey showed up, so that was a victory of a sort. He gave the Mets five innings that positioned them for a victory of a more substantial sort, then a portion of a sixth that basically ended that possibility. We might have been able to look back on Matt’s return as gritty and gutty and an encouraging first step had his manager pinch-hit for him when the scored was knotted at two and the pitcher had danced through figurative raindrops — every other Brewer plate appearance seemed to take half-an-hour — to keep it that way. We won’t as much now because he was so thoroughly throttled in the sixth. Still, it was a start in the sense that Matt had to get going again somewhere, and a so-so Harvey, especially within the context of what the 2017 Mets have become, is better than no Harvey whatsoever…and no worse an option than erstwhile seatfiller Adam Wilk, now a member in good standing of the Minnesota Twins.

The Brewers looked alive in their 7-4 victory. The Mets looked obligated to be there. Their daubers weren’t irretrievably down (witness the fleeting ninth-inning rally that didn’t go as far as needed) but they just seemed outpaced. A Brewer stole a run. A Met got picked off second. That kind of night.

At least we didn’t have to immediately worry how the late innings would be structured in Familia’s absence. Addison Reed didn’t have to take care of the ninth inning save, somebody else didn’t have to be responsible for holding the eighth-inning lead. It was a night when relief pitching was deployed neither strategically nor tactically. The Mets used their bullpen because games have nine innings and their starter was done after five. He pitched into the sixth, but he was already finished.

Positives were discernible if you were of a mind to mine them from the Milwaukee muck. Neil Walker registered three hits, including a long home run. Asdrubal Cabrera was listed in the lineup, didn’t have to leave it and managed to double and score. Lucas Duda still exists and also doubled. Those old pros, however much they’ve been known to creak, will come in handy in continuing the pursuit of the 162-game schedule, 128 games of which remain, none of whose outcomes are preordained. Met tomorrows at Miller Park have been historically tricky to traverse, but another game awaits, and another game is another chance to get revved up.

Jaime DeJesus put together quite a feature on my new book Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star for Aspire magazine. I invite you to check it out here.

Weird If You Think About It Too Much

I wish Jeurys Familia the best in dealing with the arterial clot afflicting his right shoulder: a speedy recovery, a return to full health, a refreshed ability to throw a baseball better than all but a handful of pitchers let alone people on the planet.

I wish anybody who has an arterial clot, a torn lat, a strained hamstring, an inflamed elbow, spinal stenosis and any other malady well. They don’t have to play for the Mets. They don’t have to play any kind of sport. Thing is, I don’t typically worry about total strangers who are in physical discomfort except in theory and only if they are brought to my attention. But I do reflexively worry about the well-being of individual Mets specifically because they’re Mets.

If you think about it too much, it’s weird. Familia, Syndergaard, Cespedes and so on (there may not be enough pixels to list them all) are gonna be fine in the broad sense. They are compensated at a handsome rate and they will continue to be so for the duration of their contracts. They can miss time and not fret the financial implications. None, to the best of our knowledge, is in a life-threatening medical situation. The absolute worst that can happen — no matter how much black magic we attribute to Ray Ramirez — is a baseball player won’t play baseball anymore. That’s the absolute worst, and that’s unlikely to occur. These guys will receive the best of care, rehabilitation and training. Barring the absolute worst, they’ll be back.

Their next-worst case scenario is they won’t play as well as they once did, they will endanger their long-term earnings potential and they won’t live up to the all the athletic promise that has defined their endeavors since they were kids. That would be legitimately sad if it were to come to that, and there’s no guarantee it won’t, but chances are what most of these Mets are up against is temporary in nature. The lone certifiable exception as far as we know is David Wright, and it can’t be said David Wright hasn’t had a helluva career. We want him to have more of one, but if he never plays again, he has achieved mightily.

So really it comes down to guys we’ve never personally engaged missing a few weeks or months or maybe a year. It will be a drag for them not doing what they do best, what they presumably love to do. It will gnaw away at their competitive nature that they can’t compete. They will have to channel their energy and desire into overcoming an injury instead of an opponent. But it will probably work out all right eventually and they’ll still be baseball players.

Which leaves us to wait for them so we can root for them to make us happy, which is why we shudder every time we encounter a bulletin that says yet another Met is going on the disabled list. We are concerned because they’re human and we’re human, but mostly, when you get down to it, because they’re Mets players and we’re Mets fans. I guess that’s OK to admit.

The Most Wilmer Flores Game Ever

I mean, what else could you call it? The Mets’ most lovable misfit toy, who’s 25 years old chronologically but about 700 in Mets-drama years, was repeatedly front and center in this one … in good ways and bad.

Wilmer Flores collected three hits, all off the righties he’s not supposed to hit, the last of which came within a whisker of turning a deflating loss into a dramatically tied-and-now-to-be-determined affair. He also made two notable plays in the field. The first was an interesting Rorschach test, simultaneously a smart play and a lesson about Wilmer’s pretty serious limitations. The second was a less-interesting lesson about those limitations, and lost the game.

We’ll start with the first play: with the Mets clinging to a 3-2 lead, Fernando Salas relieved Tommy Milone with Giants on first and third and one out. Gorkys Hernandez topped a ball to Flores at the third-base bag. Wilmer, instead of starting the round-the-horn double play to end the inning, threw home, shot-putting the ball into the dirt in front of Kevin Plawecki. Plawecki corralled the short hop and tagged out Christian Arroyo; Salas then fanned Michael Morse.

No harm done, but the play sparked a lively discussion on SNY and in the smarter precincts of the Citi Field stands: had Flores made the right play? After thinking about it a bit, I concluded that he had — but not for a reason to be celebrated. Yes, Hernandez is reasonably speedy, but Flores had time to turn the double play and instead gave the Giants another out.

So why was the fielder’s choice the right play? Because of Wilmer’s limitations. His footwork is slow and awkward, his throws are worrisomely inaccurate, and his instincts are nonexistent. Apparently knowing that, he took the one out he was sure he could get instead of the two that a more confident and sure-handed fielder would have treated as a given.

(Alternately: Wilmer didn’t even think about a double play and took the play right in front of him. Which would be basically the same lesson as above.)

Given ample opportunities to blow a reeling Giants team out of the game and sweep the series, the Mets spat the bit and took that same skinny 3-2 lead to the ninth. Enter Jeurys Familia, last seen the previous night with a five-run lead — circumstances during which one might not expect to see the closer, particularly with an afternoon game on deck.

That came up in Terry Collins‘s Q&A after the game, with the pint-sized manager fountaining out at least a gallon of anger in response to a question he’d clearly anticipated and been stewing about. Basically, Terry said, he saw Tuesday night’s game as a must-win since he didn’t know what he’d get from Milone on Wednesday, and while Familia was working for a third-straight game, he’d only thrown 15 pitches in the first two.

Terry’s right on the second point: 15 pitches in two days shouldn’t preclude a third day’s work. On the other hand, even a bullpen made up of spastic pyromaniacs ought to be trusted to not give up five runs in one inning against a pancake-flat team. Terry elevated the Mets’ odds of taking Game 2 from “very good” to “very very good,” but at a cost for Game 3. That strikes me as tactically debatable at best.

Another mistake, in my view, was not subbing Rene Rivera for Plawecki in the ninth. Familia working a third straight game and protecting a one-run lead in a day game after a night game ought to have been at least a flashing yellow light, and called for the Mets’ foremost pitching whisperer, praised before in these parts for coaxing Familia through days when his engine’s sputtering.

For whatever reason, Familia wasn’t himself and we all braced for impact. With one out he walked Joe Panik and then couldn’t put away Eduardo Nunez, who — credit where credit’s due — put together a dogged at-bat, spoiling pitch after pitch.

And then Nunez hit a ground ball to Flores.

The ball was hit hard, no doubt. But it was a step to his left. It was a game-ending double play.

Flores took an awkward step and bobbled the ball. The double play was gone, but he still had plenty of time to get an out at second base. He picked up the ball, rushed the throw and lost that out too. The next batter, Hunter Pence, singled in the tying run; two batters later, Arroyo slammed a ball up the gap for a three-run lead, and celebrated with the kind of youthful enthusiasm he hasn’t displayed since winning the Brooksville, Fla., soap-box derby two weeks ago.

If you want to argue Terry/Familia, this has to be part of it too: if Flores makes a play you expect a major-league infielder to make, the recap is that Familia walked a guy and battled Nunez before getting the double-play ball he needed. In which case grumbling about bullpen usage might suggest that you’re determined never to be happy.

(Oh yeah, there’s also this. It’s from 2014, but it’ll always be true.)

This was the Mets, though, so we were far from done. (You could also say this was the 2017 Giants.) The Mets more than battled: they put two men on against Derek Law and Wilmer — because it had to be Wilmer — slammed a ball to the fence in left-center.

Baseball is famously a game of inches, but this was ridiculous. Six inches higher and Wilmer’s drive would have scraped over the orange line for a game-tying home run. An inch or two to the right and it would have been ensnared by the glove of old friend Justin Ruggiano for an amazing catch. It hit the fingers of Ruggiano’s glove and became airborne once more — and with a little bit of spin or a couple of inches of inadvertent glove assist it would have been a home run anyway.

But it was just a well-struck two-run double. A minute or so later, Plawecki hit a little nubber in front of the plate and the Mets had lost the most Wilmer Flores game ever.

Above Average Tuesday

It was supposed to be one of the seminal moments in the revival of a franchise that was taking its sweet time returning to life. Tuesday, June 18, 2013, a day-night doubleheader in Atlanta. The afternoon portion would be pitched by baseball’s hottest star, the evening’s focused on the premiere of potentially its next one. The hyperbolic among us cottoned to the billing Super Tuesday.

And it was super. Matt Harvey flirted seriously with a no-hitter for the third time in ’13, struck out 13 and raised his record to 6-1. Business as usual, in other words. Then the Mets unveiled their next ace, Zack Wheeler. The highly touted prospect making his major league debut wasn’t as sharp, but he was essentially as successful. Wheeler gave the Mets enough to win, sweep and look ahead excitedly.

Four years later, the projected dynamic duo of this decade threw in succession on another Tuesday. How Super it was is in the eye of the beholder.

Matt again went first, except he did his pitching from a podium, going before the press — and, by extension, the fans — to explain away and apologize for what became New York’s most infamous lost weekend since Ray Milland couldn’t hock his typewriter. Harvey’s target was no longer John Buck’s mitt. It was contrition. Yes, he said, he was out late Friday night “past curfew”. Yes, he added, he was golfing Saturday morning. He didn’t mention a migraine splitting his head or a supermodel breaking his heart. The reasons he allowed himself to get to a place where he couldn’t get to his place of employment he kept to himself.

“I put myself in a bad place to be ready for showing up to a ballgame,” the pitcher admitted publicly, proceeding to take “responsibility” and “full blame” for not appearing at Citi Field Saturday, which led to his three-game suspension and a journey-weary journeyman taking and losing what was supposed to have been his start Sunday. “I’ve apologized to my teammates, I’ve apologized to the coaches, and I’m doing everything in my power so that never happens again.”

How much he meant what he said about being sorry and not repeating his detrimental course of action was beyond the measurement of Statcast. We don’t need to be sincerity monitors. We just want a heretofore imposing righthander to stand in the center of the diamond and impose his will upon opposition hitters…or at the very least take the ball as scheduled. We as fans require his availability and clearheadedness in that pursuit. We shall see what happens this Friday night when Matt gets his next chance in Milwaukee. The rest is about being human beings and wishing the best for another member of our species. The way Terry Collins dropped phrases like “support group” and “he’s got people in his corner,” it’s reasonable to sense something’s more than a little awry in Matt’s world beyond an outsize taste for good times and a recurring disregard for team rules. We don’t really want to think in those terms. We want to think, “Harvey’s going today,” and let his actual pitching say the rest.

Wheeler’s turn came a few hours later, from the Citi Field mound. It was a more conventional outing and it went swimmingly. Zack’s path from 2013 to 2017 was disrupted by surgery and physical rehabilitation. So was Harvey’s, it’s worth noting, but there was never a discernible level of drama attached to Wheeler’s struggle. It just took him a while longer than he and we would have liked for him to make it back to us. But he’s back, and he’s doing all right. Tuesday he did very well for all concerned, save for the organization that traded him to us. Zack pitched six innings against the Giants and gave up only two hits and one run, facilitating a 6-1 victory, the same score by which the Mets won his big-league debut at Turner Field. He walked five then, four now. It would be great if he could cut down on those — more efficient outings would presumably lead to less reliance on a perpetually cranking bullpen — but in a rotation that between last Friday night and this Wednesday afternoon has encompassed Rafael Montero, Adam Wilk and Tommy Milone, you’re willing to accept a little work in progress.

The Mets are themselves again a work in progress, as they were in 2013, as they inevitably always are. Even fully revived and picked to go far in 2017, we found ourselves looking up at .500 after thirty-one games. It’s taken winning eight of eleven just to reach 16-16. There have been injuries. There has been pathos. Improvisation has been necessary. Michael Conforto is our leadoff hitter. T.J. Rivera is the starting first baseman, batting second. René Rivera is behind the plate nightly. Michael’s batting .330, T.J. .309, René .333. They combined for seven hits against San Francisco, or five more than Zack gave up. It all led to another win on a Tuesday when one Met was maybe doing better and none of the rest of the Mets seemed to be doing worse.

Call it Superb Tuesday if you like. Or just another day at the ballpark for this bunch.

Neil Before Clods

People go to the movies and yammer. They go to the symphony and fail to silence their phones. They go to museums to take selfies and be dumb. There’s no art form created by humanity that can’t be ruined by the presence of humans. Why should baseball be any different?

The always-dizzying Mets have had quite the run of self-induced drama recently. They’ve mismanaged injuries, thrown luckless journeymen to the wolves and are now embroiled in a made-for-talk-radio pissing match with recidivist prodigal son Matt Harvey.

If you were paying attention, Monday saw the Mets not disable Asdrubal Cabrera (because this approach has yielded such spectacular results over the last couple of years) and dominate Twitter timelines as various people yelled about whether Harvey had been golfing or at some douche-bro club, felled by a migraine or brought down by up-whooping, texted no one because he was sleeping or texted the wrong people too late, and (presumably) whether he answered the door in Greenwich Village dressed in Batman PJs or his ESPN the Body ensemble.

(By the way, I’m trying to imagine what’s less fun than a late-night tete-a-tete with Mets security goons who want to take my temperature and assess whether or not my eyes are suspiciously red. I can think of stuff, but it’s a short list.)

I didn’t pay it much mind and don’t plan to, because I don’t really care — when I checked Twitter on Monday it was because I wanted to know if Gavin Cecchini had been activated. (He hasn’t — presumably he’s been stashed in one of those depressing hotels by La Guardia, one hopes unaccompanied by Tony Tarasco.)

What I really wanted, once night fell, was a baseball game unencrusted by barnacles of nonsense. I wanted a theater without yakkers, a concert hall without cellphones, a museum without selfie sticks.

Fortunately, baseball can generally be relied on to provide that.

The Mets and Giants — a stubbornly enigmatic team and an inexplicably terrible one, respectively — collaborated to produce a perfectly serviceable baseball game that was exactly what I needed, particularly since it came with a happy ending.

It was an odd one — close but somehow not particularly taut. Part of that was Jacob deGrom‘s inefficiency — his pitch count escalated dangerously, leading to his departure after six so-so innings. Yet he left with 11 Ks, and he got strikeouts when he really needed them, fanning Gorkys Hernandez with a high fastball to end the fourth and Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence to end the fifth.

Points also for the curveball that Jerry Blevins threw Belt to end the top of the seventh. It was pure evil, starting on a path that looked like it would hit Belt in the upper thigh yet winding up barely above the plate. Belt swung and missed, but shouldn’t feel too bad — he couldn’t have hit that pitch if he’d been armed with a machine gun.

Still, it looked like the Mets might fall short, and I was gritting my teeth thinking about having to write 500-odd words about losing by a skinny run because a stupid ball just barely hopped over a stupid fence. That happened to Neil Walker in the first, as his double was transformed from the happily up-the-gap variety to the no-way-that’s-not-fair ground-rule variety, forcing Jay Bruce to return to first instead of following Michael Conforto home with the tying run. Instead of 2-2, it stayed 2-1 Giants.

The Mets tied it up in the fifth on T.J. Rivera‘s double, fell behind immediately on a long Buster Posey home run, then tied it up again on a pinch-hit double by Curtis Granderson. But my mind went back to late-inning ties at Citi Field against the Giants and didn’t like the potential outcome. Nor was I particularly enamored of the idea of the two teams playing on and on before a chilled and punch-drunk clientele, not after having been sucked into the Yankees and Cubs re-enacting Verdun last night.

Fortunately, the reliable part of the Giants’ bullpen chose this night to prove un-, which is really all Bruce Bochy‘s team needs right now. Derek Law wiggled out of serious trouble in the eighth by coaxing a double-play ball from single-thumbed stalwart Cabrera, and then Hunter Strickland looked poised to do the same with two outs in the ninth, runners on first and second and Walker at the plate.

The pitch Strickland threw wasn’t that bad — it was a slider diving below the knee. But it was meant to slide to the outside of the plate, and instead it slid from the inside to the middle. Posey reoriented his mitt and stabbed at it, but he’s done this long enough to have suspected the ball wouldn’t reach its destination. Walker whacked it down the line into the exurbs of Utleyville, chasing Conforto home and the Mets’ latest misadventures away.

Well, at least a little. And at least for a night. Hey, sometimes that’s all you ask for.

The Wilkman’s Matinee

By now Mets fans know who Adam Wilk is. Prior to Sunday afternoon’s game at Citi Field, and not very long prior, the erstwhile Las Vegas 51 was a literal mystery. At the top of the Rotunda staircase, where nine Topps cards are arranged daily to represented the home team’s lineup, there were eight familiar images and one blank vertical rectangle. Not even a Mets logo was up in place of a player whose arrival wasn’t publicly forecast three hours before first pitch. There was no Adam Wilk on the radar, none. There was no card, no picture, no wisp of Wilk among the gamegoing populace unless they stumbled into the news. Some of us checked Twitter on the way to the ballpark and discovered who would be pitching (and who would not). Others passed through the turnstiles with literally no idea.

When, at 12:10 PM, Alex Anthony announced the identities of the competing starting pitchers slated to toe the rubber sixty minutes hence, there was this reaction from somewhere behind me in Section 515 regarding the identity of the Met entry:

“Adam What?”

No, Adam Wilk. Lefthander. Journeyman lefty acquired in the offseason, I could have informed the mystified; I remembered that from a passing transaction note during the winter when the Mets were busy signing next to nobody, which I guess could also describe Adam Wilk. Wears number…actually, I didn’t know that much. As if to obscure the truth from their customers, the Mets didn’t post a batting order on the scoreboard until they absolutely had to. Maybe there was a computer glitch that wouldn’t allow an unfamiliar sequence like W-I-L-K to register. Maybe Adam’s jersey wasn’t yet back from Stitches of Whitestone and nobody in Flushing yet knew his number was going to be 35. Those were digits that graced the uniforms of pitchers whose effectiveness while dressed as Mets few saw coming when they were first listed as probable pitchers. Rick Reed. Dillon Gee. Logan Verrett. Each alighted with more warning than Wilk. Each acquitted himself successfully on the occasion of his first start. They were improbable pitchers, but their task wasn’t impossible. They weren’t pinged all about the continental United States before being handed a baseball and instructed to face real, live batters. They didn’t materialize out of the not terribly clear blue never mind murky orange as Wilk did on Sunday.

There’s a reason for the phrase “probable pitchers”. Definite is best reserved for that which is past or present. Nothing is any more than probable in advance of occurrence. When I left the house en route to Citi Field Sunday morning, the Mets’ probable pitcher matched the identity — name and numerical — on the back of the t-shirt I decided to don, the t-shirt I bought with little hesitation in September of 2012. It couldn’t be seen underneath my hoodie and jacket in the stubborn chill and eventual drizzle of Promenade, but I was wearing HARVEY 33.

Nobody else was. Not even HARVEY 33 himself. As Wilk prepared for his first major league start in five years, Matt Harvey was yesterday’s news. In truth, he turned into what was very much today’s news, but not for pitching. That was the one thing we definitely knew he wouldn’t be doing on Sunday. We didn’t know much more about what Matt was up to beyond he was suspended by the Mets for violating what the Mets called team rules. That was relayed by Sandy Alderson and disseminated through the media. That fact, like the lineup, wasn’t posted on the scoreboard. All we saw of Harvey at Citi Field was his fleeting presence in the pregame historical montage that is aired on the video screen between sponsorship announcements. Matt Harvey starting the 2013 All-Star Game. Matt Harvey shouting after completing an inning. Matt Harvey blending into the past.

At 1:10 WILK 35 took the mound. It couldn’t have been 1:20 before Giancarlo Stanton took him into the Left Field Landing or whatever it’s called now. Two runners were on. Three Marlins scored. Four batters in, the competitive portion of Adam Wilk’s day was done. Same for the Mets. Wilk would throw eighty pitches. Another would be whacked by Stanton to distant precincts. Yet another met a similar fate from the bat of Adeiny Hechavarria. By the time Wilk threw his eightieth pitch, his earned run average was 12.27, the score was Marlins 6 Mets 0 and the only mysteries remaining were:

1) Might the drizzle turn into full-blown rain and transform the three Marlin blasts into uncountable urban legend the way precipitation drowned Jay Bruce’s home run in Atlanta last Thursday night?

2) Would the Mets register as many as one hit against Marlin starter Jose Urena, who, by the way, hadn’t given up any yet?

3) What the fudge was going on with Harvey?

The answers were, in order: no, but it did keep drizzling throughout what became a 7-0 defeat, making a miserable afternoon that much more intolerable; yes, a René Rivera single, which stood alone under the Mets hit column at day’s end; and who the fudge knows?

Adam Wilk did the best he could under the circumstances, which were on a par with the weather and score. Wilk shouldn’t have wound up (or been working from the stretch) on Citi Field’s mound Sunday. That was Harvey’s assignment. Harvey, in our own historical montage, wants the ball, takes the ball, throws the ball past batters and we roar with approval. Hard to cue up that image lately. Matt was battered in his previous start against the Braves. Said he was encouraged by how good the ball felt coming out of his hand. I used to be encouraged by how good my pencil felt as I filled in the wrong answers on junior high math tests, but it didn’t mean the results added up. Matt’s was such a wan response compared to how he visibly burned to vanquish every hitter in sight when he debuted in 2012, when he insisted he should never give up anything when the ball came out of his hand, when he inspired t-shirt sales and the renaming of days in his honor.

The boilerplate Matt spouted about the ball coming out of his hand well after he gave up six runs in five-and-a-third innings reminded me of the diagnosis delivered to the titular characters by Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins) in one of my favorite movies, Step Brothers, at a juncture of the story when Doback’s son and stepson are no longer colorfully destroying his world. He should be happy at their feints toward maturity but he realizes something is missing:

“It just kills me to see you so crushed and normal.”

Of course John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell as Dale Doback and Brennan Huff weren’t coming off thoracic outlet surgery, so perhaps holding Matt Harvey to the standard set by dopey fictional characters was no more fair than continuing to cast him as the Dark Knight of Gotham. Calculating what standard to measure Harvey against has been difficult from the moment he showed he was different from other pitchers. Harvey has seemed determined to demonstrate how different he is. When he was striking out batters, it was admirable. When he’s not showing up and putting on his uniform as he didn’t Saturday — the team rule he violated in deference to a post-golf migraine, it was titillatingly reported before Sunday was over — his nonconformity isn’t easily written off as a lovable quirk. Or to quote from another movie I enjoy citing regarding the distinction between bush and big league behavior…

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. Win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it only means you are a slob.”

I don’t care what’s on Matt Harvey’s shoes, who designed them, how much he paid for them or in which supermodel’s company he was wearing them as he canoodled. I used to think he’d win 20 or, more importantly, that the Mets would prevail whenever he pitched regardless of who got the decision. Matt Harvey has pitched to an ERA of 5.14 this season a year and a rib after pitching to an ERA of 4.86. I barely passed geometry, but even I know that’s good only when compared to a recently deplaned Adam Wilk.

Larger than life and an All-Star at 24; squirming at staying on the same page as management at 25 and 26; crushed and normal and a little too AWOL at 28. I still have HARVEY 33. It’s probable I’ll wear it again when next I’m supposed to see him pitch, whenever that will be. What the hell, the shirt still fits.

Please Proceed, Marlins

An old maxim of pretty much everything is never to interrupt your opponent while (s)he’s making a mistake. With that credo in mind, the Mets essentially sat back on a drizzly Saturday night and let the Marlins do whatever that was they were doing instead of playing baseball.

The Mets have their issues, goodness knows, beginning with finding 100 intact limbs to put on a given night’s roster. (More about that in a bit.) But the Marlins are in one of those dismal stretches where a team goes out for a walk and manages to find each and every single land mine buried in the field.

The Marlins sent the wonderfully named Odrisamer Despaigne to the mound in lieu of Wei-Yin Chen, who’s suffering from that most modern of afflictions, the made-for-the-10-day-DL tired arm. The third pitch Despaigne threw was botched by Justin Bour, putting Michael Conforto on first; the fourth was whacked up the gap by Asdrubal Cabrera, making it 1-0 Mets. The Mets piled on with another double, a run-scoring single, a sac fly and a pair of walks (the first to pitcher Robert Gsellman) to put up a five-spot in the first.

It didn’t get much better for Miami after that. The Marlins muffed ground balls, fumbled double plays, allowed passed balls and played the outfield like they were wearing cement shoes. There were hit batsmen, more bases-loaded walks and about a thousand shots of Don Mattingly.

With all that going on, the Mets essentially sat back and told Governor Loria’s charges to please proceed. Though I’ll add that on the Mets’ side, Curtis Granderson played a pretty nifty center field. Not bad considering a week ago it was tempting to suggest a trainer hold a mirror up to Curtis’s mouth before the game to make sure it fogged.

(Well, some other trainer than Ray Ramirez. Let’s not get giddy.)

If there are baseball gods, there’s nothing that makes them rub their immortal hands together more avidly than some earthly rooter discerning motive from statistical ebb and flow. Things aren’t going well for the Marlins right now and they are for the Mets; it would be unwise to say anything beyond that.

But I’ll risk a little heavenly wrath with a pair of brief notes.

First of all, it behooves us to remember these last couple of games the next time we’re at New Soilmaster Stadium and some annoying Marlin or other is spearing a ball in the hole or running one down in that impossible alley or snagging a grounder that appeared ticketed for grass, as I remember happening approximately 114,000 times over the course of a quarter-century as perpetrated by about 100 teal-related names I’m not going to list for fear of an epidemic of fists through monitors. The worm feels like it’s never ever going to turn; then you look over and see the little pink sucker’s doing loop-the-loops.

Second, whether it’s through pluck or luck, clubhouse leadership or managerial guidance, hearty resolve or kind-hearted randomness, the Mets are having a good stretch despite having been stripped of Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo. (It’s sad that I no longer see the point of adding David Wright to that list.) We all know that, but it ought to be recorded for posterity.

Joining the DL All-Stars is Asdrubal Cabrera, who brings that certain intangible something that makes him worth more than the sum of his various aged and oft-creaky parts. Cabrera went down on a frightening play in the third, diving for a Marcell Ozuna grounder that left him rolling over his glove and then lying on his back, feet kicking feebly in agony.

Because we’re the Mets, the injury was accompanied by two elements that a halfway-decent editor would have rejected as ham-handed:

a) Cabrera went down with Sandy Alderson in the booth speaking philosophically of injuries and luck; and

b) as he lay in the grass, face contorted with pain, a cold drizzle became an aggressive rain.

Off the top of my head I can think of four serious baseball injuries any longtime fan recognizes at once. We all know that a starting pitcher shaking his pitching elbow means we need to advance his calendar 16 months or so. A runner hopping as if shot in the back of leg means at least three weeks’ absence and maybe six to eight. A batter getting hit in the bottom of the hand, just above the wrist, suggests a broken hamate bone, a vestigial bit of skeleton whose sole function is to disable ballplayers. And then there’s a diving fielder whose glove folds under him, jamming the thumb backwards or into the hand.

Depending how many years of orange and blue scars you have, you immediately thought of Darryl Strawberry, or Dave Kingman.

Or Ron Darling — as Gary Cohen tried to assess what had happened to Cabrera, Darling offered a quiet and grim diagnosis that I remembered was based on sad experience — a similar injury ended his 1987 season. As for Alderson, after a long silence he said with the vocal equivalent of a 1,000-yard stare that “we’ll see when I get downstairs.”

It turns out that Cabrera’s thumb isn’t broken, but it seems somewhere between likely and certain that Sunday’s MRI will show ligament damage. (They have MRIs on Sunday, don’t they?) [Update: They do, no ligament damage. Whew!] Which leaves the Mets with a number of serviceable though far from ideal options. They could ask Wilmer Flores to do more than platoon; they could shuffle T.J. Rivera, Jay Bruce and an outfielder; they could hope Matt Reynolds can fill the gap; or they could try to accelerate the future by recalling Amed Rosario.

Which will they choose? Will that choice work? Hell if I know. But right now the Mets are winning with a bunch of Plan Cs and Ds — and maybe this run can buy them time to get back to Plan As or Bs.

Possibility Has Its Night in the Sun

Dee Gordon was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the fifth inning Friday night. Then he stole second. One out later, he dashed to third on a ground ball in front of him. Dee Gordon did three very Dee Gordon things to the Mets as Dee Gordon will.

So Gordon was on third, two were out and Giancarlo Stanton was up against Fernando Salas, who had just replaced Josh Smoker. Stanton didn’t even have to do his trademark Stanton thing. The Marlins were up by four runs. A home run would bury the Mets — on the off chance that they weren’t already buried — but a hit of any kind would serve Miami’s cause handsomely. A double, let’s say. In the fourth, Stanton doubled off starter Rafael Montero to nudge open floodgates that were about to be blown off at their hinges. The Marlins were on their way to a six-run inning and a 7-1 lead. Montero was on his way to the component of the clubhouse most familiar to him, the showers. Showers would have been welcome to pour down over Citi Field at that point. All that rain all day, all these Marlin runs all night. Yet the skies were bone dry and the Mets’ luck appeared just as arid.

True, Curtis Granderson had taken a notch out of the Met deficit in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run homer, but too many miles of bad road awaited. Stanton was a flash flood warning unto himself. Whatever Salas gave up in the way of a hit was going to close the Mets’ narrowing road to victory.

Salas would give something up, right? He was the eighth-inning man when the season started, yet has crept down the depth chart with alarming alacrity in recent weeks. He was on in the fifth, basically the second mopup man in another bucket brigade. Stanton stood in. Chops were perceptibly licked.

What happened next? Not what you’d expect if you were expecting the Met worst. Salas threw one pitch and Stanton popped it to third, where Wilmer Flores reeled it in, no muss, no fuss, nowhere for Gordon to go except back to the Marlin dugout to grab his glove. Fernando Salas kept Dee Gordon from doing that vital fourth Dee Gordon thing. He didn’t let him score.

The Mets still trailed by four, but the burial plot didn’t grow deeper. It was a small victory that found a companion an inning later. Hansel Robles was pitching. He let Marcell Ozuna get as far as third base. Two Fish made it on with two out. Ichiro Suzuki, who has more hits on more continents than anybody who’s ever lived, was pinch-hitting. Another Marlins sticking it to the Mets scenario was unfolding…except Robles folded it into his back pocket. He popped Ichiro to second. Ozuna didn’t score.

Marlins had ceased. Would wonders?

Come the bottom of the seventh, wonders definitively carried the day. The Cespeless Mets were full of offense, soldering together six consecutive hits versus Brad Ziegler. Flores singled; Jose Reyes doubled; René Rivera singled in Flores; Asdrubal Cabrera pinch-singled in Reyes; Michael Conforto singled to load the bases; T.J. Rivera — who had gone deep in the first for the Mets’ early, lonely run — whacked a double to left to bring home plodding Rene and stiff-legged Asdrubal. T.J. landed at second, Michael at third. If you were scoring at home like the Mets were scoring at Citi, you knew a grim Cinco de Mayo had transformed into Fiesta de Las Carreras. The Mets put cuatro runs on the board to knot the noche at siete apiece.

Translation: Mets 7 Marlins 7. Kyle Barraclough replace Brad Ziegler. You could have asked Don Mattingly what took him so long, but with the pace of play already glacial (“Sweet Time” Montero crammed ninety pitches into three-and-two-thirds innings), that would have been rude. On the other hand, the next two Mets batters were a little too polite to Barraclough. Jay Bruce struck out swinging. Neil Walker did the same. Grandy, however, offered the reliever whose name should be continued on a second jersey nothing in the way of help. He took three unintentional balls before Mattingly flashed four fingers to load the bases.

Flores was up again. His hit keynoted the seventh. His walk would accent it. Wilmer took four pitches, every one of them allergic to the strike zone. The Mets, previously down by six runs, suddenly led by one. Cue Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, each well-rested after Thursday night’s washout and each theoretically primed to protect a hard-earned edge. The Marlins can disrupt the best of theories, but this one proved sound. Reed overcame a two-out single in the eighth and Familia threw seven pitches in the ninth to corral an ideal save.

The 13-15 Mets improbably prevailed 8-7 in this festival of runs, pushing themselves into sole possession of a motley second place in the National League East and raising their cumulative record since April 1, 2011, to 494-506. That Friday night some six years and a month ago was Terry Collins’s first game as Met manager. This Friday night was Terry’s one-thousandth. He didn’t pull into port a winner on his maiden voyage, which also happened to involve the Marlins, but his milestone outing wound up suitably shiny.

I wouldn’t necessarily call No. 1,000 a microcosm of the Collins administration, but it certainly had its familiar elements. A starter of last resort. An early implosion. A leaned-on bullpen. An opponent imposing for its peskiness. A lineup improvised from whatever parts were healthy. An aversion to being covered in dirt. A slight flinch indicating a pulse and a heartbeat. A comeback that wasn’t predestined yet never felt inconceivable. A win that could have been a loss but wasn’t.

Terry puts in Salas and Salas stems the tide. Terry replaces Salas with Robles and Robles stands firm. Terry rests Cabrera for the most part but brings him off the bench and Cabrera extends the rally. Flores starts at third for a change, scores the innocent fourth run and drives in the essential eighth run. T.J. moves up to the two-hole and knocks in three. Jose and Curtis are given chances to succeed and eventually stop failing. Addison and Jeurys grope until they get a grip on their roles again. Terry was not directly responsible for every good thing that happened in his thousandth Mets game (he’s two weeks from having managed the most in franchise history), but let’s not pretend he’s a fully innocent bystander to the success of recent innings not to mention seasons. Conversely, he’s lost more than he’s won over the years and not every move pans out — but let’s not pretend every setback is his dumb doing.

The part I like is the not giving up. Some games you don’t detect it. Some games the Mets are dead and stay dead. Post-Montero, I assumed this was one of them. I was shocked Gordon didn’t score in the fifth. I was shocked it was still only 7-3. Yet I didn’t see any payoff percolating. I figured we’d lose anyway. I figured wrong, which is the best wrong figuring a fan can do.

There’s a difference between staying dead and playing dead. Terry’s Mets rarely play dead and they don’t easily roll over. They almost always look as alive as they are capable of doing — and Collins kvetches enough to get their attention when they don’t. Long ago, on a June afternoon during his first campaign, I watched the Mets fall behind, 7-0, then confidently and determinedly march back into contention. Not for a title, but for a day. It wasn’t overly dramatic, but it was impressive. The Mets won that game, too, 9-8. It was likely the first game of the Terry Collins era on which I didn’t reflexively give up despite long odds. Winning didn’t feel probable, but it definitely felt possible.

Joe Namath guaranteed a victory. Mark Messier guaranteed a victory. The only guarantee to emanate from a Terry Collins-guided Mets team has been implicit, but it’s implied consistently. They promise the possibility of victory, of truly trying to deliver a win for as long as such a result is accessible to them. Friday night they lived up to their generally unspoken pledge. It’s all you can ask out of your team when its losing by six in the fourth and four in the fifth. That it was ahead by one after nine is testament to what diligently pursued possibility can yield.

Hell, I would have been happy just to have kept Dee Gordon from scoring.

The Glass is 16 Runs Full

Neil Walker apparently forgot how many outs there were. Jose Reyes ensured there were more outs than there should have been. Jacob deGrom walked five batters, gave up five runs and barely made it through five innings. Glenn Sherlock betrayed a fetishistic fondness for red lights when green would have been the stylish choice. Curtis Granderson’s numbers remained too small to observe sans microscope. Travis d’Arnaud had to sit. Addison Reed had to fume.

What a mess these Mets were on Wednesday night. How they beat the Braves by eleven runs we’ll never know.

Or maybe we already know. They hit like crazy. They hit safely twenty times, including twelve times with runners in scoring position. They did it without a single ball leaving the hospitable confines of SunTrust Park. They whupped up on beloved ex-Met Bartolo Colon, they whupped up on less-beloved ex-Met Eric O’Flaherty, they whupped up on a couple of other Braves hurlers besides. They cloned the 16-5 Unicorn Score that roamed Minnesota four years before and effectively echoed the joyous Minneapolis sound their predecessors’ bats made that frigid Friday night.

They made so much noise in the general vicinity of Atlanta that they definitively drowned out their shortfalls of judgment and lack of attention to detail. Sherlock (sufficiently spooked by Ender Inciarte’s arm) could hold up only so many runners; Walker (having run full speed on a popup with one out) could mindlessly break from second only so often; Reyes (traipsing back toward second at less than a snail’s pace, thus enabling a heady tagout from Dansby Swanson) could be caught sleepwalking only once. Various Mets looked bad at various points, but every Met with a bat hit just about always.

Incredibly plentiful and impeccably timely hitting will smooth your rough edges to a high-gloss finish. The Mets scored sixteen runs at SunTrust, marking the twentieth game in their 56-year history in which they’ve tallied at least that many. They are 20-0 on those occasions of offensive onslaught. If you can’t mask your imperfections with sixteen runs, you might want to try a different sport.

For one night, baseball fit the Met skill set just fine. Sherlock waved enough runners home without incident. Walker obscured his first-inning baserunning blunder by scoring twice. Reyes drove in five, decent penance for indecent fundamentals. DeGrom’s struggle with command was frustrating to watch but his uncharacteristically flat performance couldn’t pull the Braves any closer than four runs behind once he was done pitching. If you didn’t love Jacob on the mound, you had to embrace him at the plate. He contributed a pair of hits and RBIs to help his and every other interested party’s cause. D’Arnaud’s wrist may be a going concern, but René Rivera batted six times in his place and gathered three hits. Granderson — .137/.186/.242 notwithstanding — may have begun to dig out of his sinkhole. Curtis doubled twice, scored thrice and, when he stood in against Colon, provided a nice reminder that Sandy Alderson executed a pretty good free agent signing period in December 2013.

Everybody in the lineup did something positive. No starter posted an ohfer. It was a team effort all the way. DeGrom rarely requires rescue, but four relievers aided and abetted him without turning a blowout into a slugfest. Terry Collins inserted Reed in the seventh, an inning earlier than is customary (and a half-inning before the Mets slathered on an additional seven runs). Reed hadn’t been pitching all that well, so maybe there was a managerial message embedded in using him early. Or maybe Terry wanted Reed in the game against the middle of the Braves’ order in the seventh rather than its bottom in the eighth. That was the manager’s postgame explanation for Reed’s recasting. Dugout cameras inferred reliever discontent, but the setup man of record, who recently questioned the statistical glory attached to ninth-inning success, got his 4-5-6 men in order. Later Addison attributed his visible irritation solely to his dissatisfaction with how he threw, not when he threw.

Phew, that’s a relief. So is a fourth win in six games by however many runs. One is sufficient. Eleven is delightful.

A Strange One in Smyrna

Win or lose, the 2017 Mets are exhausting.

They didn’t win tonight — Matt Harvey‘s poor location, lousy relief, Freddie Freeman‘s ubiquitous bat and annoyingly good baseball played by Ender Inciarte, Brandon Phillips and Nick Markakis took care of that — but they made it interesting, with Jay Bruce‘s grand slam making it 9-7. Dare I say they … battled? Whatever you want to call it, it wasn’t enough and left me grumbling and grousing about tack-on runs that I’d shrugged off a few innings earlier.

I’m tired, you’re tired, reinjured Travis d’Arnaud is tired, poor Kurt Suzuki is definitely tired. Which means your recapper is going to seek shelter in those friends of the weary, the bullet points:

  • Harvey’s velocity was good — he hit 98 — but his fastball location was horrible and the location on his breaking pitches wasn’t a lot better. I’m inclined to give him a pass because there was a thin line between success and failure — that pitch to Inciarte was a damn good one — and because he’s coming off a complicated, uncertain injury. He’s trying to figure it out and by all accounts working hard to do so.
  • Michael Conforto is a pleasure to watch regardless of the score or the standings. Please don’t let Terry mess him up for a second year in a row. Or Ray Ramirez take him down the tunnel.
  • I still don’t think the Dilson Herrera trade made a lick of sense strategically, but Bruce is welcome to keep making me look foolish for being willing to leave him by the side of the Port St. Lucie highway. That’s one of the pleasures of baseball — you can be wrong and thrilled about it.
  • I don’t have a line as good as this one from friend of the blog David Roth: “Jay Bruce truly became a Met in the moment when he hit a grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning of a game the Mets were losing by six.” Yeah, pretty much.
  • I’d record how far Freeman’s home run went, but I can’t get in touch with any of the stewardesses who were assigned to it. Let’s just say it would take an hour or so in Cobb County traffic to retrace its path. If the Braves’ new park is a freaking pinball machine now, what will it be like on a hot night in August?
  • Whoever arranged for that mooing noise on foul balls (or whatever triggers it) should be sent to Gitmo immediately. This is a bipartisan issue around which we can all unite.
  • Every baseball generation brings a new crop of Braves I see in my nightmares. Inciarte and Markakis are just the latest destroyer of dreams.
  • Most observations about umpires can be written off as confirmation bias — hell, most observations can be explained that way — but I’d really like to see some kind of scientifically rigorous review of how many calls were blown at first base before and after replay. Larry Vanover didn’t exactly have a night to remember.

My instinctive dislike for the Braves and most everything around them is tempered, however, when I catch sight of R.A. Dickey or Bartolo Colon in the enemy dugout. Bartolo requires no reminder, but I still find myself shaking my head and smiling at the idea of Dickey ever existing in our baseball universe.

Besides the fact that he was the only Metsian thing worth discussing for a long time, he just seemed made-up, like a collective fever dream of the Mets blogosphere that — come to think of it — was also at its peak then. He dissected the physics of knuckleballs, loved Star Wars and other dorky stuff that I love, read honest-to-God books, and was thoughtful about his sport and himself. He was like a W.P. Kinsella character who heaved himself out of the page, looked around and decided to stay.

One night Greg and I were part of a group of bloggers invited to chat with Dickey in the dugout before a game and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. It wasn’t that I was star-struck, just that Dickey didn’t need any input from me to generate something interesting. I was more than content to watch and listen — and found myself simply and thoroughly happy that somehow, against all odds, he was ours.

The trade to Toronto rankled, not so much for the deal itself (which seemed pretty good at the time and has of course turned out to be a reverse-Fregosi heist) but because Dickey left with the usual anonymously wielded Mets knife in the back, another franchise malady that’s spanned multiple managers and front offices and so … hmm.

I watched him from afar for a bit, mildly mournful that his magic seemed to have evaporated in the foreign realms of turf, Canada and the American League. But that connection faded, as it does, and my first reaction at learning Dickey and Colon would be united against us was annoyance — the amusement and affection took a little longer to arrice.

“I hope they both win 25 and the Braves go 50-112,” I opined at the time. Neither of those things is going to happen, and I neglected to account for how many of those wins would come at our expense. But when a Mets loss is an R.A. Dickey win, it hurts a little less.