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ABOUT US

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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Same Old Phillies, Same New Mets

How is it that a lineup loaded with ballplayers who jammed the box score of a World Series clincher can appear so routinely beatable? The dichotomy in perception probably has something to do with a temporal gap, what with that particular World Series having taken place in 2008 and the beating in question proceeding in 2014.

Time marches on, dragging the Phillies behind it. Sort of like the Mets do.

Whatever our prospects for the immediate and distant future, they outstrip the present in Philadelphia, where past successes seem to haunt contemporary progress. There were the modern, last-place Phillies on a summer Saturday night, trotting out a fistful of certifiable future Toyota Wall of Famers — Rollins, Utley, Howard, Ruiz, Hamels — to take on the Mets six years after they prevailed over the Rays in wintry conditions. Their manager of permanent record, the man who molded them into the core of a world champion not to mention five-time division winner, was on hand to be enshrined as a Philadelphia immortal (which I think means Charlie Manuel will be forever grilled in onions, slathered in Cheez Whiz and Tased to within an inch of his life). The skipper’s one year retired from active duty. The shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, catcher and ace starter, however, each remain in place, both frozen in time and bogged down by it as they attempt to forge ahead.

Those are some good players who have been great players and still have some fine moments. Saturday night Hamels truculently threw seven one-run innings, Ruiz blasted a tying home run and Utley made a noticeably nice turn in the fourth on a relay from Rollins that didn’t quite get to Howard in time to complete a 6-4-3 double play. Distaste for the name on the front of their uniforms notwithstanding, it’s impossible to not respect the individual and collective accomplishments that quintet represents. When you’re watching them, you’re practically watching half of a franchise’s all-time team in action.

Which makes you wonder why beautiful Citizens Bank Park isn’t sponsored by Madame Tussauds. Those guys have been around forever. And they’ve been signed, seemingly, into perpetuity. And their current teammates, not necessarily covered in past glory or projecting a whole lot of it just up the road, tend to loom as long-term burdens. The whole Phillie thing just ain’t what it used to be, which is great for us the hundred or so times we play them in the course of a season (they’re this year’s Braves by my reckoning — the team we’re never not playing). Still, you can’t quite shake the sense that the erstwhile beasts of the East might emerge from their gaudy if fading credentials and flash us back to previous nightmare finishes.

They didn’t on Saturday night, though. We might not have improved enough to take a fifth-place Philadelphia lightly — and we may almost always require eleven or more innings to complete our business there — but with the Dillon Gees and Lucas Dudas maybe (maybe) establishing themselves they way the Cole Hamelses and Chase Utleys were before becoming institutions, we did eventually take care of their ghosts.

Even as the Mets necessarily revamp their lineups and squeeze out unproductive part-time outfielders, I notice there is something surprisingly stable about them. On June 10, they promoted Taylor Teagarden, who became our franchise’s 981st player ever. And since June 10 — a solid two months ago — they’ve not added a 982nd. There have been some Nieuwenhuii types who have yo-yo’d up and down from the minors but no new toys to speak of. There have been no new entries in Jason’s Holy Books of baseball cards. There have been no new uniform numerals for Jon Springer to crunch into the annals of Mets By The Numbers. Ultimate Mets Database hasn’t had to get any more ultimate. I know I haven’t had the pleasure of adding a single line to the composite eternal roster I keep.

According to my records, the Mets have played 53 consecutive games without any player playing his first Met game ever. Since nobody’s been called up this morning to face Kyle Kendrick (speaking of Philadelphia constants), this stretch is destined to reach at least 54. That’s the most since the team went 63 games between introducing Dale Thayer into the Metropolitan ecosystem on May 28, 2011, and giving us our first look at Mike Baxter that August 8. That debut-drought lasted one game more than the 2001 version that spanned Darren Bragg (May 16) and Gary Bennett (July 24). Otherwise, there’s been no longer dry spell between Met initiations in the past 25 years than the one we’re in right now. Suffice it to say that if we don’t inject a figure of total mystery into a given box score between now and August 20, we’ll have witnessed the setting of a modern-day standard for whatever this means.

And it means…what?

I’d like to say the Mets’ newfound stability is a sign of a team that has finally put most of its pieces together, with the vast majority of them situated in-house or no more than a four-and-a-half-hour flight away in Las Vegas. But that’s probably not wholly accurate. It more likely means we already have enough previously auditioned Quadruple-A types handy so that we don’t have to reach out to scoop up any more. Or perhaps it means the Mets haven’t been properly aggressive in procuring new talent…and where the hell is Troy Tulowitzki anyway?

Mostly it’s unusual is all. Some heretofore unfamiliar backup infielder or extra arm of which we’d never heard usually washes up on our shores as a matter of course every few weeks. You’re minding your own beeswax and suddenly you’re acquainted with the likes of Gonzalez Germen or Zach Lutz or whoever. The “whoever” quotient is decidedly down these days

We’ve won two in a row, so I’m gonna call it a positive trend. Lose two in a row, and I might make like the hardened cons of Shawshank State Prison and commence chanting for fresh fish. Three-quarters of the Phillies’ infield may remain constant, but it’s a Mets fan’s prerogative to change his mind.

Addendum: Just as this article was posted, the Mets were scratching Jacob deGrom from his next start in deference to shoulder soreness. It is unclear who will take his start. Stability is a tenuous proposition.

To 2015 and Beyond!

Sandy Alderson insisted losing two out of three to the Nationals didn’t have anything to do with Friday’s developments in Metland, but let’s not kid ourselves.

Wilmer Flores is going to be the guy at shortstop, not Ruben Tejada. Lucas Duda is going to play against tough lefties. Kirk Nieuwenhuis was going to be the guy in left, except Chris Young is now unemployed, so Matt den Dekker is going to be the guy in left, with Kirk rotating between outfield positions. Alderson made all that pretty clear after Friday night’s game, while offering a fig leaf that it’s Terry Collins‘ decision. Judging by too many of Terry’s lineups earlier this year and his bizarre comments about not having time to develop players, I hope this time the manager understands it’s not really his decision and his most important job for the rest of the year is … to develop players.

So the Mets have resigned from the pennant race. Never have I been happier with a withdrawal.

The Mets weren’t going to win in 2014. Once upon a time that would have been obvious. Now, with two wild cards, you can pretend otherwise. A few teams pretty much know they’re in unless they blow it (we know what that’s like), a few teams know they’re roadkill, and everybody else is left to argue that their glass is this or that fraction full/empty. The Mets could have trudged along in that philosophical limbo, but after getting spanked by an imperfect but clearly superior opponent they stopped pretending and started thinking about 2015.

Standing in a dreary beige hallway beneath Citizens Bank Park, Alderson had a pretty interesting comment about the youth movement. He said it wasn’t just about committing to young players, but also about making an investment in those players by giving them a 150-at-bat head start on 2015. I hadn’t ever heard it put quite that way, and it struck me as smart. Also smart: showcasing the likes of Flores, Nieuwenhuis and den Dekker for teams that might be looking to pick them up in August or during the offseason — those additional ABs can be an audition/investment for other general managers too. (As for finally accepting that Young was a sunk cost, eh. It was only a one-year deal, and struck me as a worthy gamble, but I sure wish the Mets had walked away in June.)

The Mets aren’t going to win, but I feel better about them than I have in years. They’ve got plenty of starting pitching, enough to trade for things they don’t have. They’ve got a bullpen going through growing pains, but that’s capable more often than not. They’ve got three hitters in Duda, Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud who’ve taken steps this year to convince you they can be solid big-league regulars. And they’ve got bats in the minors that could help as soon as next summer. They’re not that far away — so the best use of their August and September is clearly trying to accelerate the timetable, rather than chasing the unlikeliest of playoff hopes.

So what’s the wish list for the rest of the year? I’d love for them to finish at .500, which is a tall order (they’d have to go 27-19) but a worthy goal. Failing that, though, my only wish — for all of us — is patience. Give Flores a real shot at short, and be understanding if sometimes or a lot of the time he looks like the guy every scout said couldn’t play the position. Let’s see den Dekker in left, Ks and all, instead of Eric Young Jr. providing a spark outs. (In fact, why not just release Young too and call up Andrew Brown?) Shake your head when Jeurys Familia or Vic Black hit a bump, instead of taking to Twitter in a frothing rage. We’re investing here; a good investor keeps his or her eye on the long term and doesn’t get too caught up in the daily ups and downs.

That doesn’t mean seven weeks of mulish endurance, though. A team of young guys playing for jobs can be a lot of fun to watch. That’s also true of milestones achieved by old guys: Bartolo Colon pocketed his 200th career win tonight, joining Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez as the third Dominican-born pitchers to reach that number. (Not the way I would have categorized it, but clearly it mattered to Bartolo, so good enough for me.)

For most of the night it looked like Colon would waltz to his milestone, if you can imagine Bartolo waltzing. He handled the moribund Phillies with ease, while the Mets smacked around A.J. Burnett. Colon had thrown 107 pitches after eight innings, and with a 5-1 lead I was hoping he’d go back out there for the complete game so I could see his reaction. But instead Collins opted for Dana Eveland to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, to everyone’s immediate regret. Utley doubled and Howard walked, and on came Jenrry Mejia, who gave up a single to old friend Marlon Byrd and then a long drive to Grady Sizemore that just missed being a game-tying grand slam.

With Collins rehearsing his excuses, Mejia got a little help and started trading runs for outs. No, actually Mejia got a lot of help: Curtis Granderson flopped on his back to make a sliding catch against Carlos Ruiz as a hatless Daniel Murphy ran past him. Duda then made a nice pickup at first to retire Cody Asche, and finally Mejia retired Reid Brignac on a nifty outside change-up/inside fastball combination, the first pitch aided by a generous strike zone from Mike Winters.

As milestones go, Colon recording his 200th win in blue and orange is one for the “Oh that’s right” file rather than the sidewalk outside Citi Field. I had forgotten that Pedro recorded No. 200 as a Met in 2006 or that Orel Hershiser had done so in 1999. I’ve blocked out T@m Gl@v!ne’s 300th win. Gary Sheffield‘s 500th home run and Eddie Murray‘s 400th made similarly shallow impressions. That’s because all of those guys are much more memorable for what they did in other uniforms, a description that will almost certainly apply to Colon, too. But that’s all right: Years from now, when Matt Harvey‘s going for his 200th win, perhaps we’ll see a clip of Colon tonight and smile to remember that was in the early days of Mejia’s residency as closer, or Flores’s tenure at shortstop, or just before Duda found the confidence that would fuel his monster seasons. Maybe we’ll see the investments, and appreciate the future that was starting to be written.

And if not, well, 200′s a nice round number and beating the Phillies is a nice way to spend a Friday evening.

Our Long Nationals Nightmare

Good morning. This is the 1,583rd game after which we have spoken to you from this blog, where so many losses have been noted that shaped the history of this franchise. Each time we have done so to discuss with you some matter that we believe affected the Metropolitan interest.

In all the decisions we have made in our blogging life, we have always tried to do what was best for the franchise. Throughout the long and difficult period of Terry Collins, we have felt it was our duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of season to which you elected to root.

In the past few days, however, it has become evident to us that the Mets no longer have a strong enough competitive base in the standings to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, we felt strongly that it was necessary to see the mathematical process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.

But with the disappearance of that base, we now believe that the competitive purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.

We would have preferred to carry through to the finish whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and our readership unanimously urged us to do so. But the interest of the franchise must always come before any personal considerations.

From the discussions we have had with Metropolitan and other observers, we have concluded that because of the Terry Collins matter we might not have the support of the mathematics that we would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this blog in the way the interests of the franchise would require.

We have never been a quitter. To leave this season before its term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in our server. But as bloggers, we must put the interest of Metsopotamia first.

Therefore, the Mets have resigned the pennant race effective at 5:09 PM yesterday. The 2015 season will be sworn in as relevant at 7:05 tonight in Philadelphia.

***

My fellow Mets fans, our long Nationals nightmare is over. It took 13 innings that felt like 26 spread out over a Thursday afternoon that protruded into the Beltway rush hour, but when it was over, it was over. The playoff hunt the Mets never entered had moved on without them.

Today, forty years after President Nixon gave way to President Ford, and three weeks after returning from the All-Star break fueled by momentum and imbued with hope, the Mets’ record stands at 54-61 — the exact same mark they held after exactly as many games played last year. And last year nobody was entertaining any notions of contention as late as the 115th game.

I doubt any of us were this year, really, but there was that 8-1 stretch when things were looking up and the division was looking soft and the hitting was looking formidable. Now none of those perceptions look remotely viable. All we have, usually, is pitching. Pitching’s a very good thing to have. If you have only one thing, have pitching. But don’t have only one thing. The Mets are proving time and again that pitching alone can’t carry your aspirations as far as a 116th game.

On Thursday, Jacob deGrom was deGood if not deGreat. Yet his relative struggles did not signal deFeat. The Mets hung tough with the first-place Nationals across the National League Rookie of Last Month’s six innings of work. Then almost every relief pitcher in creation bottled Washington up in committee. Chairman Collins’s legislative maneuvers were plentiful, offering up three double-switch amendments in the course of debate.

Since one of them, in the eighth, involved removing Juan Lagares for Chris Young, we can assume it corresponded with the replacement of water with bourbon in the dugout cooler.

Taking out the best defender America has seen since Lincoln held off dissolution of the union and replacing him with the James Buchanan of free-agent signings didn’t automatically end the Mets’ day (that would be Bryce Harper’s charge five innings later), but it sure as shootin’ didn’t help…which might also be the epitaph on Collins’s managerial headstone soon enough. Though by guiding the Mets to that aforementioned inspiring 8-1 stretch, he probably already guaranteed his return to office for 2015. It doesn’t take much for a middling-performing incumbent to get himself retained in these parts.

DeGrom did what he could do. Six relievers not named Carlos Torres did what they could do. Daniel Murphy — with three hits versus his teammates’ six in those thirteen innings — did what he could do. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, making up for his lack of Lagaresness with a host of hustle, did what he could do with two diving catches that temporarily staved off the inevitable.

Conversely, Eric Young, Jr., didn’t do a damn thing correctly early on when he cut off Lagares on a single and Adam LaRoche on second. Not only did EYJ take the ball out of the hand of the guy with the world-class arm, he tossed the ball back into the infield as if making some kid in the stands’ wish come true. Yes, he made a lot of kids in the stands’ wishes come true — all the kids who came out to root for LaRoche to score and the Nationals to win.

Young’s throw goes nowhere. Pitchers’ throws (other than the ones they deliver to the plate) go everywhere. Fundamentals aren’t a strong suit of this ballclub, which isn’t a positive sign when you’re supposed to be making up in scrappiness what you’re not providing with talent. Of all the elements one can attribute to a manager’s influence, that’s probably the biggest. That and that business about not losing the clubhouse. God forbid you lose the clubhouse. Imagine how much further under .500 than merely seven games the Mets would be if Collins wasn’t such an expert communicator.

He’s apparently a regular Ron Ziegler in there.

For a spell, just before the break, the Mets hit home runs and everything else. Just after the break, they all stopped hitting. David Wright, whose left shoulder might benefit from not trying to carry the weight of the Mets practically all by its lonesome, said something at the time to the effect of “you couldn’t expect us to keep it up forever,” which is probably a symptom of David Wright having been around a franchise that never keeps up anything wonderful for long. Lucas Duda broke out and homered almost daily. Then Duda recalibrated his internal controls for something approximating human and now nobody but Murphy’s hitting and nobody at all is hitting them out and when you’re not scoring, all the pitching in the world is going to bring you nothing more than a lingering stalemate at best, an extra-inning loss at last.

The Mets have just completed seven games against quality competition. They dropped five of them. The two they won — deGrom outperfecting Peavy; Wheeler asserting his pitcherhood — required minor miracles. When you are, for example, a 1986-style team of destiny, you take those and you add on to them with a string of mundane successes. When you’re the 54-61 Mets of 2014, there are few mundane successes. There were none against San Francisco at Citi Field or Washington at Nationals Park. There haven’t been enough successes of any kind to draw the Mets to within fewer than eight games of a playoff spot with 47 to go and a torrent of teams cluttering their path.

It’s time to issue some executive orders:

• Inaugurate Flores at shortstop.

• Nominate den Dekker to serve on the active roster and actually play a little.

• Pass a joint resolution that grants us a glance at Syndergaard and another glimpse of Montero.

• Caucus with anybody who has a bat they’re willing to horsetrade.

The 2014 Mets are now out of the race they were never in. In definitively leaving it, they do so with this prayer: May 2015’s grace be with them in the weeks ahead.

Also, may you take a listen to Sam Maxwell and me on Bedford & Sullivan, Sam’s continuing podcast series devoted to New York’s National League legacy. On this episode, we touch far more bases than the Mets did during their visit to Washington.

And may you take a glance at Jason’s and my respective responses to Heather Quinlan’s query as to whether the ’86 Mets were truly a team of destiny. Heather is creating what’s shaping up as a very engaging and enlightening documentary about That Championship Season, crowdfunding be willing. Visit the project’s Kickstarter page for more information on how to make this dream work.

I Am Tired of Jon Niese and Want Him to Go Away

Jon Niese is recovered from his shoulder woes. His arm feels good. He’s revised his mechanics to correct the bad habits that led to shoulder irritation in the first place. But those revised mechanics are causing him to miss his location, leading to innings that blow up on him, as happened twice against the Nationals Wednesday night.

That’s the official narrative: mechanics, repetition, patience.

I’m waiting for the explanation of what mechanical flaw causes Niese to forget to cover first base. Or how tinkering with his motion dictated that he throw a changeup to a guy who hadn’t been able to do anything with his fastball.

Before we go any further, let’s review: This is Niese’s seventh year in the big leagues. He’ll turn 28 while some other team plays in the World Series. He’s making $7 million a year.

And yet every year we read stories that seem to be more about his focus and preparation than his pitching.

Recall two years ago, when Niese was battered by the Toronto Blue Jays and wound up watching his catcher pitch the end of the game. After that debacle, Dan Warthen summoned Niese to a meeting with Ricky Bones, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. You can read about that here, as it was recounted after Niese’s next, far more effective start against the Pirates. But read about it with your ear attuned to what was said in the meeting, and the reason it was called in the first place. Basically, Niese got called out for being lazy. He hadn’t studied the Blue Jays’ hitters, assuming his arsenal of pitches would be enough to see him through. And judging from Warthen’s comments, this wasn’t the first time that had happened. Santana and Dickey weren’t there to talk pitch grips or arm angles, but to preach the importance of doing your frigging homework.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the mental aspect of pitching. Dillon Gee doesn’t have anything close to what the gods of genetics gave Niese, but he’s studied what he does for a living and worked diligently so that his brain gives his arm every possible chance to succeed. Decades of watching baseball have made me admire pitchers like that more and more — your Gees and Rick Reeds and Greg Madduxes. And it’s left me even more in awe of guys who were born with thunderbolts for arms and worked their butts off to outmaneuver batters before ever throwing a pitch — Tom Seaver and Pedro Martinez and Santana come to mind. Conversely, it’s made me more impatient with guys whose arms seem far superior to their heads: Victor Zambrano. Or Mike Pelfrey. Or Niese.

If you ever run across a clip of Seaver or Santana or Al Leiter talking pitching, stop and watch, because it’s riveting stuff. Watch Niese discuss pitching and you’ll thank God that your heart and lungs are part of the autonomic nervous system. That’s punishing a guy for not being outgoing with the press, which is admittedly unfair — Niese’s job is to throw a baseball, not to make conversation. But for Pedro’s sake, this is his craft and his calling, and he talks about it like he’s describing the graveyard shift at a factory pressing corrugated cardboard. (If you dare, watch this video of poor Matt Cerrone gamely trying to make conversation while riding to Citi Field with a narcoleptic Niese.)

So what’s Niese learned since he was hauled off to his meeting by Warthen? Well, you had to scratch your head a couple of weeks back when Niese clearly thought Chris Young had let him down by not making a catch against Milwaukee, then sagged through a terrible inning. Was that mechanical, or mental?

Last night he twice was slow covering first, and Ron Darling rightly roasted him for lousy pitch selection. Was that about the arm, or the brain?

Niese has terrific stuff. He’s left-handed. He’s owed $7 million in 2015, $9 million in 2016, $10 million option in 2017, $10.5 million in 2018. That’s a smart, team-friendly contract, one that keeps Niese’s peak years cost controlled. It should work well for the Mets. But I think it would work even better for some other team. Niese is a terrific trade candidate on a team with a surplus of starting pitchers. I’d argue that contract makes him the best trade candidate on the staff once you subtract the guys the Mets would be obviously insane to move. (Why on earth would you trade Zack Wheeler, who has a higher ceiling and seems a lot more motivated to learn and improve?)

If you made me GM for a day, Niese is the pitcher I’d ship out of town for that additional bat the Mets so desperately need. Maybe some other staff ace can convince him of the importance of doing his homework. Maybe some other pitching coach can get him to think about what to throw. Maybe some other manager can teach him to cover first base all the time instead of sometimes.

Hell, I’ll even volunteer to drive him to the airport.

Baby, He's Reddy To Go

With apologies, if not royalties, to Helen Reddy

I am Wheeler
Throwing more
Than I should throw by
Inning four
And you thought my start
Was soon about to end

The Nats had me on
The ropes
All prepared to dash
Our hopes
You were certain we were gonna
Lose again

But you should get wise
That I wriggle out of jams
Though my pitch counts rise
When first I lack command
If I have to, I can strand anyone

I am Zack (Zack!)
Nearly unbeatable (unbeatable!)
I am Wheeler!

They can bend but never
Break me
Bases loaded doesn’t
Faze me
When Lobaton drives a liner
Toward the hole

’Cause the ball will strike
Cabrera
Out by freakish running
Error
Now whose chances look much worse than
Beltran’s mole?

Oh yes, I walk guys
But it doesn’t mean they’ll score
I’m no David Price
Yet I’ve begun to soar
If I have to, I can strand everyone

I am Zack (Zack!)
Almost untouchable (untouchable!)
I am Wheeler!

I am Wheeler
Watch me throw
Warthen did
On video
The coach helped me find my footing
In that earth

Plus I got some
Double plays
Eric Campbell sure
Amazed
Some scruffy gnome resembling
Jayson Werth

We picked up a game
If you’re thinking pennant race
Put standings aside
Forget we’re in fourth place
It was sweet to simply beat the Nationals

I am Zack (Zack!)
Lately incredible (incredible!)
I am Wheeler!

Oh, I am Wheeler
I am not alone here
Not for long

Missing Out

The life of a freelance writer is by turns exciting and terrifying, but one of its undeniable benefits is that a weekday matinee is no big deal.

Well, except when you’ve taken a fairly intense temporary office gig.

And when you don’t check the schedule carefully enough during the process of dividing game duties with your blog partner.

I saw no live action from the Mets’ tilt with the Giants. Heard not a syllable of Howie and Josh. I saw the score a few times while flipping past my home page, with its normally superfluous live scoreboard, and I happened to be passing through Twitter in the aftermath of Juan Lagares making a phenomenal throw. But that was it. The afternoon unfolded without me.

Well, until later. When the game became a welcome reminder of how much has changed.

I went to high school north of Boston, far out of pre-WFAN radio range and with no TV handy. As an embed in the heart of Red Sox Nation, I followed the Mets via box scores and the occasional AP recap boiled down to a single paragraph. If they were on the West Coast, I found out what they’d done two days after they did it. During trip to China in the summer of ’86 all I had was an occasional peek at the International Herald-Tribune, which ran the standings every couple of days. I was convinced the Herald-Tribune was getting bad information, because every time I looked the Mets seemed to have put another two games between themselves and everybody else.

After college I lived outside of Washington, D.C., and a couple of months into my time there the local cable company got rid of WOR. That left me reliant on SportsCenter (and, later, Baseball Tonight), though my real lifeline was CNN Headline News’s sports segment at 19 and 49 minutes past the hour. It was a great day when the Mets led the baseball roundup (often intoned by Van Earl Wright) and a lousy one when they were relegated to the screen of scores from humdrum games. I lived just too far south to get WFAN reliably — I spent stupid amounts of money on various crackpot devices, and would actually drive into Virginia and park my car by the Potomac River on weekends because I learned that the water amplified the signal.

New York changed … well, most of it. You couldn’t get radio reception in the core of the building I worked in during the late 1990s, and in my early career I didn’t rate a TV at my desk that I could quietly switch away from CNBC or CNN. Though come to think of it, after I gained seniority I do remember passing up a bigger desk for a seat near the window, where I knew my little yellow sports Walkman radio could get a signal. (My boss, a rabid Giants fan, knew perfectly well what I was up to.) Then WFAN got a web presence, complete with live audio from the booth between innings. (Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen didn’t chat much.) That vanished when MLB Advanced Media unleashed At Bat, which changed everything.

Oh, At Bat. Yeah, I missed the game. But then I got home and watched every significant play, with repeat viewings of Lagares’s surgical elimination of Gregor Blanco at the plate. Then I watched the condensed game: every significant play and most of the not-so-significant ones collected into 20 minutes or so. (Unfortunately, MLB has figured out to mute the ambient audio when it deems it wise. To my disappointment, the Mets’ furious group denunciation of home-plate ump Ben May was a silent movie.) If I paid a little more money, I could have watched the archived version of the full game tonight. If I ever leave New York (hey, it could happen), I could continue to follow the Mets for $25 a month, which I would do in a heartbeat. (And would do here if not for the blackout rules that allow cable companies to keep being shitty.)

So yeah, I missed Lagares and Blanco taking turns throwing each other out, which was a shame. I’m less sad that I missed human waterbug Hunter Pence tormenting us, or the scads of obnoxious Giants fans infesting Citi Field, or the Mets dressed in gag-inducing camo, or Travis d’Arnaud continuing to play d’oh-no defense, or a rare double meltdown from Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, or a Met loss.

I missed it, but what a world. I don’t have much more use for a flying car than I do for a rolling one, but I’ve got a fabulous high-def baseball machine in my pocket whenever I’m awake, and that’s Jetsons stuff enough for me. Particularly now that the times I can’t use this miracle device are the exceptions instead of the rule.

Forever Murph

Sunday marked 10 years since Bob Murphy’s passing. Though those who fill his role today do a fine job of it, Murph remains missed because how do you ever stop missing Bob Murphy? He is the voice of New York Mets baseball. Is, not was. Not long ago I heard a clip of him. I don’t remember if it was from a milestone game or just a random recording, but I warmed up all over. That was what Bob Murphy did for a Mets fan for 42 years. That’s what Bob Murphy does, even when instead of manning the broadcast booth, he’s on assignment in the historical archives and personal memory.

Thank you, Murph. You seemed uncomfortable when people mentioned how much you meant to them. I was about to say you shouldn’t have been, but if that’s what made you you, then I guess you knew what you were doing.

They're the Kids in America

This business wherein the Mets overcome years of being mostly bad and become mostly good is not a linear endeavor. Homestands of 8-2 are followed up with road trips of 5-5. Two out of three get taken from the Phillies only to have two of three (with one to go) given to the Giants. Exhilarating Saturday nights when your rookie ace outduels a bona fide contender’s hired gun dissolve into Sunday afternoons when the bona fide contender’s tough lefty stymies your improvised lineup while your heretofore solid veteran tosses batting practice.

You’re set to soar one minute, you’re brought down to earth the next. Our most recent minute gave way to gravity, Madison Bumgarner and the unrelenting offensive stylings of Hunter Pence and Buster Posey as ongoing hints of Met progress were eclipsed, 9-0. Bartolo Colon’s 200th win didn’t occur. Nor did a third Met hit. Other than Juan Lagares making the kind of basket catch that sends shivers into the great beyond until they run down the spine of the late Vic Wertz, there was nothing to recommend Sunday’s blowout loss among partisans of the blue and orange.

Except for it not being the norm. Or not being more than approximately half the norm. If we have really entered the era in which the Mets definitively flirt with .500, then we can take comfort in the notion that they’re bound to win as many games as they lose. It lets you overlook how crummy losses like Sundays can be.

Rome, as the renowned emperor Frank Cashen could have told you, refuses to get built in a day. Of late, it is in fashion among Mets fans of a certain vintage to invoke 1983, recalled more than three decades on as a platform for greatness. I’ve invoked it a couple of times myself. The key narrative element from that 31-year-old campaign is, sure, the Mets weren’t yet ready to contend, but oh the steps they took. Strawberry emerging! Hernandez arriving! Darling debuting! And so on!

Grab a seat next to me in Promenade sometime and I’ll take you through the wonders of 1983, particularly the 10-4 spurt that was going on at this very moment in that very year — Mookie scoring from second on a groundout; Terrell homering twice against the Cubs; Orosco winning or saving almost every single day — but then I’ll have to add that after the Mets grew thrilling, they reminded us they weren’t done growing. The Mets of 1983 finished 21-25 in their final 46, and nobody knew for sure that 1984 would present itself as the 1984 that implied 1986 and the stuff of future documentaries was right around the corner.

Momentum simply doesn’t usually unfurl unimpeded. One step up, one step back, give or take a step. Your retroactively beloved 1968 Mets, springboard for a miracle, actually lost 53 of their final 91. Your sizzling second-half Mets of 1995, a 34-18 unit that had us all panting for 1996, gave way to a miserable 71-91 season that left us psychologically unprepared for the 88-74 revival of 1997. You go back and you look at the pieces coalescing in their respective time frames and it all makes sense that the vast improvements happened as they did. You slog through the reality, however, and you find yourself enduring more 9-0 losses than you seem (or care) to remember.

As long as the reality includes its share of peeks at the other side, that’s fine. It means our sights are firmly fixed on getting better, not getting worse…or staying bad.

Without examining 35 seasons worth of archives, I’ll go out on a limb and declare Saturday night’s 4-2 win over the Giants at Citi Field as the best regular-season Saturday night win over the Giants at home since the Steve Henderson Game of blessed memory. For those of you just tuning in, that was June 14, 1980, when the Mets fell behind early, looked totally hopeless and found themselves trailing, 6-2, entering the ninth. They won, 7-6, anyway, when Hendu belted a three-run homer into the Met bullpen. The moment was so pumped full of organically occurring adrenaline that it is believed to have inspired the very first Shea Stadium curtain call.

This past Saturday night took on a different form, but the surge of Met emotion was very similar. Like John Montefusco in 1980, Jake Peavy wasn’t allowing any hits. Montefusco took a no-hitter into the sixth against his Met opponents. Peavy was perfect-gaming us on August 2, 2014, clear into the seventh. The difference was on the Met side of the mound. Whereas Pete Falcone had been lit up, thus necessitating the eventual heroics of Steve Henderson, Jacob deGrom was dousing the Giants as effectively as Peavy was dampening the Mets. No-hit efforts were being fired back and forth as if shot out of a Pepsi Party Patrol t-shirt cannon.

The Giants disrupted the Hippo Vaughn/Fred Toney tribute concert first, when Pablo Sandoval doubled into left-center, Lagares revealing himself as no more than superhuman when he dove from a distance and came up empty (he had made a brilliant running catch earlier, lest you think Juan’s glove takes nights off). The Panda was stranded on second in the top of the seventh and then he might have inadvertently gotten in the way of Peavy in the bottom of the inning when he ran into a railing chasing a foul ball during Curtis Granderson’s leadoff at-bat. The Giant trainer wanted a look at his valuable knee, much to the consternation of Keith Hernandez, who demanded Pablo return to his position ASAP and some Neosporin applied to his scrape later.

Peavy stood through the injury timeout and waited and waited some more. When the game resumed, the Mets applied their bats to his heretofore untouchable pitches and smeared results all over the scoreboard. Granderson walloped one to deep right that was caught, but it was a harbinger of whacks to come. Daniel Murphy doubled past Michael Morse, who was noticed loitering in left field but you wouldn’t really call him a left fielder. The last remaining no-hitter, never mind perfect game, was over. Hippo and Fred could go back to 1917, thank you both very much for your service. David Wright singled Peavy’s next pitch into no man’s land — which is to say more or less near where Morse stood — Murphy going to third. Peavy, by now seething enough to serve as his own adjective, peevishly plunked Lucas Duda to fill the bases.

Travis d’Arnaud lined the second pitch he saw to right, deep enough to score Murph and end the double shutout. In a span of nine deliveries to five batters, from Grandy’s ride to the track to Travis’s RBI, the aura of Jake Peavy’s invincibility completely dissipated and the Mets took a lead. Then, Lagares singled in Wright and Wilmer Flores doubled in Duda and Lagares, and it was 4-0 after being interminably 0-0.

Rub some Neosporin on that, Jake.

Breathing room granted, deGrom coughed up half of his newfound lead on a one-out pinch-single to Travis Ishikawa in the eighth. Instinctive pangs of doubt stirred but were brushed away when Jeurys Familia struck out Pence and grounded out Brandon Crawford. In the ninth, Jenrry Mejia did that thing where he makes it marginally “interesting” but doesn’t actually leave much doubt and saved the 4-2 victory.

It wasn’t Steve Henderson, but it was close enough. It was exciting like Steve Henderson. Heretofore dormant Citi Field came alive like sleepy Shea Stadium woke up 34 years earlier. It wasn’t in a vacuum, either. The 1980 version of slaying the Giants represented the culmination of a homestand in which the Mets kept coming from behind, giving currency to the Magic Is Back meme that ruled our thinking as we hopped, skipped and jumped into our first Doubleday/Wilpon summer. What deGrom was doing was similarly in line with contemporary style: pitching youthfully and marvelously. The whole young thing (not Chris, not Eric) was crackling Saturday night, too.

The runs were generated by d’Arnaud, Lagares and Flores. The outs were recorded by deGrom, Familia and Mejia. None of them has played an entire major league season yet. None of them is older than 26. All of them are excelling together, feeding our dreams, fueling our momentum.

The Mets who beat the Giants Saturday night leapt straight out of the Kim Wilde songbook. They’re the kids in America.

New York to east California
There’s a new wave coming, I warn ya

I also warned myself how capricious kids (including the 41-year-old ones like Colon) can be. On June 15, 1980, the day after Steve Henderson electrified Metsopotamia, there was a run on the Shea box office. The old joint, under renovation, had no more than 44,910 tickets to sell. The Mets sold every one of them. Mets fans bought into the Magic act. And on the Sunday afternoon that followed the greatest regular-season Saturday night in Mets history, the Mets essentially disappeared, bowing, 3-0, before the arm of Bob Knepper and the bat of Darrell Evans. For that matter, they had lost the preceding Friday night, 3-1, to Vida Blue. The Giants won the weekend despite losing the only game anybody in New York would remember.

In other words, sort of like these last three games, when the Mets couldn’t do a thing with Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner on either side of doing wonderful things to Jake Peavy. Whatever happens in the Monday afternoon series finale, my sense is we’ll remember the Peavy-deGrom game and forget the defeats that preceded and succeeded it. If we’re lucky, not to mention good, we’ll remember it as a step in an inevitable direction toward where we’ve been dying to go forever.

Jacob's Ladder

Where did Jacob deGrom come from, anyway?

I’d heard of him, of course, but not in a Matt Harvey/Zack Wheeler/Noah Syndergaard way, in which each mention is part of a countdown, the promotion becomes a rallying cry, and if the first big-league start comes at home you figure out if you can go so years later you can tell people you were there. DeGrom wasn’t even Rafael Montero, an intriguing arm not quite considered in that elite company. In February I wrote that deGrom might turn into “a Gee type” (which, to be clear, was considerable praise) and if you’d asked me for a fuller scouting report I would have identified him as a useful piece — spot starter, maybe, or a middle reliever, or a guy to spin off as part of a trade. As far as I can tell, that was the first time Jacob deGrom had ever been mentioned in these pages.

Now he might very well turn out to be Rookie of the Year. To quote Joaquin Andujar‘s favorite word, “you never know.”

We first noticed deGrom for his otherworldly hair, and then mourned his tendency to be snakebit — he didn’t record his first win until his eighth start in late June, despite pitching pretty well up until then. Recently, though, all he’s done is win — his last five starts have all been superb outings ending with Ws by his name. He’s got a solid sinker that generates ground balls, a four-seamer he uses up in the zone to change hitters’ eye levels, and breaking stuff that’s progressing. He throws strikes and is clearly unafraid.

It’s pretty awesome.

Emily and I almost went Saturday night — after I caught up with Greg to talk Mets before the cameras (more on that in a minute), my wife and I went out for Thai food in Woodside and tried to decide between continuing along the 7 to Citi Field and Fireworks Night or heading south to catch the Cyclones for Star Wars Night. We settled on neither — we were tired and allowed ourselves to admit that what we most wanted was our own couch. I turned on SNY just in time to see Juan Lagares fly through the air to take a double away from Brandon Belt — an amazing play even by Lagares’s ridiculous standards, as he seemed like he had actually accelerated while airborne.

DeGrom cruised along after that, but the Mets were being stifled by Bosox castoff Jake Peavy, who hadn’t won a game since April. Both reached the seventh without having given up a hit, and Peavy was working on a perfect game.

Neither would get his wish. DeGrom’s bid for immortality evaporated on a Pablo Sandoval double in the top of the seventh that Lagares gave an ill-advised courtesy dive for. Peavy, meanwhile, had his world cave in when the Mets batted. The trouble started with nobody out: Sandoval smashed into the fence chasing a Curtis Granderson pop-up that landed several rows deep, gashing his leg on a sound mike. The trainers took a minute or two to attend to him, and when Peavy got back on the rubber things didn’t seem the same. He got Granderson on a hard drive to Hunter Pence, then Daniel Murphy roped a ball to left. It should have been caught, but Michael Morse (who nearly killed me a couple of years ago on a different Star Wars Night) took a Family Circus route to the ball and it fell in. Then, in rapid succession, Peavy gave up a David Wright single, hit Lucas Duda with a pitch, watched Travis d’Arnaud hit a hard liner for a sac fly, surrendered a single to Lagares and then watched a double down the line from Wilmer Flores. Somehow it was 4-0 Mets and things had turned decidedly imperfect.

Things got dicey in the eighth as deGrom seemed to tire and dicier in the ninth, as Jenrry Mejia did his best to convert a double play into a horrible error and threw a hanging curve that Morse somehow missed instead of turning into a game-tying homer. Either could have proved fatal; neither did, and the Mets had won.

* * *

Before the game Greg and I met up in Queens to talk about the ’86 Mets in front of the cameras for Heather Quinlan’s forthcoming ’86 Mets: The Movie. Heather’s a terrific documentary filmmaker and a diehard Mets fan, and we had a great time answering her questions and shooting the breeze. You can read more about the project herehere and here, and follow it on Twitter here. And please contribute to the project’s Kickstarter — among other things, your support will go to travel costs for more interviews with ’86 Mets and securing footage. We’re grateful to Heather for letting us share our ’86 memories and perspectives and looking forward to what we know will be a great film.

It Ain't Over...Oh, It's Over

Is the game over yet?
No.
Is the game over yet?
No.
Is the game over yet?
Yes.

The Mets and Giants ceased their Friday night hostilities so quickly it was as if they were worried about staying one step ahead of the Sharknado. As it happened, only the Giants bared their offensive teeth, with two runs early, three runs later and no problem staving off whatever guppy-like attack the Mets could muster. The home team managed three baserunners, two hits and one plate appearance beyond the bare minimum. The only Met run came on a Lucas Duda opposite-field home run, which shouldn’t raise as much as an eyelash, since Lucas Duda homers daily. Once the Mets were behind by five runs, I figured their only chance was The Man Science Forgot belting a six-run homer.

Seriously, ol’ Lucky Duds rounds the bases in the eighth with Duda Dinger Twenty, and it’s as swell as swell can be, but then you unfasten your seat belt because you know nothing else is going to happen against Ryan Vogelsong from there to the end of time (which was all of 2:06). What I would have liked to have seen at that juncture was Lucas’s New York teammates taking a cue from Rudy’s Notre Dame teammates.

“Coach, I want Duda to bat in my place.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, David. You’re a captain. Act like it.”
“I believe I just did.”

That’s probably against the rules, but sending Duda to the plate no more often than every nine batters presents the Mets with a severe competitive disadvantage.

On the flip side, Jon Niese was spectacular, except when he wasn’t, which was when he allowed those five Giant tallies. They’ll all look line drives in the morning paper, according to Keith Hernandez, but the first couple of runs were a result of Niese forgetting whatever he learned in pitchers’ fielding practice, not running a comebacker toward the runner at second, instead flinging the ball sloppily at his shortstop and setting up the second-inning scores that would all but bury him. Then Niese settled into Niese Classic mode, that state where you can’t believe anyone ever touches him. Then he gave up a couple of triples and three more runs in the seventh.

That’s how you lose, 5-1, in two hours and six minutes. Duda goes right by going left, Niese goes terribly wrong in the midst of going mostly right and Vogelsong goes so long that the whole endeavor turns out very short. Just like that [insert snapping-finger sound], Friday’s gone with the wind. Come Saturday morning, there’ll be plenty of time to set up those fireworks Christina and Alexa love so dearly.