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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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Vargas and Robles and Boy Is It Hopeless

Technically, there’s no rule against using Jason Vargas and Hansel Robles in the same game, but that doesn’t mean a manager should be allowed to do it. Nevertheless, Mickey Callaway challenged common sense if not the letter of the law, and inevitable results ensued Tuesday night in Cincinnati. Vargas was characteristically horrible. Robles was predictably worse. Following the lead of their veteran starter and featured reliever, the Mets fell to the Reds, 7-2.

The offense, shorn of hamstrung and thus DL’d Todd Frazier, didn’t achieve much either — Luis Castillo of the not that Luis Castillos kept them off the basepaths until the fifth — but who noticed? Some nights the Mets’ hitting is so futile, their pitching is immaterial. Other nights it flips. The Mets are versatile that way.

Vargas seemed to have his best start as a Met 2.0, which is to say he gave up only four runs in four innings when it seemed he’d give up four runs in every inning. He was having trouble getting outs on the ground, in the air or with a baseball. The most impressive aspect of his performance was his ability to differentiate among the myriad at-bats in which he put runners on base when reporters asked afterward what went wrong. Robles, who was called up when Matt Harvey was designated for assignment on the premise that the Mets weren’t doing anything with that roster spot anyway, surrendered about as many runs as a person unintentionally could in a third of an inning. The laser beam home run he served up like a brimming bowl of Skyline Chili to Scooter Gennett got out of Great American Ball Park so fast that Hansel is only now raising his index finger toward its exhaust fumes.

While the fourth-place Mets were still the third-place Mets, they unloaded the aforementioned Harvey on the Reds in exchange for their injury-riddled former starting catcher, Devin Mesoraco. Everybody responded to the news with the same understandable knee-jerk Tom Seaver reference, though we should note the Mets have been trading in-season with the Reds since they sent Don Zimmer to Cincinnati on May 6, 1962, and received in exchange the second Bob Miller and the only Cliff Cook. Reds from Jesse Gonder to Jay Bruce have followed a similar eastbound trail to suddenly become Mets, though few quite as suddenly as Mesoraco, who was batting seventh in the originally posted Reds lineup Tuesday. Devin took BP with the Reds, struck out pinch-hitting for the Mets in the ninth and instantly became our best apparently healthy starting catcher. His presence couldn’t hurt. The same can’t be said of at least two of the pitchers he might catch.

As for Harvey, the most compelling similarity he shares with Seaver these days is they’ve both lived in Connecticut and soon they’ll both have lived in Ohio.

The Joys of Not Losing

The Mets played a baseball game in Cincinnati Monday night — and, for the first time in eight days, ended the night as winners.

That’s the unalloyed good news. The rest, well, it’s a matter of perspective.

The Mets hit the baseball with authority, something they hadn’t done in quite some time. Michael Conforto — who may be injured, rusty, slumping, unlucky, or some combination of those things — hit the second pitch from Homer Bailey into the nearly empty left-field seats. Jay Bruce homered. So did Adrian Gonzalez — twice. Amed Rosario had a pair of doubles and a sacrifice fly, which is close enough.

It seems cruel to squint at such welcome events, particularly after so lengthy an absence of themt. But Bailey hasn’t been an effective big-league pitcher since 2014, the Reds hit three home runs of their own, and after an initial flurry of scoring the Mets did a depressing number of lunkheaded things on the basepaths and in the coaching boxes. And if the Mets have become a tire fire, the Reds are an underground blaze eating away at a coal seam below an abandoned town. The scoreboard says the Mets won, 7-6; it gets closer to the heart of the matter to suggest the Reds proved better at losing.

But hey, Yoenis Cespedes played and didn’t seem to damage anything. And we got a chance to see the 1,050th Met in club history, in the person of Irish-born lefty P.J. Conlon.

I had no particular awareness of Conlon beyond hazy spring-training memories and knowing he’d ascended the prospect ranks high enough to be considered Potentially Useful, which sounds snarky but is actually high praise given the pitiless filter of minor-league ball. Viewed with more careful attention, Conlon is a lefty chucker with Rube Goldberg mechanics that hide the ball while making the team physician blanch — he looks like a shoulder and/or elbow injury waiting to happen. He doesn’t throw hard and never did, but that meant he arrived having had to outthink hitters he couldn’t overpower, learning to change speeds and live on the edges of the strike zone.

Conlon did that for a while, until the Reds got a longer look at him and started centering balls. I suspect that one-game scouting report may describe his career — a few trips through the league and the ubiquity of video may well make that deceptive delivery less mysterious. I’d love to be wrong, of course; even if I’m not, it’s always fun seeing a big-league debut. Conlon looked like there wasn’t enough air out there, and his every move was cheered by a large rooting section featuring his parents, well-wishers (one kissing a prayer card in particularly tense moments) and jubilantly displayed Irish flags.

Conlon wasn’t around enough to give those folks the reward of a win, but he did collect his first hit. Which, it turns out, hastened his departure — he jammed his thumb, couldn’t feel his pitches, and was pulled in the fourth.

And honestly, can you imagine a more perfect introduction to life as a Met than that?

A Q&A With Your Recapper, After Another Dismal Loss

So were you doing your job this time, or is this another fake recap where you use fancy writing to dress up the fact that you only watched half an inning?

This time around I listened to half an inning while in a rental car on the way to Logan Airport. Does that answer your question?

It does. Which half-inning was it?

The one in which Noah Syndergaard somehow walked in the tying run.

The bad one, then.

One of the bad ones.

Were you aware that Jacob deGrom had gone on the DL at that point?

No, not until Howie and Josh told me. That was the same inning in which I learned Yoenis Cespedes had come out of the game with hip tightness or imminent death or whatever the hell it was. Oh, and Josh made much of the fact that Syndergaard apparently no longer gets swings and misses with his 97-MPH fastball.

And what was your reaction to all that?

Despair, and a reminder that one baseball game was not worth launching the rental car off the expressway to end as a flaming wreck somewhere in Medford.

What do you make of all this buzzards’ luck we’ve having?

That the season is long. That streaks happen and we are helpless to control our emotions while inside them. That the Mets might quite possibly be cursed. That I am an utter fool for letting what they do dictate any part of my happiness.

Did you note that we got beat by two solo shots hit by Ian Desmond?

I did note that … wait, where are you going with this?

Is it true that Ian Desmond is on your fantasy baseball team?

It is.

Did you start him today?

I did not.

Did you not start him because he was facing the Mets?

No. I don’t do that. I let my fantasy team be my fantasy team. I don’t bench guys against my real team. Nor do I do that despicable bullshit of saying, well, “I hope the Mets beat my starter, but only by a 2-1 score and the one is a solo shot by that other guy on my fantasy team.” People who do that are terrible and should be horsewhipped.

So why didn’t you start Desmond?

Because I didn’t, OK?

How’d your fantasy-baseball matchup turn out?

Last I checked I was tied for home runs and down one in both runs and RBIs.

So if you’d started Desmond…

Just shut up.

Sorry, it’s just that —

It’s just that WHAT? That the Mets are so fucking Metsy at the moment that they got Metsiness all over my fantasy team too? Is that what you want me to fucking say?

Dude, calm down. And anyway, I don’t think ‘Metsiness’ is a word.

And I don’t think that was a question.

Fair enough. Still, you did predict the appearance of P.J. Conlon. That’s a little spooky, isn’t it?


And you invoked Hansel Robles as Ol’ Point to the Sky. Also spooky, no?

Predicting Hansel Robles will do something negative isn’t exactly the stuff of oracular greatness.

Did he point to the sky on Desmond’s second homer?

I was too disheartened to check. Hang on, let me look.


He fucking pointed to the sky.

So should we believe you’re some kind of prophet?

If I could see the future, I would have found some other team to root for the moment they finished cleaning up after the World Series parade in October 1986. But I can’t, so I didn’t. And now I’m ride or die with this miserable fucking ballclub as they lose and get hurt and lose and walk in runs and lose and fail to hit and lose and point to the fucking sky and lose and lose and lose and lose.

Well. You seem like you need a moment. Maybe we should leave things there.

Yes, I think we’d better.

The Road Goes Ever On

Your recapper will begin by confessing something usually kept discreetly behind the Faith & Fear curtain: his direct experience of tonight’s game was limited to the bottom of the ninth, watched while scowling/frowning at a phone in a friend’s living room north of Boston.

Well, fuck.

That bottom of the ninth was brief. Mercifully, one might say: at least Saturday night’s hopeless Mets loss was concluded in a tidy, sub-three-hour fashion. We’re into the philosophy of masochism now: Would you rather lose 8-7 in fury and indignation, or 2-0 while supine and helpless?

(What’s that? You’d rather win? Oh sweet summer child, get out while you can.)

I wasn’t wholly ignorant of the proceedings before that snoozy last half-inning, of course. I’m a Mets fan — if the game’s going on I do what I can even if life gets in the way. I’d registered that the Mets were behind 1-0 on a Nolan Arenado homer off Steven Matz — a first-inning blow, of course, as the Mets’ latest way of tormenting us is to fall behind early and then commence toying with our emotions.

On and on the game wound, with me checking in periodically to note that, hey, at least Matz hadn’t come apart like a cheap watch, as recent starters have done. There were no Met threats to note, but a 1-0 deficit doesn’t require much in the way of heroism — it can be undone by little more than a couple of well-placed accidents.

I registered that the Mets were a hit away from tying the game in the bottom of the 8th, and surreptitiously flipped over to GameDay to watch a static cartoon of Jay Bruce do whatever Jay Bruce was going to do.

Jay Bruce did … well, you probably saw it. Look up a bit to see what I saw. The placement of the pitch left me fuming about the outcome, and not at all comforted by my app’s note that Bruce had flied out sharply to left fielder Noel Cuevas, a player I’ve never heard of and could easily mistake for, say, a limited-edition Christmas tequila.

That was it. The Mets gave up another run shortly before I returned to the world of WiFi, pulled up SNY and watched three Mets do nothing, completing the loss. The trainwreck continues.

The trainwreck continues, and yet we hang around watching as brakes squeal and trailer cars jackknife and locomotives plummet into abysses. It’s what we do, out of habit and duty and most of all out of a desperate, apparently inextinguishable hope.

I knew I was a hopeless case years ago, when I refused to seek shelter from the days of Lorinda de Roulet and Mettle the Mule and the Mets beginning the free-agent era as baseball’s North Korea. (When the Mets grudgingly decided Gary Matthews Sr. might make sense as an acquisition, they sent him a telegram requesting he contact the club. It worked out pretty much as you expected.) I endured Vince Coleman reluctantly admitting that nearly blinding a child with a quarter-stick of dynamite wasn’t a good look. I lived through Jason Phillips and Vance Wilson and the terminally bored Shea scoreboard operators mixing them up, not that there was actually any appreciable difference between the two. I saw Kevin McReynolds and Bobby Bonilla return to teams that didn’t want them. I pretended that Victor Zambrano and Mike Pelfrey had brains. I knew Tommy Milone would pitch and Nori Aoki would play the outfield and still cleared my schedule to see what would happen.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I’m disappointed but not devastated by an 11-1 team turning into a 17-145 one, or however this ultimately turns out. (Probably not that bad, but you never know.) As proof of that, almost before I’d absorbed the news that the Mets had concluded someone might fix Matt Harvey but it wasn’t going to be them, I had a question: Who was being called up to take Harvey’s place?

I wanted to know, and it annoyed me that this piece of information wasn’t to be found amid seemingly infinite hot takes about grit and talent and blah blah blah. Who was the new Met? Was it … well, hell, I had no one in particular in mind, just someone we hadn’t seen before, who’d take his place in The Holy Books and — just maybe — our hearts.

Or not. I thought about Mac Scarce, whose Met identity was already hobbled by arriving in the Tug McGraw trade and whose one-game tenure consisting of coming into a tie game and giving up a walk-off single to Richie Hebner, of all people. I thought about Lino Urdaneta, whose Met tenure was a success only because he arrived with an ERA of infinity. (It’s now and forever will be a cool 63.00.) I thought about Garrett Olson, whose Met tenure passed unnoticed while I yapped happily with a friend during a blowout game. I thought about Akeel Morris, who came and went while I was on a family trip to Mexico but still got a share of pennant prize money for his minimal contributions. I thought about Gerson Bautista, the only Met missing from The Holy Books because I don’t yet have a minor-league card for him.

They’re all Mets, just like Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez and Mike Piazza and Yoenis Cespedes. Mets you might forget, granted, but Mets all the same.

The Mets didn’t call up a new player, alas: no Corey Taylor or P.J. Conlon or, I don’t know, Drew Smith. They called up Hansel Robles, Ol’ Point to the Sky, who’s a candidate for the Harvey treatment himself.

But my reflexive facepalm was somehow comforting. Hansel Robles, Jesus Christ, I thought, or something along those lines. But I’ve thought that before. Hey, maybe Robles figured something out during this stint in Las Vegas. I’ve thought that before too. Or if not, maybe this will be the end and we’ll see if Taylor or Conlon or Smith have something to offer. I haven’t thought any of those things yet, but I know the blueprint. When the time comes, I’ll be ready.

Maybe these Mets will start hitting again. Maybe the pitching will emerge from this rough patch — because, hey, wasn’t Matz pretty darn good tonight? Maybe they’ll look more like that 11-1 team than the 6-and-whatever-it-is-now mess they’ve become.

Or, if not, the 2019 Mets will give us hope. Or the 2020 Mets. Or some science-fiction version of the Mets who will be here before we know it. And we’ll go on. We always do.

Those Days Are Gone Forever

The Mets were teasing me again Friday night. For the second time this week, I went to see them, and for the second time this week, they got me revved up in the bottom of the ninth after spending eight-and-a-half innings essentially disengaged from the competition at hand. I was a willing passenger on their herky-jerky, ultimately ill-fated thrill ride in spite of my technically correct assessment of their impending fortunes. I fully understood their roar back from Zack Wheeler-fueled deficits of 5-0 and 8-2 would inevitably let me down, but I decided to let them and the silly hope they episodically engender have a go at me. The weather was sublime, the company (2015 National League champion spirit animal David “Skid” Rowe, in from California for the weekend) was even better and the whole point of being a Mets fan is to believe, no matter that deep down you are staunchly incredulous.

As the ninth pretended to provide a legitimate chance to crumble the Rockies — our hitters hitting, our runners running and all of us noisy — I allowed myself a glance toward the Mets dugout and pondered who wasn’t in there. Matt Harvey, I thought, is missing quite the scene in Flushing.

Matt Harvey, of course, used to be quite the scene in Flushing. Not so much lately, but go back a half-decade, and the only instances for which we generated measurably voluble noise were the days Matt pitched. Those were the days, my friend. Harvey Days. You remember Harvey Days, don’t you? They were an event unto themselves, an every-fifth-game season within a season, a square peg of winning demeanor jammed into a round hole of stubborn losing culture.

Those days are gone forever. The Mets just let them go.

Harvey the recently reluctant reliever was offered a trip to the minors by his employers. When Matt was a kid in Connecticut, bona fide major league starting pitchers Bobby Jones and Steve Trachsel, each of them an erstwhile All-Star, accepted demotions from the Mets to the Norfolk Tides when they could have contractually refused. But both (Jones in 2000, Trachsel in 2001) were struggling and both needed to find answers. They determined themselves not too big to go down to Triple-A. They returned to pitch and pitch well in New York.

Perhaps that road map to potential recovery struck the Dark Knight as too mundane a route to theoretically follow back to his perch atop Gotham. Matt said no. The Mets said bye, designating this erstwhile All-Star for assignment. Maybe Harvey will find his answers elsewhere. He won’t find them as a Met — not in Las Vegas, not in St. Lucie, not at Citi Field. He might not have found them before his contract ran out anyway. His body’s been through a lot; transplanting it to a less harsh environment wasn’t guaranteed to help his repertoire regain its snap. But he wasn’t getting anywhere here, so you’d figure he’d be willing to give another readily accessible path a try.

As the ninth-inning rally ensued, I turned toward the Mets dugout once more and remembered Harvey in his pomp. I remembered the physically imposing rookie who dropped and drove into our consciousness in the summer of 2012. I remembered the first hint that young, home-nurtured pitching was about to renew itself as a Met trademark. I remembered a neophyte’s self-assured insistence that he was never supposed to lose, let alone give up runs. I remembered four wins in four starts to kick off his first April. I remembered no losses until June. I remembered so many flirtations with no-hitters that one could be forgiven for suggesting they and Harvey get a room. I remembered Terry Collins smoothing out his rotation just enough so that Matt Harvey would be available to start at Citi on July 16, 2013. His opponents would be the best hitters in the American League. Like just about everybody else to that point that year, they couldn’t score off him either.

To dwell on more about Matt Harvey’s Mets career in the bottom of the ninth on Friday night seemed impolite to him. I preferred to leave him where we admired him, at the peak of his pomp, in the midst of his Days. It was also impolite to be distracted from the team he used to pitch for. They were busy rallying versus the Rockies as best as they could. I turned my attention away from who wasn’t in the dugout, jumped back into the present and made noise for those who were present. These were the Mets who fell behind by five before they batted, the Mets who edged to within one before they ended. These, for better and worse, were the Mets of Cabrera and Cespedes, Nimmo and Rosario, Frazier and Bruce, Conforto and Wheeler and so on.

There was no sign of Harvey among them. Really, there hadn’t been for ages.

That Kind of Day

Remember when the Mets were good?

Our once-promising team is now thoroughly rooted in all-time last place, behind such worthies as the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, the 1962 Mets, the 1875 Brooklyn Atlantics and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. That seemingly pretty decent 17-12 record? An illusion born of sabermetrics or some other newfangled defacement of the grand old game. No, the stats lie. The Mets are terrible, they’re getting worse, and we all know it.

They’re terrible individually and yet somehow even less than the sum of their ill-fitting parts. If you want to know how Jason Vargas‘s 2018 is going, he gave up six runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings yet somehow lowered his ERA nearly six full points. Matt Harvey came in and was awful, which is no longer news nor anything that anybody particularly cares about. Jose Reyes started, presumably to keep a fuming Todd Frazier from excoriating more umpires, and did his usual nothing. Michael Conforto struck out some more.

It doesn’t end there. I have it on good authority that Mickey Callaway opened a bag of sunflower seeds and carelessly dropped it five seconds later; that Jay Horwitz let a ballpoint pen explode in his shirt pocket; that Chuck in community relations got phished and now everybody needs new passwords and a visit from the IT guy; and that various Mets fans forgot to walk dogs, came home from the bodega with the wrong milk, just realized Wednesday was mom’s birthday, dropped phones in toilets, mistook shampoo for toothpaste, and sped off with grocery bags atop cars.

If you have anything to do with orange and blue, it was that kind of day. Just like it was that kind of day yesterday. Tomorrow’s forecast? Iffy with a significant chance of horrific. Dress accordingly.

The Braves, on the other hand, are getting better a lot faster than we’d hoped they would. Freddie Freeman, a star in years both lean and kind, now has a supporting cast worthy of him. Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. both look like special players, with the ball making the kind of sound off their bats that Buck O’Neil once beamed and told us to listen for. Add in excellent complementary players such as Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte, and now just wait for Dansby Swanson to relax and play up to his talent level. And I didn’t even mention Julio Teheran, who was coming off an injury so discombobulating that he only nearly no-hit the Mets.

The Braves aren’t this good; the Mets aren’t this bad. But the trend lines are disturbing, and being outscored 21-2 doesn’t lie. It’s said that when one door closes, another door opens. But that’s not so comforting when the door closing is yours and the one opening has your rival’s name on it.

It’s Darkest Before deGrom

Jacob deGrom was pitching his usual brilliant game, en route to shutting out the Atlanta Braves long enough to convince us the worst-case scenario Wednesday night would involve how the bullpen would blow the slim lead he protected, assuming the Mets ever figured out how to score a run off Sean Newcomb.

That would have been a fantastic worst-case scenario.

Instead, Jake mysteriously disappeared down the Ray Ramirez Memorial Tunnel of Doom after four innings. New training protocols, old frightening visions. What the hell was wrong with deGrom and when would he be back? The answer to the first part eventually trickled out: hyperextended right elbow, a phrase typed en masse through the Mets Twitterverse despite few of us having any idea what it meant in general or to deGrom specifically. Those advanced medical degrees we earned Googling “spinal stenosis” in 2015 haven’t made us measurably more insightful.

Jake aggravated something while swinging a bat and it didn’t feel any better throwing a ball. DeGrom’s a good-hitting pitcher, but that’s not the core competency the Mets will miss if deGrom misses significant time. I’m throwing the “if” in there because as of the chatter following the oh-by-the-way second-place Mets’ 7-0 loss to the first-place Braves, there was no definitive or reliably speculative word regarding deAbsence. For all the injuries that have felled Mets pitchers in recent years, hyperextended elbow seems to be a new one. J.J. Putz, before he was a Met, had one and came back in a matter of weeks. Lucas Duda had one last year and wasn’t out for an eternity.

Neither was or is deGrom. DeGrom, along with Yoenis Cespedes, looms as the supremely irreplaceable element of the 2018 New York Mets. There was a shortage of oxygen between Sunday and Tuesday from how much we held our breath over Yoenis’s thumb, but he was deemed all right; we all exhaled; and Yo has been playing all digits blazing ever since. That felt like some fancy bullet-dodging. Yet for what are the Mets profited if they gain the Yo world, and forfeit their ace? Despite deGrom being asked to work his magic only every fifth day, he’s every bit as important to the Mets’ competitive aspirations and psyche. Every other starting pitcher, whether by commission or omission, has let the Mets down in some capacity in the past season-plus. Not deGrom. He kept us going last year when nobody else could and he’s elevated us this year as nobody else has.

Wheeler’s always dicey. Harvey’s a stale soap opera of diminished returns. Thor has not found his groove. Vargas is Vargas and he wasn’t even that in his first start. Matz’s stiff back moved everybody up a day, which seems to have — “regular rest” aside — meddled with the primal forces of nature. All the while, DeGrom was busy being deGrom: 3-0, 1.87 ERA, 54 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. The Mets, despite tailing off from their scalding earliest-season pace, remained viable in the role of serious contender as long as they could count on Jake’s turn through the rotation. Without him, we’re gonna need more oxygen, an encouraging MRI result and another dose of the luck that maintained Cespedes’s spot in the lineup.

UPDATE: MRI shows no structural damage, Jake says he feels fine, Mets say he will make his next scheduled start Monday. This is either very good news or setting us up for god knows what.

Crazy, Stupid, Hope

I have the data to refute this, but every Mets game I’ve ever been to seems to have ended with the Mets trailing in the ninth, getting the tying and/or winning runs on base or at least to the plate, and losing anyway. The data says that’s nonsense, that I’ve seen many more wins than losses in the now 46 seasons I’ve been going to Flushing to bear witness to professional baseball. Starting July 11, 1973, and running through May 1, 2018, I’ve been to 649 regular-season Mets home games. The Mets’ and therefore my record on those occasions is 357-292. I don’t usually add the totals from Shea Stadium (218-184) to those compiled at Citi Field (139-108), but am doing so here to underscore the point that I seem to keep experiencing the same loss no matter what ballpark the Mets put it in.

“Seem” is the key word here. Tuesday night at Citi Field versus the Braves, my first personal communing with my team since last September, seemed so familiar. It could have happened at Shea or Citi. It could have happened in either of two centuries, any of five decades. The Mets can be in first place, last place, any place. The identities of given players are immaterial in this recycled scenario that has surely played out live and smack dab in front of me over and over again.

The Mets fall behind.
The Mets stay behind.
The Mets inch to somewhat closer behind.
The Mets frustrate endlessly.

Then hope — crazy, stupid, ultimately infuriating hope — bounds onto the field, unmolested by security. Look at it prancing hither and yon. Where’s John Stearns when you need an interloper tackled?

Aw, hope is just having fun out there. Look at hope getting on first on a ball that’s not quite caught. Look at hope parachuting a pop fly between outstretched gloves. Look at hope coming to the plate with every chance to turn a 3-1 deficit into…well, absolutely nothing, because hope can be a real pain in the ass that way. With one out, hope nonetheless winks from the on-deck circle, even politely pivots to let a ball squirt to the backstop.

Will ya look at what hope did now? Hope put runners on second and third with our most dramatic pinch-hitter at bat! Hope wouldn’t screw us over!

Hope screws us over. It’s what hope does. Not always, but enough. Seems like always. It’s not. Besides, how do you stay mad at hope when hope gives us a run in the process of making a second out? It’s no longer 3-1. It’s 3-2. There’s a runner on second. Hope is our pal, our amigo, our knight in shining Under Armour. Hope is taking one more swing on our behalf, driving a fly ball to left, kinda deep, kinda perplexing the left fielder and it’s gonna…

It’s gonna be caught. The ball is secured, hope is apprehended and the game is lost, 3-2. We almost had a win there. We definitely had a few minutes of hopeful fun when we thought we might win. It didn’t fully supplant the frustration and futility that defined the night, but standing up and yelling with a sense of purpose toward the end made for a nice change of pace from all the slumping back and grumbling of the immediately preceding hours. For that, we can thank hope.

Which is exactly how hope gets us seemingly every time.

First Place Team Still Alive

With a one-and-a-half game lead over two rivals and an off day today, the Mets are guaranteed go into the books as the kings of April 2018, provided there are books devoted to April kings in any year. At most, there’s maybe a pamphlet.

So put it in the pamphlet. The Mets are No. 1. The Braves and Phillies are Nos. 2A and 2B. The Nationals lurk closer to the Marlins than they do to us, but let’s not wake them just yet. Our team has been alone in first place since April 4 and will remain alone in first place as May dawns. Approximately one-sixth of the season that just commenced is complete. The Mets were literally unbeatable for a nine-game stretch that elevated our expectations Promenade-high, after which they reverted to human after all, as if of flesh and blood they’re made. Which they are, but at 11-1 we begged to differ.

The flesh and blood of two-headed catcher Travin d’Arwecki went on the DL late in the club’s April-defining winning streak and, though you wouldn’t have suspected it, their raging adequacy proved somewhat indispensable by its absence. Not to pin this all on the inherent shortcomings of Double-A Tomás Nido and Quadruple-A Jose Lobaton, but the Mets who couldn’t be stopped stopped being unstoppable once one position out of eight could no longer be considered at least major league average most days. The unplanned presence of Tose Nobaton behind the plate and buried deep in the order quietly pointed out how fragile an edifice a given Mets lineup could be. Instead of a catching tandem that wasn’t great but wasn’t bad, we had a gaping hole.

Just one out of eight. But when others out of the remaining seven cooled off or hit into bad luck or maybe slid into a base dumbly, the fragile construction of the Met juggernaut showed its cracks. The shortstop wasn’t really hitting. The third baseman didn’t make every play. The battle-scarred first baseman had little to show for his exit velocity not to mention experience (how dare he be 36?). Maybe the right fielder should play first base some. Maybe we move this guy here and that guy there and, crap, we have to get the bullpen up because there’s another starter who isn’t gonna get us through six. Or five.

The human Mets who lost a series to the Nationals, then the Braves, then the Cardinals were worrisome. First-place, but worrisome. Splitting the first two in San Diego added to the worries. Jason Vargas, their projected island of stability, rusted over on Saturday night. The Padres pounded the bejeesus out of the Mets. Neither deGrom nor Syndergaard would be pitching Sunday. If a first-place team in April ever looked to be teetering on the brink of — gasp! — second place, it was the 16-9 Mets.

Fortunately, the 16-9 Mets pounded the bejeesus out of the Padres on Sunday afternoon, winning 14-2 and becoming 17-9. The Uniclone Score earned them their first series victory at Petco Park since 2011 (they haven’t swept in San Diego since 1988) and marked the first time nine different Mets recorded at least two hits apiece in a single game. Short of Interleague DH nonsense, that implies either our pitcher chipped in offensively or something went a little wrong amid everything going so right and somebody had to fill in for somebody who had to unexpectedly vamoose.

Zack Wheeler — whose pitching surged past serviceable to the edge of encouraging over the course of five innings — went 0-for-2 as a batter. Yoenis Cespedes slid into a base dumbly. There’s the little wrong something, or so we hope it’s just a little wrong. After two hits and two steals, Ces had to leave the game in the third because of what was termed a sore thumb, which is what the bad vibe from the possibility of Yo missing time sticks out like when you’ve just won by twelve runs. Yo’s slide wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He wasn’t carrying a nine-iron or leaping from a horse into the bag or, heaven forefend, wearing his cap backward. It was just one of those headfirst slides that is forever warned against. It’s also how he slides when he’s not soreing up his thumb. Usually nothing happens; this time it precautionarily nudged him out the game. Nobody’s saying it’s any big deal. Nobody’s saying it isn’t. When it comes to injuries, Mets fans tend to err on the side of ohmigod.

Otherwise, everything was splendid. Brandon Nimmo entered and got two hits so he wouldn’t stick out from his teammates (he does, but only for his preternatural grin). Two hits for this guy who started. Two hits for that guy who started. Thirteen of the Mets’ nineteen hits were struck late as the Mets took what had been a somewhat precarious 4-2 lead and exploded the ever-lovin’ daylights out of it with five runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth. Frazier homered. Reyes homered. Nido singled twice, drove in a run and kindly requested, “don’t put your blame on me,” regarding his humanity.

Adrian Gonzalez, a convenient point of contention for those who wish to find fault with a first-place team, was the most explosive Met, notching three hits, including the three-run homer that began to put the game out of reach, and totaling five RBIs. Gonzalez, likely giving way to Jay Bruce now and then at first so Nimmo can bring his smile to the order more often without injuries to others, does hit the ball hard and has retained a surprising amount of mobility. The Mets have been suitably upwardly mobile since March 29. They entered first place early and haven’t budged from it. What do we want from them anyway?

To stay there and never leave. That’s all. We’re reasonable people when we’re not losing our minds over not winning every game.

Back With a Vargas

For the diehard Mets fan who pined away through 1,725 regular-season games awaiting the return of Jason Vargas — and there’s bound to be one of you out there somewhere — congratulations. You got exactly what you were missing.

On July 3, 2007, Vargas started for the Mets at Coors Field and surrendered nine earned runs in three-and-a-third innings en route to an 11-3 Mets loss.

On April 28, 2018, Vargas started for the Mets at Petco Park and surrendered nine earned runs in three-and-two-thirds innings en route to a 12-2 Mets loss.

It’s like he never left.

Nobody coming off a good night ever gets the “to be fair” preamble the next day, but to be fair, it wasn’t as if Vargas Capistranoed back to us with a towering Met profile in his past. The intensely aware among us could tell you without looking it up that 24-year-old Jason started the oft-aired Mets Classic from May 17, 2007, the eminently watchable 6-5 ninth-inning comeback over the Cubs. Every iota of that matinee shocker is worthy of heavy basic cable rotation, including the seven innings in which Vargas gave up five runs on six hits to Chicago, two of them on a homer hit by former Mets minor leaguer and future Mets major leaguer Angel Pagan. The game doesn’t get Classic until the last half-inning, when the Mets storm from behind for five runs, destroying Ryan Dempster, Scott Eyre and Lou Piniella in rapid succession, but for the element of surprise to take resounding effect, somebody has to execute the mundane task of digging the hole from which others climb out. That was Vargas’s role.

For eleven years amid multiple airings, we’ve marveled at the offensive work put in by Mets transcendent and obscure. David Newhan led off the ninth with a single; Carlos Beltran and David Wright pinch-hit; Endy Chavez and Ruben Gotay carried home the respective tying and winning runs, each of them driven in by Carlos Delgado. Willie Randolph’s expertly selected hitters provided however many of us among the 42,667 who stayed to the end with an indelible memory, SNY with three dependable hours of repeat programming, Ambiorix Burgos with his only National League decision and Jason Vargas with the best start of his Met career.

The next one, 47 days later, was an abomination that even the intensely aware among us, save for those with a Vargas fetish, couldn’t have recalled without looking it up. Jason got lit up in Colorado, sent down to New Orleans and eventually traded to Seattle. Then Vargas went about his American League business, much of it competent, a slice of it stellar. We played 1,725 games sans Jason Vargas. Except for the eleven in which Claudio Vargas pitched for us in 2008, our existence could be described as benignly Vargasless.

Then came the most recent offseason, the signing of now grizzled 35-year-old veteran starter Jason Vargas and the aura of stability he figured to bring. Jason Vargas was as much a reaction to 2017 as he was a plan for 2018. You might remember 2017 from such starting pitchers as “Adam What?,” “Tyler Who?,” and “Not Tommy Milone Again!” Sure would have been nice to have had a guy who would go out there every fifth day sans drama, take the ball and pile up the innings.

Sure would. Given a second start in 2018, that has a chance to be Vargas’s role still. Despite none of his three Met starts being the kind you’d leave a candle in the window eleven years for, we can cut him some slack for this most recent one. Like nearly every Mets pitcher extant, he’s coming off some kind of injury. Unlike the rest of them, his didn’t involve a body part essential to his throwing. He took a liner off his right hand in Spring Training, the one he keeps in his glove. Supposedly it has nothing to do with his ability to throw lefty. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that pitching against major leaguers for the first time this year — and having little runway in the way of competitive rehab starts — might have had an impact. Perhaps once he gets comfortable, Jason’s soft stuff will regain its effectiveness for something other than Western Division batting practice.

Never mind Vargas not being any more vibrant in 2018 thus far than he was for the extent of his 2007 visit. For those of us who keep track of such things, Jason Vargas just being a Met again is a trivia bonanza. I’ve already slipped in the bit about 1,725 games between Met appearances (1,740, counting the fifteen postseason games the Mets played without him in 2015 and 2016). That’s the fourth-longest Metless gap for a Recidivist Met, trailing only Jason Isringhausen (1,848/1,882), Bob L. Miller (1,776/1,784) and Kelly Stinnett (1,760/1,784). Izzy’s first and Miller’s and Stinnett’s second stints included years when the Mets went to the playoffs. Let’s hope Vargas, signed through 2019, brings that kind of luck. He didn’t in 2007.

Of the 45 Recidivist Mets to date, fifteen have been pitchers. Ten of them started at least one game during their first go-rounds as Mets. Three of them came back exclusively in relief: Izzy, Miller and Ray Sadecki. Seven started as Mets both Before and After, though three of them — Frank LaryAl Jackson and Jon Niese — made their Recidivist debuts as relievers. Bill Pulsipher returned as a starter in 2000 after having made his final Mets 1.0 appearance as a reliever in 1998.

Thus, Jason Vargas joins an extremely exclusive club. Only three Mets pitchers started to end their first Mets tenure and started to begin their second Mets tenure. Vargas is the third. The first two were Tom Seaver and David Cone.

Seaver. Cone. Vargas. What a strange stratum of exclusivity; good thing we’re not insisting on a 19-strikeout game for membership.

Seaver’s return couldn’t have been any more triumphant: April 5, 1983, Opening Day, a packed Shea Stadium rubbing Tom’s 859-game absence out of its eyes. No Met was ever greater than Tom Seaver, so it follows that no Met’s return was ever grander. Tom — on the mound in orange and blue for the first time since June 12, 1977 — went six innings and allowed no runs to the Phillies. He didn’t get the decision in the Mets’ 2-0 victory, but he didn’t have to. He was back. He could have pitched like Jason Vargas and it would have felt like a win. Of course Tom Seaver pitched like Tom Seaver.

David Cone’s homecoming on April 4, 2003, wasn’t quite so celebrated, but it was statistically every bit as effective. Coney, gone for 1,596 regular-season games (plus 24 postseason contests, one of which, in the 2000 World Series, cast him as a combatant in the wrong uniform), was coming back from more than not being a Met for more than a decade. David had taken off an entire season from pitching in 2002. He was retired until prospective teammates John Franco and Al Leiter convinced him otherwise. The 2003 Mets were as desperate for a veteran arm as the 2017 Mets would prove to be and David certainly possessed one of those. Cone was never exactly drama-free, but by the time he returned to Shea as a Met, the man was 41 (three years older than 41 was in ’83). The only back page attention the quadragenerian Cone was likely to attract would be for pitching.

He certainly earned every headline he got the morning following his first Met start since August 23, 1992: five innings of shutout ball, accented by his bases-loaded strikeout of Vladimir Guerrero to escape the fourth. Shea wasn’t nearly as full for David that frosty Friday night as it had been the day the sun shone on Tom, but the feeling was every bit as warm. Our ace who never should have been traded was back where he belonged.

The downside to even the happiest returns is these second times around for starting pitchers don’t have the lengthiest of shelf lives. Time will do that when we’re talking about pitchers who’ve already had substantial careers. Cone really didn’t have much left after that initial outing against the Expos. David started three more games, came out of the pen once and was done by May. Seaver gave the Mets a full season of professional pitching in 1983 — 34 starts — before the general manager outsmarted himself and allowed Tom to be plucked off the roster by the White Sox via a process that existed only long enough to rip apart Mets fans’ fragile hearts.

Lary, the very first Recidivist Met, started all of seven games for the 1965 Mets before he was traded to the Pale Hose. Jackson, the second Met to return, spot-started nine for us in 1968, worked out of the pen only in 1969 and was sold to Cincy in June, thereby missing out on the season’s miracle finish. Pulse got two shots at recapturing past fleeting glories (neither of them successful) before being let go again in 2000, traded to Arizona for fellow Recidivist Met Lenny Harris four months ahead of the franchise’s fourth pennant. Niese had two starts in 2016, the second of them encompassing an injury that snuffed out the last active ember of our relationship with him. Though Jon has signed a couple of minor league deals since, his departure from the mound as a Met on August 23, 2016, stands until further notice as his final major league start and appearance. As with Jackson and Pulsipher, the deletion of Niese coincided with a surge that landed the Mets in the postseason.

Vargas’s return to Met action made it 59 starts in all for former Met pitchers who became Met pitchers again. To paraphrase Al Jackson’s and Frank Lary’s manager Casey Stengel, if Jason doesn’t get hit in the hand in the next five days, he has a helluva chance to make it 60.