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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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Dreamy deGrom, Nightmarish Harvey

Your East Coast Based Late Night West Coast Correspondent is an unreliable narrator regarding the bulk of Friday night’s Mets-Padres affair, at least from approximately the top of the second to sometime in the bottom of the sixth, for YECBLNWCC indulged in a 75% nap. I had the game on the radio, and definitely absorbed all of the first inning, understanding that the Mets were ahead and Jacob deGrom was on. Then, like an AM signal fighting off interference, I was in and out of whatever Howie and Josh were telling me, most of which I sleepily understood as deGrom continued in command.

When I returned to a legitimate state of awake in the sixth, I heard Jake retire the first two hitters — the second of them Eric Hosmer, whose presence in San Diego caught me unawares in the moment as if I was Lucas Duda on some other night — and wondered if a no-hitter was in progress. Our announcers were so impressed by deGrom, it seemed possible. Alas, when Christian Villanueva singled with two out, I learned it was the Padres’ third hit of the evening. Also, I learned there’s a Padre named Christian Villanueva.

The recurring anonymity of the San Diego team wasn’t necessarily a barrier to their prospective success at the Mets’ expense. Bartolo Colon’s slugging notwithstanding, the Padres at Petco Park have kept in reserve an under-the-radar Marlins Park-type whammy with which to constantly clobber the Mets in last innings over the last decade. No way deGrom and the Mets should lose to Villanueva and the Padres when deGrom is rolling.

Should, though, is a terrible barometer for what happens to the Mets when deGrom is rolling. They don’t score enough for him (I guess Clayton Richard was pretty decent, too), he dares to leave the mound, he bequeaths his lead to the arm of another and, geez, can you frigging believe we lost that game? One-nothing was not that comforting a margin to rub the sleep out of my eyes with.

Four-nothing, however, was absolutely dreamy. Asdrubal Cabrera whacked the first pitch newly inserted Craig Stammen threw him with two on in the top of the seventh over the right field wall at Petco, and I had the feeling we’d have nothing to bark about when this game was over.

Then, having transferred myself to the television, I saw Matt Harvey come on in the ninth with a 5-0 lead and decided I shouldn’t be too hasty in my contentedness. DeGrom had gone seven-and-a-third shutout innings, Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos hadn’t given anything up in the eighth and Jose Lobaton doubled in the run that would make a theoretical immediate grand slam non-lethal. This should have been the hour to collect on our Petco Points and call it a night.

Yet Harvey.

Harvey the reliever.

Harvey the crankily media-diffident.

Harvey who could not have been put into less of a game situation had his name been Corey Oswalt and he was making his major league debut when most reasonable hope was lost.

Harvey whose last ninth inning ended when the coincidentally present Hosmer doubled and a 2-0 lead was cut in half.

Granted, Hosmer had already batted in the eighth. He took Blevins very deep to right, but not so deep that Michael Conforto couldn’t reel in his ultimately harmless fly ball. But let’s just say the circumstances weren’t promising. And the results weren’t all that encouraging, either.

No, the game didn’t get away, and that’s not nothing. DeGrom actually got one of those W’s staring pitchers earn but don’t automatically receive just because they deserve it. The Mets won, 5-1, staying in first place by a half-game ahead of the preternaturally relentless Phillies. Eric Hosmer never came to bat, which means he never got to third, which means he didn’t take off for home on a grounder Wright cut in front of Flores to field and throw to Duda. The technical result was what we wanted.

The Harvey result was grim. No movement on his fastball. A leadoff homer surrendered to Franchy Cordero, a Padre not quite as well known as Christian Villanueva. A walk to the similarly low-profile Jose Pirela. Familia stirred in the bullpen. Acid stirred in the abdomen. Matt Harvey still pitching in the ninth, as late as November 1, 2015, used to be one of the most electrifying sights in a Mets fan’s world.

This was turn off the lights, slip under the covers and try to forget what you just witnessed. Harvey not having his stuff and not having a reason to be on the mound other than he’s gotta be somewhere was almost as much of a bummer as the hypothetical Padre rally that never materialized. When Matt was starting and regularly getting in trouble in 2016, 2017 and the first weeks of 2018, you willed yourself to figure maybe it would be OK. Maybe it will be just a matter of time before he figures it out. If he was having a bad third inning, he’d get it together in the fourth. He’s Harvey.

Or he was.

As a reliever in the ninth when all he had to do was get three outs without giving up five runs, there was no satisfying exit point on the horizon. The best-case scenario at 5-1 and a runner on first was “maybe he won’t blow it.” He didn’t. Matt went on to get a fly ball, a double play grounder and the right to shake hands with teammates as the pitcher responsible for nailing down the victory. But it did not seem like a step in any kind of right direction. I didn’t want him out there like this. I was glad he consented to communicate with the working press who are just doing their jobs when they approach him, but listening to him answer questions that all essentially asked “when do you think you might not suck?” was painful. Not as painful as reflexively recalling the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2015 World Series, but surely an emotional poke to the ribs (of which Harvey has one fewer than most people since his thoracic outlet surgery).

Between the bottom of the ninth and the postgame media scrum, I found myself wishing Matt Harvey could be transported to another baseball team. Not “I wish he’d go away” or “they oughta cut the bum,” but “don’t make him go through this in front of us.” Perhaps if I believed the Callaway-Eiland method to repair all that’s gone awry was leading somewhere, I’d just say, fine, let’s find and fix that elusive mechanical glitch. But that’s not what’s happening here. This is Matt Harvey as no longer “Matt Harvey”. This is Matt Harvey pitching only when he can do his team the least harm.

This version of Matt Harvey feels reminiscent of Tug McGraw in the summer of 1973 and Oliver Perez from the balance of 2010. McGraw famously found himself in ’73 (ironically using a trip from the bullpen to the rotation to divine his way back to the late innings), but he reverted to a mess in 1974. His New York days were done. The Phillies traded for him, discovered he was injured, got him an operation and enjoyed ten years of Tug, including the night he preserved their first world championship. Perez was infuriating and useless in his last year as a bullpen-banished Met, but he’s been having a useful career ever since. The Yankees signed the reborn lefty specialist to a minor league deal in Spring Training; write your own charming conclusion to that alliance. Neither Tug’s nor Ollie’s careers were close to over when we bid them adieu.

Matt Harvey is a professional pitcher who will likely continue to pitch professionally after 2018. I don’t have the credentials, insight or chutzpah to definitively dismiss his future potential one month into his age 29 season. I’m also not two-faced enough to totally turn my back on him, not when I still have two regularly worn t-shirts that have his name on their backs. (He remains in my rotation even if he’s not in Mickey’s.) A 29-year-old professional pitcher is entitled to his downs, especially after providing us with such a sublime stretch of ups when he was 23 and 24.

Am I entitled to wish he could attempt to work his struggles out somewhere else? Isn’t “for better or for worse” implied when we subconsciously take the vows of fandom? Players leave us for big contracts all the time, but we get that. We lose patience with players who aren’t succeeding all the time, too. I get that. This moment strikes me as a grayer area. I sympathize with Harvey’s circumstances — primarily stemming from, let us not forget, three season-stopping injuries since 2013, two of which required serious surgery — even if he doesn’t present himself as a sympathetic character. I’m tempted to say it’s his fault for attracting attention even when he doesn’t seem to want it. I should be sitting here the day after deGrom’s masterful start and Cabrera’s clutch homer dwelling on them, but deGrom and Cabrera have mostly kept their personalities to themselves. I listened to their postgame interview sessions. Jake and Asdrubal were each cordial, polite and said basically nothing. DeGrom has a glint in his eyes when he pitches. Cabrera allows himself a happy hop when he connects. Their work speaks in suitably complete paragraphs.

Harvey we’re always listening to for more, watching for more, staying awake for more. Maybe we’re realizing it’s time to put this particular fixation to bed.

That Could Have Gone Better

Let’s enjoy the good part first: Noah Syndergaard was unbelievable.

It was clear from the first inning that he had no-hit stuff, which considering Syndergaard doesn’t believe in walks means perfect-game stuff. Every pitch was working, particularly the change-up, against which Cardinal batters had no chance. You could see weary resignation in their faces every time Syndergaard got two strikes. They knew what was coming and it didn’t matter.

And for all that, Syndergaard got nothing. The Mets lost the game and the series, and I can confidently say that they are the worst .652 team in the history of baseball.

The biggest culprit was the defense. Syndergaard went into the seventh with a 2-0 lead, which seemed like a decent margin for error the way he was pitching, except the Mets then started making errors at the margins. First came a fly ball down the left-field line by Tommy Pham, who was death and taxes in this series. Yoenis Cespedes had to go a long way with the sun as a factor, and wound up sliding into the line. The ball bounced off his glove and away for a double. Pham then came home on a little parachute cued out over second base by Marcell Ozuna to make it a 2-1 game. With two out, Met killer Paul DeJong smacked a ball to Todd Frazier‘s right that eluded him, putting runners at second and third. Syndergaard held the lead, but had to fight through a long AB by Kolten Wong to get there, expending pitches he shouldn’t have had to throw in the first place and pushing his tank closer to E.

In the eighth, Greg Garcia led off and hit a hard grounder to Amed Rosario‘s backhand, which he muffed to start the foreboding music playing, particularly as Yadier Molina ambled up to do terrible things to any available Mets. Syndergaard struck Molina out with an evil change-up, but Matt Carpenter was able to solve the change, singling to right and chasing Syndergaard. Robert Gsellman came in and got the double play he was looking for … but one batter after Pham singled to tie up the game. On a day that saw a lot of impressive Syndergaard pitches, the glove Noah hurled into the dugout wall at 90+ had to be up there.

For all that, the Mets looked like they’d pulled off an unlikely, goofy and uplifting win, which is kind of the story of this very weird season so far. This time, Jose Lobaton of all people walked with the bases loaded in the 10th. In came Jeurys Familia to close, and he got two quick outs, just as he had in collecting Tuesday’s surprisingly stress-free save.

But it was not to be. That Damn Pham collected his 43,499th hit of the series, which I’m pretty sure is a record, and the damage was revealed as far more than cosmetic when Jose Martinez socked a ball into the right-center gap. Unlike the debacle in Atlanta, Mickey Callaway had Juan Lagares in for defense, and Lagares had time to get to the ball. Which is as close to a guarantee as there is in a Mets game … except today. Lagares’s first step was tentative, he slowed down on the warning track, realized he was a couple of steps shy, leapt and the ball fell in. The Cardinals had tied it, and then things ground along for a while and eventually the Mets lost. This was the game I expected Tuesday, when the Mets eked out a skinny run and I braced for impact and everything somehow worked out. This time they got that skinny run and I exhaled, only to do a double-take as the Mets came apart just shy of the finish line.

It was nine hours ago and I still find myself shaking my head and muttering about the Martinez double. That’s a play I’ve seen Lagares make 100 times, and I don’t mean that in the generic “I’m surprised and bummed” way. I mean that in the “if I had the search-engine chops and the time I could put together a video of Juan Lagares catching a ball like that 100 times” way.

Cespedes, Rosario, Frazier, Lagares. None of the balls hit to them were automatic outs. All would have been classified as at least good plays, if made. But they weren’t made, and they should have been. There were other problems, to be sure: the Mets played 13 innings and collected one extra-base hit, which is not a winning strategy. But Syndergaard pitched a phenomenal game, was let down defensively by his teammates and walked away with nothing, and all I can do is shake my head and think what a shame it is.

Reply Hazy Try Again

Who the heck are the 2018 Mets, anyway?

The most obvious answer is that they’re 15-7, which is pretty damn good. But they sure didn’t look 15-7 during Wednesday night’s ghastly loss. They sure haven’t looked like that for a solid two weeks now, in fact.

Wednesday night’s game will be dealt with succinctly, out of a certain measure of decorum. Steven Matz was very good for two innings and then boy howdy was he not so good. The defense was horrific, which didn’t help but shouldn’t taken as absolution either. It was a very Niese-ian performance, which is about as far as one can get from a compliment, at least from this recapper.

The lone bright spot visible in the darkness of the evening was Corey Oswalt, the 1,049th Met in club history but at least for a night first in our hearts. Oswalt was briefly in residence in Miami, going so far as to warm up in the bullpen, but was sent back to Las Vegas without having pitched in a big-league game. That meant he wasn’t a Met but a ghost, his blue and orange of the pale, pastel, semi-transparent variety. When he got sent down Oswalt became the 10th ghost in team history, and the third with no other major-league experience. That’s a status not to be wished on anybody; happily, Oswalt was only stuck with it for two weeks before ascending to the land of the statistically living. (Matt Reynolds spent an entire offseason not only haunting the ectoplasmic realm but also weighed down with asterisks, as he’d been added to the active postseason roster but not appeared in a game.)

An infinite ERA in a miserable zeroth of an inning would have been better than ghost status, but Oswalt went far beyond that, remaining out there for the rest of the game and giving the bullpen a breather. Who knows what the future holds for him, but at least for a night he can smile and say he not only did his job but was also a good teammate. (As opposed to, say, a pitcher who’d make a rookie catcher speak for him one night and then return the next day to give other people doing their jobs surly expletives followed by silence. But alas, none of that particular teammate’s misbehavior is much of a surprise at this point.)

Zooming out from the wreckage of the game, what do we have here? Damned if I can tell. The Mets have one superlative starting pitcher, another whose track record suggests superlatives will once more be the norm, and then a bunch of question marks. They have a bullpen that’s looked invulnerable and then looked incompetent. They have hitters who have risen to some big shiny moments amid a worrisome amount of statistical tarnish. They have a manager who’s gone from genius to suspect to we don’t know what. They’ve even worn horrible uniforms two nights in a row for no apparent reason.

Some of that is statistical noise, of course, a frantic attempt to find patterns in the first few threads of the season’s tapestry. Maybe all of it is statistical noise. Whatever it is, it’s perplexing, confounding and thoroughly bewildering. The baseball Magic 8-ball has no answer that isn’t gnomic and unsatisfying.

So it goes. Tomorrow afternoon they and we will give it another shake, and see what swims up to be read.

Comebacks, Desired and Otherwise

He was a figure of renown in New York. He left the local scene in 2017. To the surprise of many, word spread a few months later that he’d be back in a big way in 2018.

But enough about Jay Bruce. Have you heard about Mike Francesa?

Hearing about Mike Francesa is infinitely more interesting than listening to Mike Francesa, which sports radio aficionados will suddenly have the opportunity to do again very soon, apparently. If he were already back on the air this afternoon, he’d lead with anything but Jay Bruce of the New York Mets hitting the tenth-inning go-ahead home run that put his first-place club in position to win in St. Louis Tuesday night. He’d lead with the NFL draft or the Yankees or “this crazy weatha’,” because reflexively dismissing the Mets is what Francesa would reliably do all those years he held forth on the FAN…which is why we haven’t really missed listening to him.

Bruce we didn’t miss much once he was traded to Cleveland last August because we all understood the circumstances. We weren’t going anywhere, he hadn’t been here that long, he wasn’t going to be back. It was all very tidy business. Then the tides of the baseball business sent him back to us in January. You think Francesa was barely gone before he orchestrated his return? By playing on Opening Day, Bruce’s gap between discrete Met tenures measured 52 games. Only Greg McMichael (32 games) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (45) took shorter breathers. The wait between the last game the Mets played, on Saturday, and getting back on the field Tuesday night after a rainout and an off day felt longer.

Watching Jay Bruce hit is infinitely more interesting than listening to Jay Bruce say much of anything, but the Mets didn’t lure Jay back for afternoon drive. Driving in a couple of runs every couple of nights is plenty. That was what he did at Busch Stadium, first on a fall-down triple in the second (Marcell Ozuna fell, not Jay), then on that game-changing homer in the tenth. By touching them all, Mike Matheny’s delusional protestations aside, Jay put the Mets ahead, 6-5, the score by which they held on to win, the score by which the Mets won Game Six of the 1986 World Series as well. That victory was a certified miracle. This victory, like Bruce’s return, classifies as merely unexpected — and quite pleasant.

When Jeurys Familia nailed down the shockingly stressless save, Bruce and his fellow outfielders unostentatiously removed their caps and shook hands. A nice, quiet acknowledgement of success from three fellows whose seasons thus far have veered between pretty nice and a little too quiet. Tuesday’s home run was only Bruce’s second of 2018. The first was a grand slam to wreck the Nationals’ Home Opener. Bruce’s production (perhaps hampered by his plantar fasciitis) has been a wreck ever since. Even with three hits at Busch, he’s batting just .222, with room for improvement. Michael Conforto, who homered in that same game in Washington, hasn’t hit, either. Walks a ton when cleverly taking; languishes at .204 when deciding to swing. And the outfielder you can’t miss, Yoenis Cespedes, is looking up at Conforto. He’s wallowing at .195.

Cespedes is having a horrendous season except for those intervals when he does things nobody else can, which, with the Mets in first place partly on the strength of his timely feats of luck, skill and strength, indicates he’s having an impactfully good year. Coming into Tuesday, Yo had struck out 37 times in the Mets’ first twenty games. Yes, that is a lot. That is more than anybody has ever struck out in his first twenty games. Plus he struck out two more times in Game 21.

Funny, nobody noticed that Tuesday night, just as nobody can take seriously those recurring attention-seeking takes that mysterious Cespedes and his occasionally backward hat constitute a net Met negative. I don’t know how you measure that. I also don’t know how they measure how far and how deep Cespedes’s home runs travel, but they do. The three-run, game-tying rocket Yoenis blasted off Luke Weaver in the fifth inning Tuesday was said by Statcast to have journeyed a distance of 463 feet at a speed of 115.1 miles per hour at a launch angle of 25 degrees. Yes, that is a lot. It added up to “OUTTA HERE!” which is the metric that matters most.

Cespedes came back to the Mets twice when they thought he was gone. He never actually left for another team, but coming back is always a welcome Met theme. It’s worked in more than one Game Six. It’s working regularly in 2018. Among the salient details I’ve gleaned: the Mets have the most come-from-behind victories (10) in the National League; the Mets have the most wins (4) after trailing through seven innings; and the Mets didn’t bother leading the Cardinals until extra innings Tuesday night yet won anyway. They also apparently lead the league in scoring from first on a double and second on a single, which may be a Met-aphor for a team’s requisite determination to keep coming back.

In the realm of continuing to stay ahead, the Mets remain a first-place team. The Phillies, who seemed fairly comical under the initial auspices of Gabe Kapler, have since been sprinting. It took Fernando Salas (3-1) and the Arizona Diamondbacks to slow them Tuesday night, pushing them a game-and-a-half behind the Mets. The Braves, who we saw were no joke over the weekend, trail our team by 3½. The whatchamacallit Nationals are 6½ to the rear, which wouldn’t be worth noting but for the inconvenient fact it’s April and being in first place in April clinches nothing, just as being in fourth place in April eliminates nobody.

Caveat: being in first place at any juncture of the schedule is indisputably preferable to all possible alternatives.

To maintain our status atop the standings, we will need more of the best of Bruce and Cespedes; some hitting to go along with the walking from Conforto; additional doses of yeoman effort à la Paul Sewald (another two scoreless innings, yet zero major league wins still); escapes when necessary, like that conjured by Robert Gsellman (threw a double play ball to slip loose of towering trouble in the ninth and thus earn the win that raised his record to 3-0); better starts from Zack Wheeler (four innings of getting whacked around); and anything at all out of Matt Harvey (clearly not yet born again despite his reincarnation as a reliever).

It’s April, but it’s been a long season already. Maybe that’s from starting in March. Maybe that’s from too many off days and rainouts. Maybe that’s from the concurrent senses that things are going great yet things could be going better. Maybe that’s from ballplayers and broadcasters re-entering our consciousness so soon after notably exiting it. Twenty-one games played, 141 to go, the next one tonight.

Back afta’ this.

Regular Season, Damn It

Remember when Jose Reyes not getting hits and Matt Harvey not getting outs were the Mets’ only pressing problems? Good times.

The Reyes some of us stubbornly love and remember returned Saturday night in Atlanta, tweeting playfully “Jose Reyes will get a hit” eleven times in one tweet and making good on his forecast, going 3-for-4 and scoring one of the three runs the Mets put on the board in the eighth to furnish the just-removed Jacob deGrom with the lead he deserved after matching zeroes with Julio Teheran all night long. The Mets had a 3-0 lead that was primed for expansion, though construction was promptly curtailed. Maybe Mickey Callaway could have pinch-hit for the other Jose — Lobaton — with the bases loaded, but maybe you want to show your contingency catcher you have some faith in his abilities. In the course of a season, even the course of a week, you can’t give up on any of your players or either of your Joses.

Lobaton lined out to end the visitors’ eighth, leaving the Mets ahead, 3-0. Anybody who stepped away from the action for a spell had to be confident of the outcome. Anybody watching from the bullpen, including a recently deposed starter, probably figured the outcome was making its way to book-putting. None of Saturday night’s affair was on Matt Harvey, but he was its mental focus when little else, besides excellent starting pitching emanating from the arms of others, was in progress. On Saturday afternoon, Callaway announced that in the game of rotation musical chairs necessitated by the nearly complete physical rehabilitation of Jason Vargas, it would be Harvey who’d be left standing and told to take a hike out to the Mets’ bullpen.

So he did. In the early innings, the PIX11 cameras found the Dark Knight trailing behind Jerry Blevins to his new seat, hundreds of feet from where starters traditionally kill time when they’re not starting. Harvey was no longer with Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz. He was with teammates whose names he probably knows but doesn’t usually socialize with in-game. Blevins, accustomed to the world out there, jovially bumped fists with his penmates upon his entrance. Harvey looked lost. He offered up his knuckles, but without conviction. He sat down on one of the bleacher planks SunTrust Bank offers to its out-of-town relievers and…well, one can only infer what he was thinking.

Before the game, Harvey let us know he was “pissed off” to the 10th degree, even while acknowledging that he had to “get my shit in order”. The Mets would be broadcast on over-the-air television, but Matt was laying it out there in language better suited to an HBO special. When words like “scapula,” “thoracic” and “Tommy John” are added to the vocabulary people apply to you, you’re entitled to say what you want, how you want.

But you’re not entitled to not embrace the opportunity to revamp yourself as a reassigned relief pitcher. I hope that’s what Matt does despite his starter state of mind. He clearly doesn’t want to be out there where Robles gives way to Bautista, and Bautista gives way to Oswalt. Matt Harvey has never been an interchangeable piece of the Mets puzzle. For what amounted to forever, he was in the middle of the picture on the front of the box. Who pitched the division-clincher in 2015? Who started and won the first-ever postseason game at Citi Field? Who took the ball in the first inning the last time the Mets were in the World Series and who still had it in the ninth?

That was Matt Harvey. That was three years ago. That was, essentially, another era. We understand that Matt probably feels misplaced in the bullpen. We can’t blame him for initially looking around as if absorbing that this is one nightspot where he can’t order bottle service. But he needs — for himself, for his team, for the fans who follow along — to pull back the hood, shake off the sulk and pitch in his new role as best he can. Maybe it leads him back to starting. Maybe it creates a new competency for him as a lights-out reliever. Maybe it compels Scott Boras to text Sandy Alderson and demand accelerated resolution to Harvey’s Mets career.

Saturday night I flashed back to Dave Kingman, specifically after June 15, 1983, the day we got Keith Hernandez. Keith turned the franchise around as much as any one player ever did from that moment forward (going on to revolutionize social media with his Hadji the Cat videos), but Hernandez’s taking the wheel left Dave by the side of the road for the rest of that season. Kingman, the greatest slugger the Mets had ever had, wasn’t exactly lighting up Shea in ’83, but through June 14, Dave had belted 12 homers and had driven in 23 runs. The rest of the season, Dave homered once and registered four RBIs. Mostly he sat and stared.

The 1983 Mets began 6-15 with no immediate aspirations of contending. An indifferent Dave Kingman (who viewed Keith Hernandez, per Keith’s first book, as “my ticket out of here”) probably wasn’t a great example for younger players, but it wasn’t like his marginal presence was diminishing the team’s chances. The 2018 Mets have begun 14-6 and need everybody on point. For all my faith in Jose Reyes finding his footing from the end of the bench, I, too, wondered when the hell he would stop hitting .000 and rocket to .125. But I knew he’d keep striving to get off the schneid and pledged my patience to his quest. I hope Harvey and his 6.00 ERA legitimately inspire similar faith once he’s tapped to get up from his seat and start warming up.

Because the Mets could use some help out there. Those diehard Mets fans who might have allowed themselves to step away from the aforementioned action Saturday night were probably so filled with brio from the Mets’ mid-eighth 3-0 lead that could have been 5-0 that it didn’t occur to them whatsoever that whoever followed deGrom’s seven innings of four-hit, two-walk, ten-strikeout ball wouldn’t simply continue Jake’s good work. This one seemed to be in deBag.

Imagine the element of surprise inherent in checking the line score a while later; processing that two runs in the bottom of the eighth and two runs in the bottom of the ninth added up to four for the Braves, while the Mets hadn’t budged from the three they already had; and then calculating that the Mets had lost, 4-3, to the stupid Braves.

Yeah, imagine that.

A lot of surprise, then a little DVR reconnaissance when next fully awake and engaged. AJ Ramos, whose arrival from Miami in 2017 bears no historical resemblance to Keith Hernandez’s from St. Louis in 1983, walked two of three batters. Blevins, who bumps fists better than he douses fires lately, gave up a double to Freddie Freeman, whose wrist willed itself to wellness after getting hit the other night because he knew the Mets would be swinging by. Freeman’s blow off Blevins edged the Braves to within one. Jeurys Familia rode to the rescue to keep the Mets ahead to end the eighth.

Then Familia hung around to nudge the Braves ahead in the ninth. Granted, the damaging glances were delivered in fairly novel fashion.

• There was a ground ball triple under the second baseman’s glove.

• There was a line drive knockdown by the third baseman.

• There was a drag bunt single that had to be executed beautifully (or brutally, depending on your rooting interest) to be recorded as effective.

But there was also a frigging four-ball walk to Dansby Swanson to begin the inning and there was nothing upon further video review to indicate Jeurys would be any better than lucky to escape. So no wonder Johan Camargo wound up on third via the grounder heretofore offensive hero Asdrubal Cabrera couldn’t corral and distant outfielders Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce couldn’t easily track down. No wonder Kurt Suzuki got an infield single on the liner Todd Frazier knocked down but didn’t recover with enough alacrity or awareness to either throw out Suzuki or tag out Camargo. And no wonder, with one out, Ender Inciarte laid down his beautifully brutal bunt to push home Camargo one batter later. Adrian Gonzalez fielded it cleanly, but it was no use. It was Inciarte versus the Mets. Ender Inciarte is the name Chipper Jones’s son Shea adopted once he grew up to torture the Mets, I’m pretty sure.

That made it two horribly blown games in one week for the Mets. The first, against Washington on Monday night (also a waste of deGrominance), felt extra horrible because it punctured the hot air balloon in which we fancied ourselves floating above the National League for the next six months. It was laughable to believe we would stay aloft like that the length of an entire season, but we were 12-2, winning every game it appeared we’d be losing and emitting virtual invincibility. All we needed, we told each other, was more Hadji videos and less Jose Reyes. It was also laughable to believe that the descent on Monday foretold a steady plunge through the earth to depths explored painfully and without pause in 2017. We were just having trouble dealing with a loss like that, especially to the Nats, because our sample size of success had our perspective fiercely askew.

The second…the second is one of those horrible games for which subtext is minimal. It was just a lousy loss amid what had been set up as a spectacular win. We understand those happen in a season that isn’t heaven-sent. When we were 12-2, we thought this might be one of years gifted from the gods. Now we’re 14-6 and sense it isn’t. Doesn’t mean it’s the direct opposite. It probably means it’s just a regular season, fate to be determined, the kind of season that when you step away from it for a couple of innings, you don’t have to assume the worst, but you can’t automatically assume the best. The bullpen needs help. The catchers don’t hit. And nobody’s perfect.

It’s not the easiest kind of season to take, but we never step away for very long.

We suggest you tune into Madam Secretary tonight on CBS and pay close attention to the scene that unfolds under a movie theater marquee. If you require an explanation, we provide a detailed one here.

The Ugly Ones Still Count

In any year your team will win some classic nailbiters, ones you’d like to bottle to break out for a baseball newbie ready for his or her first game. Your team will also win some dopey games, which come in a number of flavors: 4-1 snoozers, 11-2 trashfests in which only one team seems to be playing, and 7-5 contests in which each team is trying to one-down the other.

Friday night’s game was a stranger variety: the kind that warningly flashes DEBACLE for a solid hour, somehow turns into a win for the good guys, yet is such a hot mess that you feel vaguely ashamed to have cheated scoreboard death.

On Friday night Noah Syndergaard was good but less than Asgardian. His pitches lacked their usual sizzle, and his time on the mound featured too many looks at Noah turning after another hit, looking puzzled and faintly offended. The other Mets were a lot less Asgardian than that. No one could field: Jay Bruce lost a ball in the lights, to plantar fasciitis, or both; a wild pitch set up the tying run for the Braves; and Asdrubal Cabrera flubbed a throw and turned a highlight-worthy Yoenis Cespedes assist into nothing. Wilmer Flores got thrown out at first, second and home, leaving him one base shy of the out cycle. There was a fair amount of other mess, which I’m mercifully forgetting because I’m tired.

Fortunately the Braves were a bit red-faced themselves. Nick Markakis doubled leading off the sixth, but the Braves didn’t collect another hit until Mac Suzuki singled in the bottom of the 11th. That was farther than I figured this one was going to go: after the seventh-inning stretch it was positively radiating teeth-gritting loss. I figured the leadoff walk issued by Seth Lugo to start the seventh would prove fatal, and when Lugo did the same thing to start the eighth (Good Lord don’t do that) I just sighed and waited for the inevitable.

Except it didn’t come. In both cases Tomas Nido short-circuited threats by throwing runners out at second, a capability that hadn’t been demonstrated by any of 2018’s four Mets backstops. The Mets survived Freddie Freeman ABs in the eighth and 11th, disproving the hypothesis that you always see the killer coming. They also survived ABs by the likes of Preston Tucker and Charlie Culberson, disproving the hypothesis that you never see the killer coming.

The game moved along to the Let’s Throw Random Relievers Out There and Shrug portion of the proceedings, with the Mets turning a runner on third and one out into nothing in the eighth and first and second with none out into nothing in the 11th. With anonymous Atlanta relievers ducking trouble I figured it would be the Mets who’d wind up unlucky at reliever roulette, with Gerson Bautista the object of my suspicions.

But no, Lugo survived and A.J. Ramos looked terrific for an inning and then Robert Gsellman looked great for two. And then, in the 12th, the Mets staged the kind of near-accidental rally that was perfect for the evening. Gsellman led off the inning (really?) and was hit by a pitch, though actually the only harm was to his uniform. Some miscommunication followed: Glenn Sherlock needed to speak directly to his comrades in the dugout and then directly to Amed Rosario (I guess the next step was to write out instructions and tape them to Rosario’s bat) before Rosario sacrificed Gsellman to second.

Michael Conforto popped up as part of a miserable evening, suggesting further stretches of futility. Up came Cespedes, who’d spent the night convincingly imitating an offshore wind farm. He poked at a pitch and served it through the infield. Gsellman scampered home, crossing home plate with the one actually graceful slide glimpsed all night. Cabrera then doubled in Cespedes for an insurance run, but fell down rounding second and was tagged out, because that’s the kind of evening it was. Jeurys Familia then came in for a no-muss no-fuss save, perhaps because everyone was too embarrassed for additional tomfoolery.

It wasn’t a good game. Frankly, it was an awful one, with spasms of lousy defense and bad base-running interrupting up a dull slog. Additional demerits go to the Braves AV crew for encouraging fans to ram plasticware through their own eardrums by playing the tomahawk chop after every single pitch in the late innings. (Ron Darling suggested someone needed to kick the jukebox.)

The saving grace, at least, is fairly obvious: Friday’s hot mess of a game counts just as much as any comeback win against the Nats or Wilmer walking off the Brewers. You want to win every damn game you can, even the ones even the greenest intern would reject for a future edition of Mets Classics. The Mets won ugly, but they won. The season’s blur will quickly render this game forgotten, and mercifully so, but the standings will remember.

In other news:

Our t-shirt vendor seems to have gone MIA, which annoys us even more than we fear it will annoy you, seeing how we’ve been separated from money earmarked for server costs and our inventory. Our apologies; we’ll pass along better news if and when we get it.

A cheerful reminder that you’ll be able to see the proprietors of this blog on the TV Sunday night, sporting very handsome, extremely limited-edition Faith & Fear caps. For more about our journey to TV stardom, read Greg’s account, which includes his interview with our new favorite person Sam Hoffman.

Faith and Fear on TV (Humor Us)

You know we cherish our Mets Pop Culture here, so much so that at the end of every year we round up the previous twelve months of such sightings — anywhere that anything Mets shows up in a non-sports, non-news context — and present them with Oscar’s Cap Awards. That, of course, is Oscar as in Oscar Madison, the fictional character whose affection for the Mets was as authentic as the Mets cap that so often topped his head across every iteration of The Odd Couple.

If you know it, and it’s something we do at year’s end, why am I bothering you with this now? For that matter, why am I pre-empting our regularly scheduled dissection of Matt Harvey’s latest quantity start, this one a little longer than usual (6 IP), but no more successful (6 ER en route to a 12-4 loss in Atlanta)? Because, gentle readers, this Sunday night, April 22, on the CBS television network, Faith and Fear in Flushing becomes part of the pantheon of Mets Pop Culture.

No kidding. Tune into your CBS affiliate, 10 PM Eastern Daylight Time (check local listings), for the acclaimed drama Madam Secretary. At some point — and you’ll have to watch closely — you will see me, you will see Jason and you will see the Faith and Fear logo. Like Oscar’s Mets cap, it will be on our heads.

Did I say no kidding? I have to say it again: no kidding. We’re TV stars! Well, we’re TV extras. Bit players would be a stretch. We speak no lines and our names appear nowhere in the credits, but we’re there, on film, beaming to millions of viewers from coast to coast. No kidding — somebody decided we and our blog needed to be on a long-running television series that otherwise has nothing to do with the Mets.

“Somebody” is Sam Hoffman. Sam is a producer of Madam Secretary, with the show since it premiered in 2014. He’s also a writer and director, having applied his talents most recently to the motion picture Humor Me, which enjoyed a nice theatrical run over the winter and has just become available on DVD and through Video On Demand. Humor Me is a father-and-son story that weaves many threads, one of them a distinct blend of orange and blue.

Now we’re getting somewhere in discerning what your bloggers are doing on your TV screen this Sunday night. We weren’t cast for our pretty faces. We weren’t cast for our faces at all. We were cast for how we appear on your other screens: your computer, your tablet, your phone (though I suppose you might watch television on those). Sam Hoffman is a Mets fan who likes to read, which you’ll recognize as code for he reads Faith and Fear in Flushing.

As you’d expect from a Faith and Fear reader who makes movies, Sam’s film has a Mets angle. In it, the father (Elliott Gould) and the son (Jemaine Clement) don’t bond over much, but they bond over the Mets. Specifically, they bond recalling with recriminations the trade that sent Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel.

The film is listed as a comedy, not a tragedy, but in splicing in a Mets misstep, Sam is borrowing from real life, specifically his real father’s reaction to basically every Mets misstep. “The Mets are gonna blow the game” was a common elder Hoffman refrain. But the Mets did help keep a son and his dad close, just as the lead characters in Sam’s movies find a moment of common ground while recalling what a bad trade the Mets made in 1989.

I first learned about the Samuel subplot in Humor Me after we ran our latest edition of the Oscar’s Cap Awards. Sam reached out to let me know his movie contained that particular Met grace note. I thanked him and added it to my Mets Pop Culture file for next year’s presentation. Then, about a month later, I received an e-mail from him, the kind of e-mail we don’t get every day here at Faith and Fear:

“I’m a Mets fan and a fan of your writing. In the episode of Madam Secretary I’m about to direct, some of the characters are standing in line to see a 3 hour (fictional) baseball documentary. I’d love to put you in the line as a cameo.”

After Jason and I overcame our disappointment that there was no actual three-hour baseball documentary to stand in line for (though it did have an intriguing name: Man On Third), we said sure. Technically, first we said “what the…?” to each other, then “sure” to Sam.

At first, television production works fast. There was a flurry of e-mails from all kinds of studio professionals telling us what we had to sign, what we had to bring, what we couldn’t wear (licensed Mets gear was out, but that would turn out to be a blessing), where to go and for how long. No, check that — nobody said how long this would take. If they had, we might have reconsidered.

But probably not. We had stars in our eyes, even if we were only extras on a call sheet the length of a CVS receipt.

Our day of filming was February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Mets fans’ emancipation from the endless, cold New York winter, for February 12 was also the day Pitchers & Catchers reported for Spring Training. You may not remember that anymore, but we all pretended it was a big deal between the last out of last year and February 11. Oh, Spring! Oh, Warmth!

Not where we were. We reported to Actors & Extras, headquartered in a borrowed church rec room in Cobble Hill. That’s where they told us to go, and we went. Jason lives in Brooklyn, so it was a stroll. I live on Long Island, and it was a schlep, made schleppier because I followed wardrobe’s instructions to the letter and brought multiple changes of clothing that got heavier and heavier as I changed train after train. They had a certain look in mind if we were supposed to portray baseball fans.

Jason showed up unencumbered by such details. His approach was the right one. We already look like baseball fans. What we were wearing was basically fine — except they had to give us something for our heads. Synagogues give you yarmulkes, but this was a church and we were representing the Church of Baseball, so they gave us baseball caps.

Faith and Fear in Flushing baseball caps. Those don’t exist (unlike our t-shirts, which exist in theory; apologies for difficulties with our vendor). In the course of our intense “where do we sign?” negotiations, we told the production company and the network and whoever else — because they asked nicely — go ahead and use our logo if you want. And they did. They turned it into the centerpiece of an expertly aged two-toned baseball cap. The lid is royal blue, the brim is black, to match the black patch that fields our white letters. Not only were we told we should wear them in the scene, other extras on the movie line would be wearing them as well.

Not sure what’s crazier: a three-hour baseball documentary (“one of the three best of the year,” according to the detailed poster outside the theater) or the idea that the people lining up to see it would be showing off their affinity for our blog. I’m still hung up on the fact that there was no baseball documentary.

See? Expert casting.

We were stoked to get the caps, stoked to be ever so briefly drafted into show business, just plain stoked. Then maybe a little less stoked as the day wore on. I knew there was a lot of waiting around in filming, so I wasn’t surprised. But it does take some of the stoke out of you.

Not the worst wait of our lives, by any means. We hung out like we usually only hang out during doubleheaders, except longer. We kept up on the vital news of the day, mainly that the Nationals had picked up that traitor Matt Reynolds. We met people who extra for a living, people who would prefer to act for a career. None of our fellow extras had heard of any Mets blogs, but some professed familiarity with baseball. One who’d done this a lot offered to lend us a book to pass the time.

Around six o’clock in the evening we broke for lunch. That’s what they call it. I looked forward to partaking in craft services. Alas, craft services is apparently for the real actors and was nowhere in sight. The extras can go get their own lunch, which we did. We used our hour to eat at a nearby coffee shop; to mutually decide the 2018 Mets weren’t shaping up as terribly promising; and to debate with surprising civility the artistic merits of Billy Joel (I’m steadfastly pro, Jason’s virulently con, but we didn’t start a fire). We spilled nothing on our caps — we were urged to keep wearing them to get in character — and we prepared to wait a little longer. And a little longer still. At some point, after our late lunch, we got the good word: go to the actual set, which was, in fact, an actual movie theater.

That’s where we waited some more after walking over, by which time, it’s worth noting, there was no sign of spring. Walking a few blocks on a chilly night is no big deal. Standing outside for a movie you’re not actually going to see because it’s not there can get frigid. It can and it did.

The other part of long, besides the waiting around (which continued for a while inside the blessedly warm theater), is the actual filming. I assure you we won’t be on camera for long. Nobody, not even the actual Madam Secretary characters who are meeting on a blind date outside the theater, will be on camera for long at this location. But it takes time to set up the shot, to shoot from multiple angles, to correct all that isn’t immediately right, to do it take after take after take. We don’t see the incredible effort TV takes when we watch TV. You know it when you’re in the thick of it, especially on a thirty-degree night amid a thirty mile-per-hour wind.

I’m been waiting to say this, so I’m going to interject it now: that’s showbiz.

Just before being called into action, we met Sam. He’d been busy directing the rest of the episode all day. We got three minutes of baseball talk in before he had to dash. Then we had to dash. And freeze. And, if you can call it that, act.

How do non-professionals like Jason and me not ruin everything in an established television show populated and produced by pros? We do as we are told. We were told to stand over here. Then stand over there. Then look like we’d look as we were waiting in line for a three-hour baseball documentary: fidget on our feet; scroll through our phones; lightly grumble to one another. Turn and talk without talking. Just mouth words. Don’t whisper. Whispers can be picked up by the omnipresent microphones.

My silent dialogue, improvised on the spot, was made up mostly of mid-’70s Mets whose names don’t get mentioned out loud all that often: Jay Kleven…Mike Vail…Jerry Cram..Roy Staiger…Bob Apodaca. Skip Lockwood, too, probably because I had recently finished reading an advance copy of his new memoir (highly recommended). Given that Jason and I spent a chunk of our church waiting time in Talmudic analysis of the Holy Books, one of my imaginary lines was “he doesn’t even have a card,” which I apparently whispered instead of mouthed since he asked me after somebody yelled “CUT!” whether that was, in fact, what I’d just said.

Mostly we had to be unnoticeable (though Sam made sure we’d be recognizable to anybody likely to recognize us). The focus is on the two characters meeting for the date. We’re ever so briefly in their way and then just there. Same for the rest of the extras in line, though none of them were bloggers. We were all bundled up against the worst the winter night had to offer, but otherwise appeared as baseball fans. One of the extras who took the wardrobe instructions to heart brought a baseball with him, as if that’s something a baseball fan would bring to a movie. I’m guessing he’s not a baseball fan when not being paid to portray one.

When you shoot on the streets of New York — Brooklyn included — you take your chances. Pedestrians who were held from walking toward their destinations weren’t too happy to stand aside for however long it took for each take. Drivers and passengers seemed to relish honking their horns into our boom mics. Then again, I spied a neighbor in a nearby building pleased to avail himself of a sneak preview from his window, while somebody in a car double-parked across the street long enough to take a few pictures. Glamour, inconvenience, frostbite, baseball — the night had something for everyone.

I thought it would go on forever, yet somehow it was decided, after a dozen or so attempts to show our prospective lovebirds meeting for the movie and making their next move, that we were done. All that was left was to thank the crew for their patient expertise (some were Mets fans) and head back to the church to sign out and gather up our unworn stuff for the schlep home. We had been told we’d have to return all official wardrobe items, including the caps with the Faith and Fear logo, but Sam told us to tell them he said we could keep ours. Since it didn’t seem likely FAFIF would become a recurring character, we didn’t get an argument.

So you’ll recognize it, a link to the cap is here:

http://i66.tinypic.com/2dw7qkh.jpg

So that was our adventure in acting and our stitch in the rich tapestry of Mets Pop Culture. You’ll see the results Sunday night on Madam Secretary, if you are so inclined. And if you keep reading, you’ll learn more about the man who made it happen for us.

MEET SAM HOFFMAN
I couldn’t let this experience pass without asking our patron in the arts what led him to care enough about the Mets to insert a couple of fairly obscure bloggers into his network television show simply because they write about the Mets. Sam Hoffman graciously consented to be interviewed in early April, at which point I had just about completely thawed out from our shoot in mid-February.

Sam’s first brush with Mets Pop Culture came during Spring Training in 1979. As he tells it, his father took him to St. Petersburg as part of an “incentive package” related to his Bar Mitzvah preparation. Learn your haftorah, go see the Mets. Good deal. His visit coincided with a historic moment: the filming of the Chico Escuela comeback for Saturday Night Live, during which he encountered Garrett Morris as the former Met icon and Bill Murray as the intrepid reporter. Years later, when Sam entered the business, he’d find himself on several movie sets with Murray. On one of them, Sam told him they’d met before, in Florida, at Spring Training, when baseball was being berry, berry good to both of them.

“Yeah, I don’t remember that,” was Murray’s response.

Bar Mitzvahed and grown, Sam’s career has wound through a couple of landmark sports movies. In the early ’90s, there was Rudy, the film I am most likely to drop what I’m doing and watch whenever it’s on. Sam recalled most vividly that Notre Dame gave the crew exactly eight minutes of halftime to shoot football action and that the crew ran what amounted to “an eight-minute drill” to get all they could out of it. During that same general time period, Sam worked on A League of Their Own, not only serving as second assistant director, but playing a little ball.

In the tryout camp scene, filmed at Wrigley Field (which he counts as his “No. 1 thrill”), Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson has to make a bullet of a throw from behind the plate to second base. A great actress isn’t necessarily a natural catcher, so they had a stuntwoman on hand to make the throw. Except the stuntwoman didn’t have the arm for it, either. All her tries were “lollipop throws,” Sam says. With Jerry Grote unavailable, Sam went to director Penny Marshall and volunteered that he could do it. Marshall figured there was nothing to lose in letting Sam try. He was as good as his own scouting report.

Thus, when you see Dottie Hinson firing a frozen rope to second, that’s Sam Hoffman in a wig and Geena Davis’s costume. He was, in essence, an uncredited twentysomething stuntwoman, but he’s in the movie.

Sam’s predilection for baseball came from his father. “He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan originally,” Sam says. “He switched to the Mets when they came along and inculcated and indoctrinated me.” Who else would take a kid to St. Pete for Spring Training as part of Bar Mitzvah training? Who else would agree to a youngster’s insistence that, when the family was in the San Francisco area, they drive around looking for Dave Kingman’s house because the youngster had read something about his favorite player living in a particular neighborhood?

Don Hahn is the first player Sam remembers, though more as a name than as a Met hero. “I remember that trade,” he says, referring to the swap that shipped Hahn, Dave Schneck and Tug McGraw to Philadelphia for Mac Scarce, Del Unser and John Stearns. Hahn generally gets no higher than fourth billing when that trade comes up in Mets fan conversation, but it is to Sam’s credit as a Mets fan that he’d fixate on a below-the-marquee player worthy of being silently mouthed by a baseball fan standing in the cold waiting to see a fictional three-hour baseball documentary. Come to think of it, I might have mouthed “Dave Schneck” to Jason. Had Humor Me been made twenty years ago, perhaps Gould and Clement would have rued the 1974 Hahn trade the way they presently rue the 1989 Samuel trade. Mets fans of every generation can always find a trade to rue.

For Sam, Hahn’s departure from New York is a point of Met demarcation. “That’s about when they became bad,” he approximates, but that didn’t stop him from growing into his fandom. “I got excited when Craig Swan won 14 games,” he says. “I was heartbroken when Dave Kingman broke his thumb” and was henceforth halted from breaking Hack Wilson’s National League home run record. Each of us spent a moment mourning that injury four decades after its occurrence.

Far from silently mouthing, Sam cheered wildly when Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs. That doesn’t differentiate him from any other Mets fan, except Sam was in college in London during the 1986 World Series. “In my dorm, there was me and a kid from Boston,” he says. “We listened over Armed Forces Radio on a transistor radio in the middle of the night, yelling and screaming and keeping awake everybody else who didn’t care.” Sam didn’t hesitate from exulting while England slept. And he kept caring, kept rooting, kept the family tradition going. In 2015, he had another great thrill, taking his then ten-year-old son to the World Series at Citi Field.

I asked if being in entertainment has him crossing paths with athletes. Not that much, he told me, but on The Royal Tenenbaums he worked with a rugged stand-in whose previous profession he knew nothing about. “The back of his neck was sun-damaged,” Sam says, “so I asked him, ‘What’s the deal, are you a cowboy?’ He told me, ‘I was a catcher.’” It was Greg Goossen, who made a Hollywood career of standing in for Gene Hackman, but attained a modicum of fame in Sam’s infancy as the Met of whom Casey Stengel told reporters was twenty and had a chance in ten years to be thirty.

“I played for the Mets,” Goossen informed Sam. “Then I got traded to the Seattle Pilots.”

“I said, ‘Holy shit!’” By the tone in Sam’s voice, I believe that’s an exact quote.

It got better. At a later date, Sam had the opportunity to go to a Mets game with, among others, Goossen and Luke Wilson, a genuine movie star. Outside Shea, they were accosted enthusiastically by a fan. “He looks like he wants an autograph,” Sam says, figuring the target was Wilson. The fan ignored the star and went straight for the stand-in. “You’re Greg Goossen!” the stranger exclaimed. “You played for the Mets in ’68 and you’re Jewish!”

Indeed, he did and indeed, he was. Greg Goossen is part of that small fraternity of Chosen Mets. People generally know from Art Shamsky, Shawn Green and Ike Davis…Greg Goossen, not so much. This was new information to Sam, the former Bar Mitzvah Boy who would go on to create the online phenomenon Old Jews Telling Jokes. You had to understand, Sam explained, Greg Goossen was “the least Jewish guy you’ve ever seen — he comes from a family of boxing promoters in Las Vegas! I asked him, “You’re Jewish?”

Goossen shrugged, “Half.”

Well, I’m no Greg Goossen, but I am fully appreciative both of the time Sam gave me over the phone and the experience he provided Jason and me on Madam Secretary. I also appreciate that he’s been a Faith and Fear reader for a long time. “A number of years ago,” he remembers, “there was a boom of blogs about the Mets. I would sample a number of them.” Sam namechecked the pioneering Eddie Kranepool Society and the sabermetrically innovative Mets Geek from what the Cranberries might have called those “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” days.

“Then I found yours,” Sam says, “and I came back to yours. That was a result of how you guys bring some poetry to being a Mets fan.” When the three-hour documentary appeared in the script for the episode of in question, “I thought who would be in this movie line? First thing that came to mind was you guys. You have the combination of wonkish devotion to the Mets and baseball and the love of artistry and writing. I’d seen your picture on the blog and thought it would be fun to see you guys in line — sell the idea of real baseball fans going to see this movie.”

I don’t know if it will be fun for anybody else to see us there, but we sure had fun being there, cold and all. Thanks again to Sam Hoffman and everybody who gave us our moment just to the side of the spotlight.

Unswept in First At Last

“And I guess that’s what I want to do with this campaign: sort of calm things down a little…”
—Former Gov. Fred Picker (D-Fla.), “Primary Colors”

Early during the seventeenth game of the Mets’ 2018 season, I found myself longing for the Mets of the first not quite fifteen games of the 2018 season. That was a great team and a great year. Alas, the Mets from the end of the fifteenth game through the first several innings of the seventeenth game were such a comedown. We were obviously sentenced to be stuck with them forever.

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the throwback game the Mets spontaneously staged in the nine-run eighth inning of the seventeenth game, bringing back to Citi Field the 2018 Mets from the first not quite fifteen games. They even wore the same uniforms.

Whichever team it is we have this year won the seventeenth game, much as it had won twelve of its previous sixteen, which reads as pretty impressive on paper and in pixel, but registered as useless in our hearts and heads. We knew the magic was gone after the defining lead-blowing elements of Monday night. No wonder Tuesday was ruined. No wonder Wednesday, until the eighth, was a lost cause for the potentially 12-5 first-place Mets.

Thank goodness it wound up a won cause, 11-5, for the actual 13-4 first-place Mets, the team that came back on the Nationals in the eighth inning the way the Nationals came back on the Mets two eighth innings prior. It was almost as if, across a 162-game season, some nights things suddenly fall apart wildly; and some nights things suddenly come together sensationally; and sometimes those nights and their aberrant things occur in counterintuitively close proximity.

These Mets, the eighth-inning Wednesday-night Mets…the ones who tied the score on Todd Frazier’s two-run single up the middle, surged ahead on Juan Lagares’s pinch-hit two-run double down the right field line and slammed the hammer down via Yoenis Cespedes’s four-run homer to distant galaxies…these were the real Mets. Not those Mets; these Mets. I know we decided the eighth-inning Monday-night Mets were the real Mets, but we have since obtained new information which we have verified as reliable by tasting it for salt and pepper.

Given that we could really use a sip of water, we can say with confidence it checks out. The momentum-depleted 2018 New York Mets were going to be swept and the competitive portion of their season was going to be cancelled. Instead, the momentum-fueled 2018 New York Mets stand unswept and nobody is going to catch them — certainly not the momentum-depleted Washington Nationals, who couldn’t even sweep those lousy Mets.

The magic that was gone is back. All hail the way things are going now until they’re not.

Just a Loss

The good news, such as it is: Tuesday night’s loss to the Nationals was just a loss. No record scratch, no talk-radio meltdown, no requirement to sit in a dark room and ponder.

It was an annoying yet pretty interesting slow drip of a game, won by a team that slapped and blooped singles, worked out walks and stole bases and lost by one that failed to do the same. Hard-hit balls were few and far between: this was almost a game borrowed from the deadball era. Perhaps not what we’d want as a steady diet, but mildly refreshing in an age of titanium-thewed sluggers, nuclear-armed hurlers and baseballs concealing cores of Tigger-bottom’ed springs.

Zack Wheeler took the mound without the electric stuff he’d shown off in Miami — the slider in particular was unfortunately MIA. He hung in there, and it would be wrong to say the Nationals hit him hard. He also seemed to learn a valuable lesson later in the game: he started pounding the strike zone with his fastball, which is more in line with the philosophy espoused by Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland, and yielded far better results.

The Mets, meanwhile, were undone by an utter lack of clutch hits, with two at-bats particularly annoying. In the sixth, back-to-back singles by Juan Lagares and Tomas Nido put the tying run on third with one out. That spelled the end both pitchers’ nights at once: Gio Gonzalez departed in favor of Sammy Solis, and Wheeler was called back to the dugout for a pinch-hitter. Callaway opted to pass over Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Lobaton, choosing 0-for-2018 Jose Reyes.

Reyes fanned helplessly at a 2-1 pitch, then was dismissed on a half-swing. The Mets did not score.

The Nats did, and in unlikely fashion. Robert Gsellman was asked to pitch to Bryce Harper with first base open, one out and 2018 human out Ryan Zimmerman on deck. Another head-scratching Callaway call, except Gsellman retired Harper on an easy fly, making the manager look like a genius. Gsellman then gave up an RBI single to Zimmerman, because baseball is perverse and will kill you.

That made it 4-2, and in the bottom of the seventh the Mets faced a smaller-scale version of the sixth inning: consecutive one-out singles by Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores put a runner on third and brought up Todd Frazier. Frazier struck out against Ryan Madson, swinging nearly as wildly as Reyes had. For all intents and purposes that ended the game, unless you wish to further explore the heroics of annoyingly good young Nats catcher Pedro Severino or a fruitless AB from Asdrubal Cabrera, which your recapper does not wish to do.

Given two nearly identical at-bats with poor outcomes, it may seem unfair to pick on Reyes while excusing Frazier. But there’s a wider context here: Frazier filled a Mets offseason need and has played superb defense, collected big hits and won accolades in the clubhouse.

On the other hand, Reyes’s return didn’t make a lick of sense in the first place, and read like the Mets locked up a Plan B because they weren’t sure ownership would approve the more expensive Plan A. Reyes had the most ABs on the 2017 Mets, which is as thorough an indictment of that wretched season as the name “Tommy Milone.” It’s good that he’s no longer an everyday player; unfortunately he’s never been a bench player and shows no sign of being suited to that role. Reyes has decayed into a singles hitter, he’s no longer automatic stealing bases, and the most charitable description of his range afield would be “better than Flores.” Being a mentor to Amed Rosario doesn’t justify a roster spot which would be better filled by Phillip Evans, a far superior hitter who gives the Mets more defensive options, or by Ty Kelly if for some reason Evans makes too much sense.

There’s simply no reason for Reyes to be a Met any longer; unfortunately, eating his $2 million salary would be admitting an offseason mistake, something I can’t see the Wilpons allowing until summer at the earliest. Until they decide it’s time, make Jose the league’s most expensive bench coach. Nostalgia is pretty curdled in his case anyway, given his off-field issues. But even in the absence of such unhappy considerations, holding on to the past is a fatal mistake in baseball. Callaway shouldn’t be bound by it as a newcomer to the Mets, while Sandy Alderson should get his flinty-eyed Marine on and remind his bosses that the Mets shouldn’t waste a heaven-sent start.

Record Scratch

Collecting the first 23 outs went well enough.

Yes, Bryce Harper hit a broken-bat home run that you’ll see forever and/or will go down in infamy as an emblem of this new juiced-ball era. I’ve seen broken-bat homers, but they’re usually the stuff of a few flakes and splinters and a short porch. The heavy end of Harper’s bat went flying, as did the ball — it came down a cool 406 feet away. The man’s prodigiously good at baseball, but even by his lofty standards that was absurd.

Absurd, but apparently no big whoop. The Mets quickly tied the game and then pulled ahead, and Jacob deGrom was cruising along, riding fastball variants and a killer slider to drop Nats like bowling pins. He came out for the eighth with 11 strikeouts and a five-run lead. The Mets had turned a 4-1 cushion into what looked like a rout thanks to a Brandon Nimmo triple and an Asdrubal Cabrera homer into whatever the Pepsi Porch is called now, on an 0-2 pitch no less. The fans were serenading a chilly Harper, the Mets were about to be 13-2, and all was not just well with the world but so freaking good that as a Met fan you needed to pinch yourself hourly just to check you wouldn’t wake up with a yelp and discover it was 3 a.m. and the Mets were actually 4-11 and mired in nagging injuries and dumb controversies.

DeGrom allowed a leadoff single to Moises Sierra in the eighth, but fanned Michael Taylor and went to work on Trea Turner, who’d done the opposite of covering himself in glory earlier in the game by stealing to take the bat out of Harper’s hands. DeGrom got two quick strikes on Turner, but he refused to bite at three bait pitches, fouled off a pair of fastballs and singled, ending deGrom’s night. Which was the right call — deGrom had expended 19 pitches in the eighth, taking him above 100, and the Mets’ bullpen had been more or less impeccable.

Well, at least until tonight, when the record scratched.

(Aside: Is that term something nobody understands any longer, or will it linger despite no one actually connecting it to a now essentially unknown physical event?)

Seth Lugo faced Howie Kendrick — and walked him. Exit Seth Lugo.

Enter Jerry Blevins to deal with Harper and the bases loaded. Not ideal, but the Mets still had a 6-1 lead. Blevins surrendered a two-run single. 6-3 Mets. Exit Jerry Blevins.

Enter A.J. Ramos, who struck out Ryan Zimmerman on a somewhat generous call. The Mets had a three-run lead with four outs to get, and it seemed like the preceding drama would be a minor bit of added excitement.

Ramos remained to deal with Pedro Severino, who looks like he’s developing into an annoyingly capable catcher at a time when the Mets are going with Plan C and Plan D. Severino singled to reload the bases.

Ramos remained and walked old friend Matt Reynolds to make it 6-4 Mets. Exit Ramos.

Enter Jeurys Familia, with a side of Wilmer Flores at first. Familia promptly surrounded a two-run single to the other Wilmer, Difo of Washington. Tie game, disaster official.

Familia then hit Sierra, batting for the second time in the inning. Bases reloaded.

Familia then walked Taylor. 7-6 Nats. Did you know the Mets walked in 20 runs in 2017? I had either never noticed that excruciating factoid or suppressed it.

Turner then lined out, but yeah.

All that was bad enough, but the Mets had more horrors to inflict. In the ninth, with one out and the Mets down 8-6 thanks to a Kendrick homer allowed by Hansel Robles, Cabrera doubled to left to give the Mets at least some faint hope — that was Michael Conforto at the plate, after all. A ball in the dirt squirted away from Severino and Cabrera … took off for third? What in the name of Jay Payton did he think he was doing?

Cabrera was called out at third. The Mets challenged, because Difo’s tag had been ill-advisedly aimed at Cabrera’s leg instead of the bag and because why not. Cabrera was reaffirmed as out, not just on video evidence but also on general principles dating back to King Kelly and Wee Willie Keeler. He slunk back to the dugout, somehow having had the worst 4-for-5 night imaginable, and Conforto lined out to make things officially dismal.

I mean, shit. We all knew 12-2 was not a sustainable pace, the bullpen wasn’t this good, the Mets would not in fact always come back to win, and so on and so on and so on. But that’s not to say we all thought regression to the mean would get crammed into a single inning of relentless, slow-building suck.

This was one of those games that leaves a mark. After it was over, everyone connected with the Mets — Cabrera, the bullpen, the ill-advised Citi Field taunters of Harper, and all of us fans on our couches who smugly dispensed with Very Important Fan Rituals — needed to sit in a dark room for an hour and Think About What They Did.

Now that the sentence has been served, it’s time to move on to the next game, for better or suddenly how the hell is it possible we’re feeling like this for worse. The Mets are 12-3. That’s pretty good. 12-4 would still be pretty good, but it would feel shakier than it ought to. So let’s not do that. Guys who actually play: no shaking off the catcher, no missing location on 3-2, no streaking for the next base when your run is cosmetic. Guys and gals who form the vast non-playing auxiliary: no serenading still-dangerous MVP candidates, no tweeting snickering questions about whether Washington is still in the league, no switching rooms with the game still in doubt. We’ve all seen what can happen. We don’t need it happening any more.