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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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Leading the League in Agita

The Mets, for all the agita surrounding them, went to the other side of a fair continent and returned with a 4-2 trip. That’s not bad. In fact, it’s pretty far from bad.

So why are so many Mets fans — most definitely including me — so prone to rending of garments, gnashing of teeth and other emo displays?

I keep poking at that during this baffling year. As with most things, I suspect there are a lot of contributing factors: anger at the Wilpons for years of penurious ways (bad) and habitual dishonesty about the direction of payrolls (worse); frustration at seeing a promising start against a weak field eroded by injuries and bad luck; the echo-chamber effect of today’s 24-7 Twitter carping (cleverer than talk radio but perhaps equally corrosive); and the emotional see-saw of following a team that’s a weird mix of superb and awful.

Speaking for myself, I think a big part of my frustration is that superb pitching paired with awful hitting is a reminder of what could be if only the Mets weren’t so painfully out of balance in terms of talent (and, OK, luck). The Mets have 12 losses this year that would have been wins if they’d scored four runs, including four 1-0 losses. I won’t claim this is science, but give them those wins and they’d be 56-30, and anyone carping about the subpar defense would be pitied for their inability to ever be happy.

The Mets, as is often the case, didn’t help the reduce agita levels with a pregame mess. Michael Cuddyer hurt his knee June 28, an injury the Mets initially described as not serious — “a bright spot,” Terry Collins said. Cuddyer then didn’t play until July 3, played four games in a row after that (going 2 for 12 at the plate), and now hasn’t played the last two days. The Mets played short for nearly a week, sent Cuddyer back out there with poor results, then played short again. The knee will be looked at when the Mets return to New York, and if you’re betting there’s a DL stint coming, you clearly know your Mets.

None of this is new — here’s Jared Diamond of WSJ describing what’s happened just in 2015 with the Mets and diagnosing injuries. And let’s recall Jerry Manuel way back in 2009, addressing the subject of an injury to Gary Sheffield: “They’re calling it cramps … surgery on Thursday.” (Manuel then pleaded for Kevin Burkhardt to delete the footage.) Like stabbing departing players in the back, this has been going on too long to blame on the same manager or GM; it doesn’t take an enormously talented detective to deduce what the source of the problem is.

But wait a minute, weren’t we talking about a 4-2 trip? Indeed we were, and today’s game lived up to the Just Imagine formula fantasized about above. The Mets got four runs, the first two on a Giants error and a fielder’s choice, the last two on a homer from Eric Campbell, whose starting assignment at Kirk Nieuwenhuis‘s expense had been derided by everybody including — oddly and ill-advisedly — whoever runs social media for the Las Vegas 51s. (I was among them, though Campbell vs. Nieuwenhuis isn’t exactly the second coming of Williams vs. DiMaggio debates.)

But as usual, the thing to watch was the pitching, and Jacob deGrom was superb. DeGrom is just a pleasure to watch: He starts like a dart-thrower, hand behind his glove, then explodes into a flurry of praying-mantis limbs that come whipping at the batter, one long arm flying towards home seemingly from behind his head. (And post-Tommy John, thank goodness.) A foot flying into the air signals the end of this unlikely wheeling of arms and legs, followed by an almost abashed step in the direction of first.

It looks chaotic, but it’s not — deGrom was essentially untouchable today, throttling the Giants over eight innings before giving away to a less-stellar but perfectly effective Jeurys Familia. And with that the Mets are heading back home, to whatever comes next in this strange, strange season.

The Mets will go on, but the next nine games will be without me — I’m off to Italy. Be nice to Mr. Prince, y’hear?

Nothing to See Here

After two taut wins in LA and San Francisco, it was back to the old boring formula familiar from too many Met losses. And maybe it’s just the late-night abyss that follows a West Coast loss, but your chronicler is left scratching his bald head about what to say.

I mean, yeah, Bartolo Colon didn’t help himself in the field. But he pitched well enough, getting pecked to death with bloops and soft singles instead of cudgeled by extra-base hits and dingers.

Sure, Daniel Murphy did something mildly lunkheaded afield, but that’s not exactly a shocking development.

Anyway, those weren’t the things that beat the Mets.

What beat the Mets was (wait for it) the utter lack of offense. You’ve heard it all before, but score, say, four runs a game and nobody’s sighing about an average start by Colon or blemishes in the field. But the Mets don’t score four runs a game. Since June 15 they’ve scored 2.2 runs a game, so sayeth SNY. During that time they’re hitting .197, and since June 1 Lucas Duda has actually achieved a negative batting average — his home run and RBI totals are being revised downwards each week due to his utter ineptitude at the plate.

OK, that last part’s not true. But cripes, it sure feels like it could be.

Injuries. Age, whether it’s an excess or a lack. Payroll considerations. Lack of depth. Complementary players forced into primary roles. None of this is the murder weapon; rather, they’re all contributing factors.

And it’s an old, not particularly interesting script that gets trotted out too often around here.

(Deep sigh, look around, gather strength.)

Fortunately, there’s another game tomorrow afternoon. Let’s agree to look ahead to that one and not back at this one, all right? That’s one of the great healing balms of baseball, after all — tomorrow’s game. Which this time around has the good grace to show up even sooner.

And if that same horrid script comes out again tomorrow, well, we tried.

Once in a Blue Monell

In another century, you could easily discern the difference between frontline and rear-echelon Mets. The starters were the starters and the bench guys were held in reserve until needed. When one of the bench guys got in the lineup, it usually meant a regular was aching or slumping or simply needed a blow. It was probably a Sunday, maybe the second game of a doubleheader, if you saw more than one of them in the same lineup. Or maybe you didn’t see any of them until the seventh inning on a Sunday (in the mind’s eye, these fellas only got into games on Sundays, perhaps indicating the starters stayed out too late taking advantage of their exalted status on Saturday nights).

If things were going reasonably well, your hardy band of backups would rally around their circumstances and adopt a collective nickname. One of the more famous, perhaps thanks to its presence on a superstation, was The Bomb Squad, Atlanta’s mid-’80s corps of veteran reserves who had the good sense to deploy the initials TBS. They played the bit to the hilt, posing in bomber jackets, goggles and other evocative surplus military gear.

The Bomb Squad wasn’t the first such group, however. Preceding them by a few years, albeit not building much of a profile or lasting terribly long, were the Mets’ own Bambi’s Bandits, the seasoned pros George Bamberger could call on in a pinch — which is precisely when a manager calls on seasoned pros. “Seasoned pros” are traditionally those players who would prefer to play every day (who wouldn’t?) yet have accepted their roles in the interest of extending their careers and maybe improving the health of their team. Circa 1982, at least before things began to crumble beyond Frank Cashen’s immediate repair, Bambi’s Bombers was comprised of a crack crew loaded with seasoned pro archetypes.

The backup catcher who’d been here forever: Ron Hodges.

The surehanded caddy to a defensively disinterested lumbering slugger: Mike Jorgensen.

The cursed with versatility utilityman: Bob Bailor.

The grumbly fourth outfielder: Joel Youngblood.

The sweet-swinging pinch-hitter deluxe: Rusty Staub.

Actually, if memory serves, Staub kept a dignified distance from identifying with Bambi’s Bandits — he was never a scrub and he wasn’t about to begin to adopt the persona of a scrub — but if you were talking “in a pinch,” how could you not talk about Rusty?

Before long, injuries and inertia took a toll on Bamberger’s starting lineup and Bambi’s Bandits inevitably blended into the everyday patchwork that became the 1982 Mets. Hodges took over for John Stearns. Bailor was pressed into continual service all over the diamond. Grumbly Youngblood was famously traded to Montreal early enough one Wednesday afternoon so he could record hits in Chicago and Philadelphia on the same day. The Mets limped home with 97 losses. Come June 1983, Bambi himself resigned, giving way to interim manager Frank Howard. The name “Hondo’s Heroes” was floated in the paper after somebody came off the bench and did something well, but I don’t recall it ever catching on.

The golden age of Met benches is long past, largely because eight-armed bullpens and six-man rotations have made backup players a luxury and lately because of the personnel blur that has overtaken Terry Collins’s best-laid plans. 2015’s nominal starting third baseman hasn’t yet resumed “baseball activities,” which could mean anything from taking grounders to spitting seeds. The starting catcher of record is magnetically drawn to the 15-day DL. The starting second baseman is, à la Joan Rivers on The Tonight Show, permanent guest host at third. There’s a starting left fielder who seemed to have started down the path to taking a load off his left knee, though he’s still active even if he hasn’t exactly been vibrant. There are also a couple of starting middle infielders who seemed permanently in flux until very, very recently.

Never mind not being able to tell the players without a scorecard. How can you keep track of who’s on the bench if everybody on the bench always seems to be playing?

Monday night in San Francisco, labels appeared useless. It’s hard to say who’s a solid “starter” in a lineup in which your catcher never figured to rise above fourth on the organizational depth chart, your left fielder is a guy you literally couldn’t give away twice and your first baseman is your first baseman only because a) that knee business must be killing him and b) your actual first baseman hasn’t made anything but the most accidental/incidental of contact in at least a month.

When this game began, the catcher, Johnny Monell, was batting .182; the left fielder, Kirk Nieuwenhuis — recalled more out of desperation than any crying need for another look at Las Vegas’s favorite frequent flyer — was at .100 on his major league season, a scant .079 counting only his earlier Met tenure; and Michael Cuddyer, to whom millions upon millions were given last November, had sunk to .236. His body of work from June 20 through July 5 consisted of 36 at-bats and two base hits.

Cuddyer. Nieuwenhuis. Monell.

Diminished. Discarded. Dubious.

In Collins’s batting order, they were 5-6-7. And to make their inclusion in a major league lineup found anywhere outside a split squad game on a St. Lucie back field at 10:30 in the morning that much more absurd, they were asked to face the only pitcher in the past two decades to have no-hit their team.

Chris Heston wasn’t nearly as untouchable in San Francisco as he had been in New York last month. Ruben Tejada, who struck out to complete history on June 9, broke up Heston’s no-no with one out in the first. So much for drama. But it wasn’t like Chris was getting touched, either. The Giants were undeniably sloppy and most likely sleepy — much was made of their courageous decision to go back to their hotel in Washington Sunday night before flying home on Monday morning — but it didn’t damage them in the tops of innings at Phone Company Park. Heston walked four, fumbled a relay and threw away a pickoff, yet yielded only three singles in seven-and-a-third innings.

If getting a hit off Chris Heston was on the Mets’ bucket list, mission accomplished. But scoring a run eluded them through eight. Meanwhile, Heston’s mound opponent, Jon Niese, continued to reap the benefits of the six-man rotation, a dicey configuration set up to benefit basically everybody but Jon Niese. Niese has been close to brilliant on extra rest every time out. Pitching for the Mets, however, has prevented him from laying claim to any wins for two months.

Perhaps the Mets would like to consolidate their rotation by having Niese pitch for another team (in exchange for a useful bat attached to a useful swinger of said bat). He’s certainly making himself attractive in his weekly appearances. Monday night Jon went eight, scattered three hits, walked two and didn’t implode when presented the opportunity, which certainly offered a welcome twist to the usual storytelling. A brief bout of wildness loaded the bases in the sixth, which is the inning most Niesewatchers circle in anticipatory dread as the money inning. Bet on Niese finding a way to give up a run or more in the sixth and collect big. Even the New York Lottery advertises, “If Niese is in it, the other team will win it!” Except this time — with the bestest Buster since Keaton standing approximately 60½ feet away — Niese persevered in the other direction. He found a way to retire Buster Posey and kept the game tied at zero.

Keeping a game knotted at zero is generally the best a Mets starting pitcher can hope for. Save for the occasional oddball offensive outburst that surrounds (and is instigated by) Steven Matz, we know the Mets don’t hit for any of their starting pitchers. We know their starting players are relentlessly disappointing and that their bench has faded faster than Marty McFly’s family picture. There are never more than four players attached to it and there is rarely an air of dependability to their presence. There is mostly the Las Vegas 51s Alumni Club having its nightly meeting, save for those nights when one or more of them is starting because it’s not like the starters are getting anything going.

The top of the ninth arrived scoreless and the cynical assumed it would stay that way. Due up were first baseman Cuddyer — in there because Lucas Duda is rapidly devolving into what certain Civil War historians would call a lost cause; left fielder Nieuwenhuis — in there because relative phenom Ceciliani lost his shine from incessant exposure to big league pitching; and catcher Monell, whose ability to leapfrog Anthony Recker may have been his greatest athletic feat to date in a Mets uniform before last night.

Oh, but last night…last night the Mets we deride most were the Mets from whom we derived the most pleasure, the most exhilaration, the most — dare we say it? — hope.

Cuddyer singled sharply to left off Sergio Romo, the same Sergio Romo who managed to give up a game-ending single to the same Michael Cuddyer 25 days (and 9 Cuddyer base hits) ago.

Nieuwenhuis, somehow back after his designation for oblivion, failed to bunt Cuddyer to second, which was great, actually, because it left him no viable option other than to double to right. Cuddyer, barking knee and all, put on the speed of a man half his age (which isn’t really 103, despite all that snow on his well-compensated roof), and threatened to score. It was an idle threat. Michael stopped at third. Kirk refamiliarized himself with second. Two in scoring position, nobody out.

Monell would face Santiago Casilla, which begged the question of 1982 Mets backup catcher from after Stearns got hurt (which means he wasn’t good enough to play in front of perpetual scrubeenie Hodges) Bruce Bochy, “You’re actually bringing in a pitcher specifically to face Johnny Monell?”

Johnny Monell, the .182 wonder?

Johnny Monell, who got to .182 from .095 the week before by getting on what for him qualified as a torrid streak yet .200 was a distant dream?

Johnny Monell, who the legendarily wise, lavishly bejeweled Bochy saw no need to keep around despite an eight-game front row seat to his talents in 2013?

Yes, indeed. One of the greatest managers of the modern era brought in a pitcher specifically to face Johnny Monell. Or simply decided he’d seen enough of Romo, the man who gave up two ninth-inning hits in the same season to Michael Cuddyer. Or was so tired from that Sunday Night Baseball ordeal that he nodded off and inadvertently unhinged the receiver to the bullpen phone.

Whatever. It was Johnny on the spot I don’t think anybody would have forecast when he and Nieuwenhuis were tearing up Spring Training (note to self: disregard everything about Spring Training). It was the ninth inning, the score was nonexistent, the game was on the line, the Mets were facing the defending world champs and the batter was Johnny Monell.

The batter who drove in the go-ahead run and the insurance run — and would next carry on his very own back an additional run besides — was also Johnny Monell. Coincidence? I looked it up, and nope. It’s the same guy. It’s the same Johnny Monell who lashed a double to drive home Cuddyer and Nieuwenhuis to make it Mets 2 Giants 0. The part where Cuddyer and Nieuwenhuis score, let alone the part where the Mets take a late lead, reads as strange. But Cuddyer was once good and Nieuwenhuis we can vaguely recall doing something a couple of seasons ago. But Johnny Monell? Johnny Monell gets the big extra-base hit? Then comes around when Juan Lagares suddenly singles? And probably thinks to himself, “So, this is what home plate looks like from the vantage point of the baserunner — who knew?”

Yup. That’s the Johnny Monell who swiped a lead in San Francisco, not to mention caught Niese’s eight shutout innings, along with oughta-be All-Star Jeurys Familia’s perfect ninth. Those are the Mets, who have no bench, but somehow found enough in reserve to defeat the Giants after taking two of three from the Dodgers. Those are the Mets — DFA-laden, Quadruple-A-speckled, too often classified 4-F — who have outscored their opposition 14-0 over the last 20 innings.

These are our Mets, and just when you’re ready to write them off, you best check the waiver wire, because sometimes the guys you least suspect will be designated for excitement.

Laughers

If you’re a fan of a bad football team, it’s possible that you’ll spend an entire season of Sundays without a win — an entire season without a single day of smiling or feeling a spring in your step.

Happily, that can’t happen in baseball. Even if your team is awful, you’re guaranteed 50 or so days of joy. And a least a few of those wins will be the happiest variety of all. They’ll be laughers.

When things are going well, a laugher is like a benediction from the baseball gods: Yes, you really are that good. When things are going so-so, a laugher suggests the great possibilities inherent in your team, if only the players would bear down or fortune would smile. When things are going badly, a laugher is a respite from the dismay — a day in which you can exhale and not take it all so hard.

It’s not clear whether the Mets are one of the so-so teams or one of the bad ones, but they pretty obviously needed a laugher, and Steven Matz and the Dodgers delivered, supplying an 8-0 victory and a series win. A series win on the road, in fact. On the road and on the other side of the world, in fact. Will wonders never cease?

Young Matz doesn’t know anything except laughers. He’s never appeared in a game he hasn’t won. He’s never appeared in a game in which the Mets have scored less than seven runs. He’s never appeared in a game and failed to collect an RBI. He’s never appeared in a game that wasn’t worthy of paroxysms of joy from his grandfather.

The 999th Met in club history — a prelude to a milestone I was happy to hear trumpeted on Twitter and WOR today — isn’t blind. He knows perfectly well that the Mets don’t normally score seven runs in a week, and that pitchers don’t key the offensive attack most days. But Matz is old enough to also know that baseball is a cruel game, one in which bad luck will undo preparation and the virtuous often go unrewarded.

In other words, he knows this won’t last. Not because of any flaw in his makeup or any lack of talent, but because it never does.

Which means he also probably knows that you laugh while you can.

Perfection's Discontents

The 2015 Mets have settled on an interesting formula for trying to win ballgames:

1) Ask your young starting pitcher to be perfect.
2) Hope to score a run, or maybe two if feeling saucy.
3) Pray nothing goes wrong defensively.

It worked last night, as Noah Syndergaard pitched one of the best games of his downy career. But it didn’t work tonight, and it won’t work most nights.

You could squint a bit and find positives in tonight’s game. Matt Harvey reported for duty to find his fastball AWOL — he couldn’t control the pitch all night and wound up walking five and running his pitch count to 100 over five innings. Not a line to text Mom about, but Harvey did a pretty nice job improvising, a lesson every young pitcher has to learn sooner or later. He reprioritized, showed the Dodgers a mix of offspeed stuff, and departing having allowed only three runs.

Three runs, alas, is more than what the Mets’ offense can match most nights. The team fought back with a flurry of offense in the eighth and ninth, drawing to within 4-3, but Curtis Granderson struck out against J.P. Howell to end it.

(Sign of age: I briefly confused J.P. Howell with Jay Howell before realizing the Mets’ tangle with that Howell came a shocking 27 years ago. Christ I’m old.)

As usual with a Mets loss, that one-run deficit at the end left us examining plays not made — tonight, the grumbling was over the ball hit by Alberto Callaspo with one out in the 7th and runners on the corners.

Alex Torres tried to spear the ball as it bounced by him, then Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores got in each other’s airspace near second. The ball ticked off the end of Flores’s glove and wound up as a run-scoring infield hit.

It wasn’t a grotesque flub or ruled an error — in fact, whether gloved by Torres or Flores, it would have been a mildly nice play that brought an appreciative fist pump. But it was a play not made, and enough to beat the Mets.

Most nights, something like that is.

Thor The Win

When you can’t hit water even after you fall out of a dinghy, then does it really matter who’s rowing ashore to presumably shut you down? Sure, Clayton Kershaw has been all-world for a half-decade and the Mets traditionally maintain a safe enough distance from the Cy Young and MVP award winner so as to never dare touch him, but of late, how many pitchers without such dazzling credentials have floated high above the reach of the Flushing Lumber Company?

Basically, all of them.

So, perversely, it was “Bring on Clayton Kershaw!” Friday night, because if we’re gonna have no chance against anybody, we might as well take our chances against the nominal best. And, son of a gun, the chances paid off, as the Mets’ water pistol offense squirted just enough hits around the drought-deprived Dodger Stadium lawn to grow two runs, or one more than spritzed by them.

This is to say the Mets won. They appeared to have done so almost accidentally, but accidents happen: happy accidents, happy recaps, happy Thorth of July!

The secret weapon the Mets resorted to in neutralizing Kershaw — who pitches baseballs better than he does sandwiches — was an opposite number worthy of the role. While Kershaw represented a formidable foe for our guys, Noah Syndergaard was no trip to Picnic City for the Dodgers.

Neither starter was extraordinarily sharp (Kershaw 2015 isn’t quite as upper-echelon as Kershaw most of his preceding life), but they each bore down when they had to, choking off potential rallies and allowing only a run apiece. Each man got tougher as the stakes grew higher. It’s what aces do. The world knows Kershaw is an ace. The world is learning Syndergaard soon will be one.

Noah’s single run permitted was on a long fly ball that traveled over the fence via the bat of Adrian Gonzalez. Tough break, that solo homer in the second, the kind of break that likely sent many an East Coaster to bed. The Mets were down, 1-0; what was the point of struggling to stay awake? Yet that was it in terms of scoring from a Dodger standpoint. Two ensuing threats went nowhere. Syndergaard put Gonzalez away at key moments, giving the bleary-eyed viewer the clear-eyed idea that the kid really learns as he goes.

The Met scoring attack didn’t seem terribly convincing, but a little luck carried two runs home, one in the fourth, one in the ninth. The latter came after Kershaw departed. It was mostly a matter of Mets making contact and balls finding holes, but given that every line drive hit in the Cub series landed in a Chicagoan’s glove, let’s hear it for holes, save for the ones in Lucas Duda’s swing. Then again, let’s hear it for Lucas Duda’s glove, which emerged as an asset in the fourth, just as Justin Turner seemed poised to add an addendum to a spate of “why did we let him go, again?” stories?

The win went to Hansel Robles, the save to Jeurys Familia, but the all-important Nice Job goes to Syndergaard. He could have fielded his position a little more attentively, but otherwise he was the primary reason the Mets hung in against Kershaw. All those outings when a Mets ace (we’re on the verge of having at least three) has to suck up a no-decision that turns into a team loss because the lineup is a no-win zone obscure how much pitching is keeping this team in games. Don’t take it for M. Donald Granted. When it’s good, it’s uncommonly good. And it’s good more often than not.

At the halfway point of the season, the Mets are statistically good more often than not, if just barely, at 41-40. Their shortcomings are familiar and don’t need to be catalogued at the moment. Their glaring strength is something to behold. You know that feeling of dread because Kershaw is Friday and Greinke is Saturday (putting aside that every opposing pitcher looks like Denton True Young to this team)? On the other side of the divide, whoever we’re playing, their fans are groaning, too. On Friday, it’s Syndergaard. On Saturday, it’s Harvey. On Sunday, it’s that rookie who’s supposed to be in their class. At least we miss deGrom.

Let’s hope that dreading Met pitching becomes an industrywide phenomenon. At the same time, let us not fear who lies ahead for us. When Friday night’s 2-1 win went final, I flashed back to a stretch in May 2004 when the Mets were mostly dismal but now and then showing a pulse. They were on their way to Arizona and Houston where in five consecutive games they’d be facing Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. The smart money insisted you could go ahead and chalk up an 0-5 in advance.

The Mets won four of those matchups, losing only to Pettitte, who was good, not great, on his night, but the Mets got themselves buried early because they were trotting out journeyman James Baldwin, who a) hadn’t won a game since 2002; and b) would never start again in the majors. Eleven years later, you’ll notice the Mets are no longer signing end-of-the-line starters on spec. They’re also not coming up with any external help on the hitting end of things, but to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin’s advice to John Adams in the runup to this date in 1776, “First things first, John. Pitching; competitiveness. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?”

Actually, it is our fervent hope that a little rest will make a great deal of difference to a great announcer and at least occasional reader of this blog. Our best to Howie Rose, who is necessarily abstaining from this road trip, courteously. You know, Ben Franklin told Judge Wilson in the climactic scene from the musical my wife and I will later today be watching together for the 25th consecutive Independence Day, “Every mapmaker in the world is waiting for your decision.” In that spirit of ’76, every firm that prints ledgers into which the results of baseball games are entered is waiting for Howie to return to the air.

Otherwise, who will inform them it is appropriate to put it in the books?

The Stuff of Urban Legend

“I’m tellin’ ya, I seen it.”
“You lie.”

“I do no such thing. As God is my witness, I seen it.”
“Ya couldn’ta seen it, ’cause it never happened.”

“It happened.”
“You are a blasphemin’ devil to spread such nonsense.”

“I speak only the truth.”
“The truth is it never happened.”

“Doubt me all ya want, but these two eyes seen it.”
“Not the ‘two eyes’ testimony again.”

“These two eyes, on a warm July day…”
“Ya sure? Ya sure it was July? Why not say it was December? It’s just as likely.”

“These two eyes, on a warm July day, situated almost directly behind home plate…”
“I can’t take it anymore.”

“You will take it, for you have questioned my honor, my recollection and the historical record.”
“History? History? There is nothing in history that reflects what you say you seen ever having happened.”

“What if I could produce a document that affirms my testimony? What if I could produce witnesses?”
“I would say you are clever but dishonest, for it defies all we know about the nature of the beast. The nature of the beast is plain. The nature of the beast was to stand and swing and miss and sit.”

“But not this day. Not on this one occasion.”
“This ‘magical occasion’ of yours eludes common sense!”

“This world rises and falls on the uncommon occasion, and this, I tell ya, was a most uncommon occasion.”
“I am in no mood to indulge your flights of imagination.”

“There is no imagination. There is only what transpired. These two eyes, on a warm July day, situated almost directly behind home plate know what they seen.”
“If those two eyes seen what you swear they seen, then those two eyes were closed.”

“They were open, I tell ya. It is your mind that is closed to the reality of the happenstance.”
“You might consider realigning your storytelling. Reality is not your strong suit.”

“Your insults will not prevent me from knowing what I know, telling what I know. And I will tell it until my dying breath.”
“Which can’t come soon enough.”

“Insult. Mock. Go on. I have the truth on my side. I have these two eyes, from that warm July day, situated almost directly behind home plate — and these two eyes seen what they seen.”
“They seen an illusion.”

“NO! They seen the Mets score a run!”
“Preposterous.”

“Preposterous, perhaps. Improbable, for sure. But it was as possible as the day is long.”
“You’re the one who goes on too long.”

“It was a warm July day. I was situated almost directly behind home plate. It was the home third inning. There was an out…”
“I believe that.”

“Then that shaggy fella with the small letter to start his last name, he doubled.”
“This is where your fabrication drives me to distraction. You invent these ridiculous characters.”

“He was very real and very able.”
“And he pitched, right?”

“That he did.”
“He pitched and he doubled.”

“Yes. These pitchers could do that. They were permitted to try and they often succeeded. Not all the time, but these Mets pitchers could hit.”
“The Mets couldn’t hit.”

“It was the Mets’ position players who couldn’t hit.”
“Yet somehow you’d have me believe the Mets’ pitchers — the pitchers — generated what little hitting the Mets did have.”

“I wouldn’t have you believe that. The facts would.”
“Facts are very selective when you spout them.”

“Where was I? Oh yes, the shaggy fella with the small letter to start his last name doubled. And he was bunted over to third.”
“The Mets couldn’t bunt. When they attempted to do so, multiple outs occurred.”

“I understand your confusion. Mets who tried to bunt with a runner on third couldn’t…”
“The Mets didn’t have runners on third.”

“They didn’t often, but on this occasion, they did, after the bunt.”
“Of course they did. Whatever you say.”

“Your condescending tone notwithstanding, the Mets had a runner on third with two out.”
“And then there were three outs.”

“Normally, yes. But not in this instance. In this instance, a mighty swing resulted in a ball that bounced over the outfield fence.”
“Because, according to you, a Met hit a fair ball that wasn’t caught.”

“Because, according to what happened, a Met hit a ball that wasn’t caught. I am merely the conduit for this information.”
“According to your ‘information,’ a Met hit a ball that by ground rule turned into a double, thereby driving that runner on first…”

“Third.”
“Oh, pardon me. The runner on THIRD scored when the other Met landed on…was it second?”

“Yes. Man on third, two out, ground-rule double.”
“And the Mets scored a run.”

“And the Mets scored a run.”
“YOU LIE! THE METS NEVER SCORED A RUN!”

“I SPEAK THE TRUTH! THE METS SCORED A RUN!”
“Calm down.”

“I shall not calm down! It was in the bottom of the third inning on a warm day in July. I seen it with my own two eyes. I sat almost directly behind home plate and I seen the runner’s foot touch it and cross it. I seen a zero transform as if by black magic into a ‘1’ on the scoreboard. Grown men wept. Grown women fell to their knees in prayers of thanksgiving. Children who had never fully comprehended the purpose of home plate shrieked in astounded fashion. Raucous celebrations ensued. Ice cream was distributed without charge to all. A national holiday was observed the very next day.”
“I have grown exhausted from your fables. The next thing you’re going to tell me is that the Mets, having accomplished this unprecedented feat, went on to prevail in their baseball game by scoring more runs than their opposition.”

“What? No, don’t be silly. The Mets lost. The Mets always lost. Ya thought they could have won? Geez, you’re crazy.”

Panic Would Be an Improvement

There are worst things than living in Panic City. You could be stuck with an address in Disgust Township or Despair Junction or Apathy Falls.

All three of those sad little burgs would have been a suitable location for the wretched parody of baseball that the Mets and Cubs inflicted on defenseless fans for 11 embarrassing innings tonight.

The Cubs have won two in a row in the series (and eight straight against the Mets), but they didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory tonight either. They were awful against Bartolo Colon and a parade of relievers and extended the game largely because of the timidity of third-base coach Gary Jones, last seen being hauled out of camera range for a conversation with Joe Maddon that I don’t think Jones particularly enjoyed.

But while the Cubs looked somnambulant, that’s better than unbelievably awful, which would be a kind description of the Mets during a game in which I stopped throwing my hands in the air because I got too tired.

Besides the nonexistent hitting, led by a hopelessly lost and completely unprotected Lucas Duda, the Mets alternated not executing with executing stupid plays. Which was more aggravating, Darrell Ceciliani‘s failure to execute a suicide squeeze or Ruben Tejada doing his damnedest to get himself and Daniel Murphy called out for sharing occupancy of third?

Murph chipped in by blowing a tag play on Anthony Rizzo at third, Wilmer Flores and Duda flubbed a critical attempt at a double play … the list goes on and on.

As the final batter, Kevin Plawecki actually had a chance to give the Mets a lead with an extra-base hit, and had just witnessed Justin Grimm‘s utter inability to throw his curve for a strike. So Plawecki stared at consecutive fastballs that caught a lot of plate. Three pitches later he was caught looking at a curve that actually broke where it was supposed to, and a miserable game came to a merciful conclusion.

Terry Collins — who at this rate will soon be conducting his postgame interviews from Bellevue — muttered vaguely about shaking up the lineup tomorrow. That won’t work — in part because lineup construction means basically nothing, but mostly because because the Mets’ problem isn’t which lineup spots players are hitting in, but which players are available to hit in those spots.

Until something a lot more significant than the lineup changes, expect more of what we’ve been seeing — good performances from starting pitchers going for naught because of some combination of inept hitting, faulty defense and mental mistakes. So when will something change? Sorry, here in Apathy Falls our crystal balls have all gone cloudy. Maybe you could check with our neighbors up in Panic City.

Bats Minus Matz? Rats!

Let’s hear more about Steven Matz. Let’s see more of his delighted grandpa. Let’s get another look at his delightful sandwich. Let’s relive those three hits from Sunday, which is as many as Steven Matz’s teammates collected without his help Tuesday. Let us tally up his four runs batted in, roughly four more than Mets not named Matz batted in last night.

Steven Matz is in a six-man rotation, but he needs to be in our lives every single day to remind us there is good in this world.

Little good came of the Mets’ first post-Matz game despite a few positive developments at Citi Field. Daniel Murphy came back to play a professional third base; Wilmer Flores continued to reacclimate at second; and the pitcher who isn’t a young flamethrower and isn’t an ancient wonder pitched about as well as he is capable of pitching. That’s actually three good things.

Alas, it amounted to bupkes, as the Mets fell to the Cubs, 1-0. “Fell” might not be the right word. More like the Cubs scored a run and the Mets found awesome seats on StubHub from which to view it.

Jon Niese is in Jim McAndrew mode these days, pitching well enough to lead any team that isn’t the 1968 or 2015 Mets to victory. He made one questionable call as a fielder, threw one unfortunate pitch as a pitcher and would make a nice addition to the staff of a contender who would be willing to send Sandy Alderson a position player of an offensive caliber anywhere above moribund. No reasonable inquiry will be rejected out of hand.

The Cubs are supposedly interested in Niese. The Dodgers are supposedly interested in Niese. It’s convenient that they are our respective current and next opponents. There’s all kinds of Mets who can be dropped off with Jonathon if so desired. Please give them a good home. Please give us a live bat.

We seem to be competing with the Cubs for a Wild Card. Glad we’re not competing with them for a Pepsodent ad. Joe Maddon is all smiles, bringing in magicians and waxing nostalgic for Lindsey Nelson. Terry Collins is scowling his face off and having his press briefings bleeped. Nobody except a few of his pitchers can hit for him and now Michael Cuddyer has a sore knee. Cuddyer has contributed mightily to the Mets’ offensive drought. But without him…actually, I don’t think it will make a darn bit of difference if Cuddyer isn’t playing, but in theory this isn’t good. My impulse would be to DL him if his MRI shows anything (and by “anything,” I mean if he’s still alive) and give Michael Conforto an audition, in the same Double-A spirit that they gave Dilson Herrera a shot late last summer. The worst that can happen is a few weeks of service time will accumulate and Conforto might be a free agent in the year 2524 instead of 2525.

Unless they’re gonna use Niese to wrangle a sentient left fielder from another organization, what’s the non-Cuddyer alternative? Eric Campbell displaying more of his trademark versatility? Logistic wizardry to return Kirk Nieuwenhuis to the 40-man? Handing Matz a fielder’s glove and pointing him in the general direction of the Acela Club?

Hey, now we’re talking!

Game of Jones

Your correspondent, taking a whirl at Beating the Booth, for fun and self-flagellation.

Your correspondent, taking a whirl at Beating the Booth, for fun and self-flagellation.

Beat the Booth, the thoroughly Metted game show that pairs Howie Rose and Gary Cohen and therefore offers plenty of reason to watch, is at last coming to an SNY near you. It will air tonight and tomorrow following your regularly scheduled baseball matches. Then it will air periodically every three hours for the next eight to ten months, which may not be enough for some of us. And to everyone who has asked since the promos first aired for it, no, I am not a contestant; I never was a contestant; nor did I audition to be a contestant.

Officially, that is. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

In case you’ve missed the commercials or haven’t heard it brought up by the denizens of the booths themselves, Beat the Booth will bring Howie and Gary, our peerless radio and TV broadcasters, into mentally armed conflict with two teams of two fans, one duo per night. All will be asked questions about the Mets. Cash prizes, charitable donations and, presumably, Metropolitan credibility will be at stake.

If it’s half as good as last summer’s Battle of the Broadcasters, it will be the 29th-best non-Mets game telecast SNY has ever aired. In a 27-way tie for first are every edition of Mets Yearbook, which are unassailable in their ranking. Then Battle, which you’ll recall was hosted by a stick-mic wielding Kevin Burkhardt, who sported a plaid, three-piece suit that strangely does not hang in the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum but should. Messrs. Rose and Cohen were the standout performers, but Burkhardt’s wardrobe is what stands out most in the collective memory.

This season’s host is Chris Carlin. This season’s format pays homage to the “most memorable game shows of yesteryear”; one of the games within the game, for example, is entitled Flushing Feud (good answer, good answer!). It sounds like fun, even if word on the street is the mood grew a little intense during the taping.

How could it not? How many tests of one’s Methood is one administered in a given week? And how many are recorded for future broadcast? This isn’t some life-or-death nonsense we’re talking about. This is knowing your Mets.

Perhaps that attitude is why so many well-meaning folks asked me if I was going to be a part of this, other than as a viewer. Perhaps that attitude is why I decided not to be. To me, knowing “Mets trivia” isn’t trivial, because, to me, there is no such thing as Mets trivia. My Mets fandom is a state of being. At the core of that state is an expectation I’ve developed for myself without really thinking about it.

I expect myself to know all there is to know about the Mets. When I learn all there is to know, it becomes my obligation to learn more. This is my perpetual journey of discovery. There are satisfactions in the moment of being able to answer a “who did this when…?” type of question, but my quest is for knowledge, not reward. The knowledge — along with the knowledge that I have come to know something — is, in essence, the reward itself.

This is all very Zen. Or Zen Boswell, if you will.

The one Met question I never know how to respond politely to is, “Why do you know that?” as opposed to, “How do you know that?” The “how” is easy. I know something because I learned it and I remember it. I only know that’s an unusual trait because people tell me it is. The “why” eludes a definitive answer. I perhaps unconsciously at an early age decided it was important to absorb and process all the Mets facts I could. Some of what results informs my writing and my chatting. Some is just stuff that hangs around in my brain or on my computer. It might very well be crowding out other information that I could use in other facets of my life. I may never know, given that my mind is otherwise occupied retaining a random recollection regarding Ron Taylor or Ron Hodges or Ronn Reynolds or Rod Barajas.

So, no, I did not try out for Beat the Booth. But I did think about it, mostly because I was encouraged to. It was nice to be thought of in this realm. Better than there being a game show called What an Idiot and being told repeatedly, “Hey, you should try out for that!” I went as far to touch base with one friend who’d expressed a slight interest in our teaming up (the auditions called for pairs), but he wasn’t fully up for it and I let it go.

Not long after the official audition period passed, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was SNY asking me to, in tones more affable than menacing, come out to play. Not as a prospective contestant, but as media. The idea was I’d go through the paces as if actually trying out and would thus be able to better understand (and then communicate) what it’s like to compete on a game show whose categories include Flushing Feud.

That was too good to pass up, so I went for it — alone. I tried to find a partner, but it was a little last-minute to round up someone for a Thursday 9:30 AM call, and, besides, I feared the only person I could work with in this sort of setting was myself.

I showed up at SNY world headquarters at the appointed hour. The place wasn’t unfamiliar to me, having appeared on the old Mets Weekly show several times and having passed through for other reasons over the years. No stage fright, I figured. Still, when I did get on set, I was impressed with how it was dressed. The very same Beat the Booth logo I’d seen in the commercials was all lit and ready to go. The producers treated this — and the second round of authentic auditions that were going on that day — as the real thing.

Before proceeding to the set, I met some other early arrivals, two would-be teams packing a veritable baseball library of research material. I’m pretty sure I saw a 1963 yearbook in somebody’s bag. Since there were no stakes for me, I did no more in the way of homework than glance at a page of all-time leaders in the current media guide the night before. I figured I was invited on based on whatever somebody there assumed I knew, so I would go with whatever I was already carrying around.

I didn’t watch anybody else audition until after I was done. They’d be hearing some of the same questions I would, so that made sense. Just meeting those contestants, however, convinced me that if I was truly trying to make the cut, it would not be easy. These are people who took the challenge very seriously and were working to meet it. They might have known less than me, as much as me or more than me, but I knew (from a Mets fan’s sixth sense for these things) they were capable and committed.

Sure enough, I was informed that one of those teams that went in before me answered every question flawlessly…and if I’ve read the pre-show coverage correctly, those fellows weren’t finalists. SNY told me 60 teams showed up at Citi Field for the initial open tryouts, and there were loads of competent answerers. Factor in those who earned auditions through other channels (answering questions over WOR, for example), and the producers had many qualified candidates from whom to choose. Met knowledge trumped all, but when decisions had to be made, comfort in front of a camera as well whatever qualities make a person “passionate, funny and entertaining” factored in strongly.

I have no idea where I’d have fallen on that scale. The contestants I witnessed all seemed wonderfully watchable. And if they knew from Tim Harkness, well, that’s pretty a formidable skill set.

In the ten o’clock hour I was ushered into the studio, had a microphone attached to my shirt and was told where to stand. From there, I had to put my money where my Zen was.

The questions came in bunches. Seven on general Mets history. Then seven more. Then one of those deals where you have to name as many as you can within a particular subject without getting as many as three wrong. Then, at last, a Pyramid-style bit in which you are given clues and you have to figure out what your partner is getting at. (Since, I didn’t have a partner, a producer filled in.) All of it was timed.

I believe I was asked to answer the equivalent of 46 questions. I got 42 of them right. You may see that and think that’s pretty good. I see that and remain disappointed (if not devastated) with myself that I got four wrong. I only vaguely recall those I got right in three of the four categories. In my mind, I’m supposed to get them all right. My inner Professor Kingsfield glares at me sternly when I stumble.

In the first round, I was asked what Met has scored the most runs in World Series play. That’s something I didn’t know off the top of my head. I’m not automatic on individual Met postseason totals, probably because when those postseasons are in progress, I’m thinking intently of the team and only the team. So this had to be a matter of drawing a conclusion based on the available evidence in my head. I thought, “has to be someone who played in more than one World Series…that means it has to be someone who played a lot in 1969 and 1973…there was Grote…there was Harrelson…Harrelson scored a lot of runs in his career…”

I said Harrelson. I was told it was wrong.

Cleon Jones. Of course. Cleon Jones was hit in the foot by Dave McNally, for Gil’s sake. Then Clendenon homered him in. Overall, Jones scored seven World Series runs for the Mets to Harrelson’s (and Grote’s) three. I needed to think the entire thing through, but you’re on a set, you’re on a roll, you’re conscious of the clock…it’s not so simple once you’re in the game.

In the second round, I was asked what Met pitcher last led the National League in strikeouts. I said Johan Santana, thinking he had done so in 2008, a year when he finished third in the Cy Young balloting. I remember when that season was over being surprised he’d ranked as high as he did in various pitching categories. Mostly I remembered him struggling a bit early and coming on like crazy late.

I was wrong. And as soon as they told me I was, I asked, “Dickey?” And of course it was, in his Cy Young year of 2012 (Johan came in second in K’s in ’08). I knew that in real life. But a game show is not real life. On a game show, you tend to answer a second or two too soon (and in real life, you have Baseball Reference).

Later in the second round, I was asked what Met has played the most career games in the outfield. This one I’m kicking myself over more than I am from the aforementioned two because a) if I’d thought it through, I would have gotten it; and b) it’s the same answer as the first one I got wrong. It was Cleon Jones. I said Darryl Strawberry, probably for the same reason I said Johan on the strikeouts question. When I glanced at the media guide the night before, I noticed Darryl’s name and decided I tend to overlook how high Darryl ranks on all-time franchise lists besides home runs. So when I heard “outfield,” I already had Strawberry planted in my brain.

This time I knew I was wrong as soon as I said it. “It was Cleon Jones,” I added as soon as they said Strawberry was incorrect. I feel bad because it was avoidable and I feel worse because Cleon was one of my Met idols as a kid. He was the only outfielder with any staying power, so of course he leads the team in games played (though it’s closer than I would have guessed: Jones 1,101; Strawberry 1,085, according to Ultimate Mets Database).

I’m sorry, Cleon.

In the fourth segment, the Pyramid part, I got everything right. My ad hoc partner did his best but admitted he was having trouble cluing me in on the last one. He said “1986 rookie second baseman…” and I’m thinking there was no 1986 rookie second baseman, unless he means Kevin Mitchell, but Mitch never played there. Then he came up with “swung his bat underwater,” and I got it: Gregg Jefferies (whose first appearance came in September of 1987).

Back to the third segment, the “name all of these” portion. My subject was the 2000 World Series roster, which had 25 answers. I got 24 in the allotted time, the length of which I don’t remember but it wasn’t long. I felt this was too easy because they used this topic on Battle of the Broadcasters, but since we were just screwing around, what the hell?

The one I missed is more amusing than irksome. I failed to name Timo Perez, generally the first name that comes up with ire to explain how the Mets didn’t win that particular Fall Classic. I’d love to say I’d blocked out his identity so as to preserve my sanity, but the real reason I think I missed him stems from a previous segment in which Jay Payton was an answer. Therefore, when this one started, Payton was on my mind; because Payton wasn’t on the field when the 2000 pennant was clinched (he was hit by a Dave Veres pitch and had to leave Game Five against the Cardinals), it was left to Perez to move over to center and catch the final out. In the course of answering the World Series roster question, Payton became Pac-Man and gobbled up Perez.

But as mentioned, I got 24 of 25, including the other immediately identifiable culprit of the Subway Series defeat, which is where things got interesting on the Beat the Booth set.

I listed Armando Benitez. I was told it was incorrect.

Without breaking stride, I told them it was most certainly correct. I calmly recounted Game One, the endless at-bat of Paul O’Neill, how Armando lost him on a walk, how that led to a tie game and extra innings and, well, whatever happened thereafter. I also threw in (because nobody seems to remember much about the lone game the Mets won in that Series) that Armando earned the save in Game Three.

I was told Benitez wasn’t on the list provided by Elias.

I replied I didn’t care, I was right, “and now I’m eating into my time,” returning to rattling off the rest of the names who composed the 2000 Mets bullpen.

Later, somebody went and checked. Yes, Elias had included Armando Benitez on its list. It was somehow copied wrong. I was right.

Of course I was. I say that not out of hubris but, c’mon…Armando Benitez and the 2000 World Series are inseparable. As Tom Kean might acknowledge, they’re imperfect together.

That was my faux-audition. I did well, they said. They liked my poise and were taken my breadth of Mets knowledge. They didn’t understand why I didn’t try out in the first place. I heard their kind words and appreciated them but couldn’t get past not answering Cleon Jones. All this happened more than a month ago and I’m still annoyed.

I’m more annoyed by Timo breaking into a trot and ball four to O’Neill, but you could have guessed that.

I stuck around to watch the next team try their hand (and was reminded six or seven times to not blurt out answers). They were likable but a little overmatched. I felt bad when they answered obviously incorrectly, not so much because I was rooting for them, but because I was rooting for accuracy. Which is what I shall do when Howie and Gary and their competitors appear on SNY tonight and tomorrow night. I want everything answered right by everybody.

It’s Mets knowledge. It should always be handled with the utmost care.