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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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One for the Price of Won

The Washington Nationals opted to charge their fans (and discerning fans of their opponents) once for one short game this afternoon and charge them again later for another short game this evening.

Bah, Natbug! Here at Faith and Fear, we give you a regular-sized blog post for each discrete game of the Saturday day-night doubleheader, especially since we’re in an outstanding mood following the result of the afternoon game. Admission will be complementary, per usual.

There were only seven innings to the 5-1 Mets win over the Nationals, but much pleasure was packed into those seven innings. Francisco Lindor did the most packing, packing a pair of wallops: a two-run homer in the first of seven innings and a two-run homer in the fifth of seven innings; it can’t be stressed enough that the game lasted only seven innings…by design. Anyway, in between homering, Lindor drove in another run via a single. Say, that’s all five runs off the bat of the most accomplished shortstop in the National League East. Somebody should make sure the Nats’ social media team is made aware.

Francisco, however, wasn’t alone in his pleasure-packing. David Peterson scored two of the runs Francisco drove in, once after being nicked with a pitch and once after delivering a ringing double. Don’t ya love that doubles and triples ring? The bell sounded sweet to a pitcher who hadn’t gotten a major league hit before. David smiled quite a bit when asked about his hitting in the postgame interrogation room, perhaps the only time in recorded history that Peterson has smiled when asked about the game in which he just competed. That’s probably because he’s a dead-serious pitcher, but for the first time, as he noted, he feels “like a full baseball player”.

He was a pretty comprehensive pitcher as well, nullifying whatever thoughts the Nationals had of more than nicking him. David came within one out of qualifying for a win. Seven-inning game, five innings required for a W. You do the math. MLB hasn’t. Then again, seven-inning affairs are a scam, a pitcher’s win as a reflection of a pitcher’s effectiveness is flawed and the Mets as a unit were victorious. Never mind the math. Do the emotion.

Luis Rojas was careful with Peterson, given that by the time there were two out in the home fifth the kid had thrown 94 pitches and had rounded the bases twice. In came, over the next two-and-a-third, Aaron Loup, Miguel Castro, Seth Lugo and Trevor May. The Mets carry 43 relievers, what the hell, have a parade. The win was officially the work of Loup (0.1 IP), who let in the only National run, even though it wasn’t charged to him because it was inherited.

Somewhere there’s a caller to a talk radio show, or perhaps a petulant child (same basic thing), insisting Aaron Loup is a real winner, he got the win and maybe the Mets oughta trade Peterson because he had a 5-0 lead and couldn’t even get the win.

Argue away, strawman figures I’ve just concocted for my day-night interregnum amusement. We got a win. Maybe we’ll get another later. Another blog post, too, I imagine.

No charge.

Department of Energy Preservation

MEMORANDUM

DATE: June 18, 2021
FROM: Department of Analytic Analysis
TO: Luis Rojas
RE: Upcoming Schedule

As you know, previous postponements have us playing a day-night doubleheader tomorrow (Saturday) in Washington as well as a single-admission doubleheader at Citi Field on Monday, meaning we face a gauntlet of five games in a span of approximately 58 hours. Even though four of those games are scheduled to last only seven innings, this presents us with a challenge regarding resources, or “players”. Complicating this challenge is the scheduled Friday night game tonight at Nationals Park.

We have discerned through proprietary calculus the most desirable manner at which to proceed for Friday night’s game so as to best preserve our players and their finite energy for the games directly thereafter. It is outlined below.

Please implement this plan with minimal managerial improvisation.

1) Pitch Joey Lucchesi into the sixth inning. We have revised our previous metrics and concluded Lucchesi will not physically disintegrate should he pitch beyond a fifth inning. We have also discovered the “churve” is an actual pitch, not just an unpleasant sound our announcers make every five days.

2) Alert our fielders to the possibility of ground balls that can be converted into double plays. Numerous simulations confirm the likelihood that two outs are twice as good as one.

3) Our hitters should make contact if possible but otherwise avoid long innings full of rallies and scoring threats. If one of our hitters can drive a ball over the fence, that would be ideal. Otherwise efficient outs — deep fly balls, infield grounders, line drives hit directly to Washington defenders — will be considered optimal.

4) Hitters who reach first base, whether by hit or walk, should try to steal second base. If they are thrown out by Yan Gomes, that eliminates the possibility of an overlong inning; gets us back on the field one batter sooner; and gets us closer to getting the game over without event or incident. If they are safe, please have the next hitter swing for a home run.

5) Use Seth Lugo judiciously. It’s OK for him to get an out. Two or more might be an issue.

6) If Edwin Diaz has something to save, use Edwin Diaz. If Edwin Diaz has nothing to save, use Edwin Diaz. Probability indices indicate it’s bound to work one of these times.

A game managed according to the above plan, supplemented by presumably sound umpiring, delivers us a 50.0% chance of winning or losing by the thinnest of margins. A win would be preferable. A razor’s-edge loss would be regrettable in the short term, but should complete the game in far less than, say, three hours and four minutes that seem so much longer to our home viewers who struggle to maintain alertness, focus and interest on a game that aesthetically goes nowhere and takes forever. The key objective here is to have our resources/players as fresh as possible for the surfeit of makeup games ahead.

Remember, win or lose, this particular Friday night game is just one game. Good luck with the doubleheaders.

cc: Gary DiSarcina, Jeremy Hefner, Dave Jauss, Hugh Quattlebaum

A Day Off (Though the Schedule Said Otherwise)

Maybe the Mets just needed a day off.

You’ve probably heard that they’re playing a lot of games. More games than there are days. Including enough doubleheaders to give you the baseball equivalent of an ice-cream headache. Lots of those games coming against good teams. Which will be played with a roster still beset by injuries, and that lacks both enough starting pitchers for the slots needed and clear and obvious candidates for those slots.

Oh, and then Jacob deGrom — the best pitcher in baseball — left his start after three innings. Three perfect innings, because it’s deGrom, but just three nonetheless. Cue muttering in the stands, the anxious wait for Jake’s postgame reactions and self-diagnosis (he’s not a doctor but he’d probably have an absurdly positive WAR at that too), and then the even more anxious wait for the verdict from the MRI tube.

It’s been a lot! For us, and for the actual 26 guys who had to go out there and play baseball.

Anyway, that’s the context for the Mets going out Thursday night and doing essentially zero against Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs’ bullpen. Hendricks never cracked 90 but didn’t need to, tormenting the Mets with fastballs (of a sort), sinkers, curves and changeups. In this era of Lamborghini-speed pitches, it was like navigating around Amish horse-drawn carts with big reflectors on the back. The Mets couldn’t break through against Hendricks and then were stymied by Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel. Meanwhile, Marcus Stroman was wonderful … aside from a first inning in which he hadn’t settled in, resulting in a ball deposited into the Apple Basket by Javier Baez. It didn’t seem like that would be enough to beat the Mets, but it was.

(As an aside, don’t tell me “Apple Basket” isn’t going to happen. Because I’ll just become more stubborn about it.)

DeGrom, it turns out, is fine — or at least fine in the context of being a big-league pitcher who’s pushing the limits of what the human arm and its associated parts can do with a baseball, which is to say he’s always dealing with what us mortals would consider unacceptable pain and plying his trade knowing he’s one unlucky pitch away from a date with a surgeon and then a year of profound uncertainty. (As always, the seminal text is this bracingly honest piece by Bob Ojeda, which should be required reading for baseball fans.) Both deGrom and the Mets and the Mets’ doctors think his recent run of maladies — the side, the forearm, the shoulder — are bouts of discrete bad luck and not related indications of some larger problem. Our only course of action is to hope that they’re right, which makes this a good time to remind us all that hope is both free and a renewable resource.

Still, it’s been a lot. Too much, perhaps, to process in conjunction with an enemy pitcher working at throwback speeds backed up by a tough bullpen. Add it up and you got an inadvertent day off during a punishing stretch of schedule.

But hey, more context: The Mets have begun their hellacious run of games by going 5-2 against potentially playoff-bound teams. DeGrom doesn’t seem destined for a lengthy layoff. (Add however many asterisks here that you need.) One of his understudies pitched beautifully again. Reinforcements should be here soon, at least on the offensive side.

We worry — we’re Mets fans, after all — but let’s be thankful for what hasn’t happened so far.

And the Mets Played On

Helluva win for the Mets on a Wednesday night in the middle of June. Timely hitting, nice show of power, six runs on the board, solid bullpen work capped by another save for the closer and, of course, a fine start for the starting pitcher for as long as the starting pitcher lasted.

Yet come Thursday morning, no one was really talking about the 6-5 victory the Mets posted over Atlanta on June 15, 1977. Every year right about now when we are inundated by “this date in…” reminders for That Date, it has nothing to do with Jon Matlack’s six-and-a-third sound innings, Bruce Boisclair’s homer or Skip Lockwood’s 1-2-3 ninth. Some wins and their salient on-field details tend to get lost in the bigger picture.

June 16, 2021, doesn’t appear to be a date which will live in the sort of infamy that taps us on the shoulder every June 16 for 44 June 16s and counting. Let’s hope not, anyway. Especially the part about the shoulder. This particular Wednesday night in the middle of June included but was decidedly not highlighted by the Mets’ 6-3 victory over Chicago. Despite the knee-jerk recitation that “we can’t have nice things”, it was a nice win and we still have it. The bullpen did its duty, from Sean Reid-Foley coming on without warning in the fourth through Edwin Diaz nailing down the last out in the ninth. A couple of our sluggers, Dom Smith and Kevin Pillar, also stepped up, each of them homering. Defensive replacement Mason Williams defended against a last-gasp Cub rally with a diving grab that made his insertion an instance of brilliant managing by Luis Rojas. The win, our third consecutive, pushed the Mets to ten above .500 for the first time since the end of 2019 and kept us five ahead of the NL East pack.

Very nice. And excruciatingly irrelevant versus the only thing anybody is really talking about the day after.

Jacob deGrom made another early health-related exit. Any time your franchise pitcher is absented by circumstances we’d rather not countenance on a Wednesday night in the middle of June, it commandeers your attention and activates your darkest anxieties. The Mets could trade Tom Seaver only once on June 15, 1977. When the deal was done, we’d have the rest of the week, the month, the season and our lives to regret it. DeGrom, however, keeps leaving us. Not leaving us in the pushed-out-of-town sense (god forbid), but sooner than anticipated practically every time he pitches. The short-term accumulation of angst mounts a little more every time.

That’s mostly because we don’t know a) what precisely is wrong; b) if anything precisely is wrong; c) how nothing precise could possibly be wrong if something like this keeps happening. All we have to reassure us is the sight of deGrom pitching. That part eases tensions, calms worries, tranquilizes anxieties. That’s extremely nice.

And we can have that nice thing. We just don’t know for how long on a given evening or why, exactly, it can’t be longer. It will be recalled from five days prior that Jacob was disposing of the San Diego Padres with customary controlled fury. Then he felt a little something. He left the game. Later, he wasn’t overly concerned. If he wasn’t, we weren’t. When his next start came around, we saw not a question mark but an exclamation point.

The pitcher who entered Wednesday night’s game against the Cubs at Citi Field with an 0.56 earned run average proceeded to perform better than he usually does. Grasp that, if you can. His fastball sped for itself. His slider eluded any all points bulletin the visitors might have wished issued. Nine batters came up. One drove a ball to the right field wall, where it was caught. The other eight struck out. It didn’t feel like a perfect game was percolating. It felt like Jacob deGrom was pitching per usual. No. 48 so represents excellence in Queens that Kevin Durant played 48 minutes Tuesday night en route to scoring 49 points in Brooklyn.

And, naturally, he drove in a run. DeGrom, I mean, though I imagine Durant would have, too, had the Nets asked. (Alert the authorities — GOATs are running rampant across the boroughs of New York!)

Then there’s a shot of Jacob deGrom in the dugout spewing venom into his glove. We’d like to believe it was because he’s tired of opposing batters not providing him with a sufficient challenge, but no, it was because he knew his anatomy was betraying him again. This time, it was his soreness in his right shoulder. He pitched for an inning not feeling right. He pitched a perfect inning in that condition, mind you.

He pitched no more after the third. After hiding his face and cursing the darkness, he headed down the tunnel, not to return for the rest of Wednesday. He couldn’t risk the shoulder getting sorer, just as the right flexor tendon couldn’t be messed with last Friday, just as the Mets had to be careful about his lat and his right side earlier this season. For someone whose body you’d think was disintegrating after listing the sum of its nettlesome parts, he’s in otherwise excellent shape. For the second consecutive postgame, he told us there doesn’t appear to be anything significantly wrong and he expects to pitch again as scheduled, pending finding out more from doctors and their machines.

We believe in Jacob deGrom, but we are forgiven for doubting his diagnosis might serve as the leading indicator of whether we can expect to see him being deGrominant next week. Even DeGrom doesn’t deny that this is plenty discomfiting, mentally if not physically. “I don’t even know what to say,” he said of his two latest departures. “I’m pretty aggravated with it.”

My sense as someone sitting and watching intently on television is maybe he shouldn’t pitch next week, but my medical bona fides are limited to scraping together a co-payment and requesting a receipt. My wildest guess is Jacob’s otherwise fit and trim body can no longer accommodate all the talent that busts out from inside him. If this were Heaven Can Wait, Jake would demand Buck Henry deliver him a new one, maybe a Colon model. And with a decently cushy divisional advantage in hand, maybe the next couple of starts by The Best Pitcher in Baseball can wait.

I’ve heard it supposed, not illogically, that throwing as hard as Jacob deGrom throws can’t possibly be ideal for the preservation of Jacob deGrom. He routinely throws 100 miles per hour like a person might tie one’s shoes (I wonder how fast he ties his shoes). Yet you keep your eyes on Jake and he doesn’t appear to be overdoing it. There’s no violence to deGrom’s motion, no grunting with each pitch, no groaning except from the would-be hitters when they swing and miss, and his devoted fans when we are suddenly impelled to miss him. Is urging Secretariat to take it slow down the home stretch at Belmont even viable?

I don’t want to be without Jacob deGrom for a single start. Or longer. Especially longer. I’d advise him and the Mets to be extraordinarily careful in case they haven’t already thought of that.

Alternate-Universe Losses

One of the many fun things so far about 2021 is the Mets winning games that in a lot of previous years you’d expect them to lose.

On Tuesday night I was nervous after the Mets took a 3-2 lead and stubbornly refused to extend that to a safe distance, because I was all too aware that those Cubs in the rearview mirror were closer than they appeared. One errant pitch by a scintillating Taijuan Walker, one bit of misfortune for Seth Lugo, and the game would be tied (or worse) before you could say, “Holy Paul Wilson!” The specter of a stabbed-in-the-guts loss was there and I couldn’t muster enough good vibes to exorcise it. Only the Mets could do that.

Which, somehow, they did.

Walker was brilliant, using his two-seamer, slider and sinker to deadly effect against the Cubs, particularly the left-handed hitters, who pulled back from pitch after pitch that seemed aimed at their hips only to buzz into the strike zone. He struck out 12, a career high, and seemed to get better as the game went on, punching out Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ on seven pitches in the sixth (hard to do when you strike out two) and needing just 11 to put down Jason Heyward, Sergio Alcantara and Rafael Ortega in the seventh. He had help behind him, too — birthday boy Dom Smith played a superb left field, making an acrobatic catch with a foot scoring the fence and a couple of terrific plays and strong throws to hold Cubs to singles, and Jonathan Villar chipped in a gorgeous play in the fifth, robbing Joc Pederson with a lunging snag of a grounder and on-target throw across the diamond.

Walker now sports a tidy 2.12 ERA and is overshadowed only by the otherworldly Jacob deGrom in the rotation, not bad for a guy whose only contract offer came from the Mets after they came up empty on Jake Odorizzi. Walker’s only 28 but has lived a number of baseball lives already: phenom, Tommy John patient, prospect turned suspect, prodigal son returned on a flier, and finally misfit toy stuck looking for a contract during spring training. To quote Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years, honey — it’s the mileage.” This year it’s all come together: health, talent, hard work, motivation, coaching, and it’s been a joy to watch him pitching with both fire and flare.

Pete Alonso chipped in all three of the Mets’ runs, just missing a grand slam in supplying that third one, but the score somehow felt tighter than a lone skinny run could feel. With Edwin Diaz unavailable, Lugo navigated the eighth with no worries but began to labor in the ninth, surrendering a one-out single to Contreras, who gave way to old friend Jake Marisnick as pinch-runner. Lugo’s ordeal felt like a terrible repeat of watching a tired Jeurys Familia against the Padres; absent a thoroughly unexpected trade for Fernando Tatis Jr., pinch-hitter Eric Sogard was about the last guy I wanted to see there — an unflashy, professional veteran pinch-hitter who’d hunt his pitch and refuse to help Lugo. And, indeed, Sogard spanked a 2-2 fastball up the gap in right-center.

Which is where you could see the shadows of all those alternative-universe losses darkening our skies.

The Mets of recent vintage paid scant attention to defense, routinely playing guys out of position, concocting outfields seemingly by lottery, saddling ground-ball pitchers with flyball infields, and failing to outhit their mistakes in the field. This year seemed no different, with J.D. Davis assigned to third and Smith likely to get far too much playing time in left. But the Mets have overhauled their defensive philosophy, Davis’s injury has allowed Villar to emerge as a capable third baseman, the various fill-ins at second have performed admirably, and Smith has put in the hard work to make himself far less of a liability than he once was.

Still, it’s the Mets — the franchise that not so long ago lost its chance to claw back into a World Series because an enemy baserunner made a suicidal dash for home, trusting scouting reports that all but promised the Mets would fuck things up, which they did. Sogard’s ball touched grass and bounded towards the wall and I writhed on the couch saying terrible things.

Except Lugo had diligently thrown over to first multiple times, denying Marisnick an extra step or two.

Except Kevin Pillar cut the ball off and threw it on target to the cutoff man.

Except that cutoff man was Luis Guillorme, who has some of the best instincts I’ve ever seen in an infielder.

Except Guillorme took the ball, spun smoothly and fired it to the plate on a single hop.

Except the catcher waiting for the throw wasn’t Wilson Ramos, who could have subbed for Marv Throneberry in an update of Casey Stengel‘s birthday-cake line, but the surehanded James McCann.

McCann secured the throw, spun on his knees and tagged Marisnick out.

It only seemed like a bad gamble by Cubs third-base coach Willie Harris (who haunted us plenty in his previous life as a player, then did precious little in a brief stint as a Met) because the defensive parts meshed together so perfectly that Marisnick was out by a good four feet. Marisnick’s jump, Pillar’s route, Pillar’s throw, Guillorme’s spin, Guillorme’s throw, McCann’s grab — downgrade any two of those a little bit and Marisnick beats the tag, with the Cubs tying the game and a hit away from taking the lead. How many previous Mets clubs from the last few years would have come up short? All of them? Lots of them?

Well, not this one. And in this universe, that’s all that matters.

The Silent Generation

The word that keeps getting repeated by Mets and people around the Mets is “electric”. Citi Field, they say, is electric. They’re not referring to how the stadium lights are lit or how its loudspeakers are amplified. They’re describing the atmosphere with fans filling seats with their anatomies and the air with their exclamations. Capacity was meaningfully expanded over this past weekend with the Padres’ visit, and with it the essence of Mets fandom returned to the ballpark. That welcome sound has bled through the television and radio broadcasts. We’re there in spirit and reality.

With the Cubs in town, so has a reminder of what it was like when Citi Field was unplugged. Playing center and batting fifth for Chicago in the series opener was Jake Marisnick, formerly of the New York Mets. You might remember Marisnick played briefly for the briefly playing 2020 Mets. You don’t remember going to a game to see Marisnick play for the 2020 Mets. You couldn’t.

Marisnick is part of a unique cohort in the history of the New York Mets. He is part of what we’ll call the Silent Generation. Jake joined the Mets, known provincially (and, we’d like to think, accurately) for having the Best Fans in Baseball. We’ve been some distinct combination of loud, supportive, discerning and critical since 1962. We’ve got a chant that never goes away. But how would have Jake Marisnick known it from the proper perspective to experience it? How can he answer questions from his current teammates who ask, “Hey, Marizz, what’s it like to play ball in New York?” He played once before Mets fans at Citi Field as a Marlin, three times before Mets fans as an Astro and then…nobody as a Met. No 2020 Met heard a genuine “LET’S GO METS!” No 2020 Met heard an organic thing at Citi Field. The stands were empty and silent. Jake Marisnick, who put in seven home games as a Met, played before a paid/complimentary attendance of zero. That was 2020 in action. That was necessary if you were gonna have any size season whatsoever. The 2020 season lasted 60 games. Jake, injured twice, played in only 16 of them total

With Monday night’s 5-2 Mets victory over Marisnick’s Cubs, we are up to 58 games in the 2021 season. We’ll soon pass 60, a fleetingly significant milestone because it’s one year later and we’re rubbing our collective eyes a little as we emerge from our mandatory social hibernation. Presenting baseball to us last summer was supposed to help us lurch toward normal. There was little normal about it and, honestly, it didn’t much help. One year later, it increasingly feels like the 2020 Mets season never happened.

For the 20 Mets who were new to the Mets in 2020, it kind of didn’t. The 2020 Mets who’d been here before knew what we were like. The 2020 Mets who’d arrived in Queens to encounter a pandemic could only hear the legend and imagine. Maybe they wondered. Maybe they had other things on their minds. The entire globe did. Nevertheless, it strikes me as a slight shade of sad that Jake Marisnick — like Guillermo Heredia, who came in with the Braves in May when the building was still keeping most of its seats intentionally empty; like childhood Mets fan Rick Porcello, who hasn’t signed on anywhere since leaving New York; like Andrés Giménez, whose wondrous potential was suddenly traded young — never had a Mets fan cheer for him as a Met during a Mets home game. Maybe some Mets fan at Citi Field Monday night gave Marisnick an audible pat on the back last night. It would’ve been the Metsian thing to do.

Of the twenty players who debuted as Mets last year, only four are still in the organization, certifying 2020 as the disposable entity it registered as in real time. Franklyn Kilomé is in Syracuse. Dellin Betances went on the IL after one appearance in Philadelphia in April (and has recently begun a rehab assignment in St. Lucie). David Peterson is thus the only new-for-2020 Met besides stiff-necked Miguel Castro who has made it to Citi Field in 2021 as a Met. Monday night he heard the cheers for real. He earned them with six innings of shutout ball, muting the murmur that he needs to go work out his problems in Triple-A. The rotation that had three sure bets in deGrom, Stroman and Walker along with a churvish wild card beginning to come up aces in Lucchesi for the first time had the rest of its hand where it was supposed to be.

We gained some faith in Peterson last season when nobody was watching him in person. We switched to fear that it was all going to hell this year as his ineffective outings began to incorporate disturbingly fewer innings, home or away. Monday versus the Cubs was just a single start, and he has only just now made what amounts to his debut on something approximating the big stage — our big stage, that is — but somehow it feels like David Peterson is back.

Everybody else who contributed to the Mets win Monday night either had a taste of Citi Field pre-2020 in their background or is enjoying a fairly fresh Flushing honeymoon. Dom Smith homered, just like he did to close out 2019. Edwin Diaz notched the save, just as he did on occasion (if not often enough) two years ago. James McCann, Kevin Pillar, Brandon Drury and Aaron Loup all got here lately. They are 2021 Mets who’ve gotten to immerse themselves in the aura of Mets fandom practically from jump, the way Gary Carter did in 1985, Robin Ventura did in 1999, and R.A. Dickey did in 2010. Sometimes a little runway is required (ask the slowly settled-in Francisco Lindor). Sometimes there will be Best Fans in Baseball blowback (ask Trevor May following two moonshots surrendered). But everybody before and after 2020 got to know Mets fans face-to-faces. That’s always been part of the deal of becoming a Met

Most of the Silent Generation didn’t and probably won’t ever get their fair share of the full sensation of being a Met. David Peterson finally did, for real. We look forward to us seeing him again and him hearing from us, whatever it is we have to say.

NO CHEERS ALOUD: 2020 Home Games Played by 2020-Only Mets
Andrés Giménez 26
Chasen Shreve 10
Billy Hamilton 9
Jared Hughes 8
Jake Marisnick 7
Robinson Chirinos 6
Rick Porcello 6
Brian Dozier 4
Guillermo Heredia 3
Hunter Strickland 3
Michael Wacha 3
Eduardo Nuñez 2
Erasmo Ramirez 2
Ali Sanchez 2
Ryan Cordell 1
Franklyn Kilomé 1

Dellin Betances, who pitched at Citi Field four times in 2020, has played only one road game for the 2021 Mets; Franklyn Kilomé is with Triple-A Syracuse; Ariel Jurado played one road game for the 2020 Mets but no home games.

Missing the Good Part

Should it be your desire, I’m sure you can get one of those inspirational signs for your den/game room/what-have-you that proclaims BASEBALL IS LIFE, and while I might disagree with the chosen vehicle of expression, I’m with you on the message. But the fact is that sometimes life, or at least the non-baseball part of it, gets in the way.

I’m in Virginia visiting my mom, and yesterday we had a chance to sneak in an extra visit to my dad in his assisted-living home. So my mom, my son and I left the Mets and Joey Lucchesi trailing the Padres, 1-0, the one having come on a leadoff Tommy Pham home run.

That didn’t seem insurmountable, not with Lucchesi having settled down and pitched into the fourth with few other blemishes, so we decided to hope for the best. Off we went for our visit, returning to find … the Mets up 2-1! Joshua pulled up MLB.tv to divine the source of the good news — a Jose Peraza homer — while I furrowed my boy in mild concern at what was happening in front of me. The Mets led, but the Padres had runners on second and third and Jeurys Familia had thrown an awful lot of pitches.

Still, the first pitch I’d seen was an evil slider just below the bottom of the zone, one that Profar had swung over to bring the count to 1-2. If Familia could coax one more swing like that, the Mets would be out of the jam and conceivably on their way to a heartening sweep of a team they might see in October.

If you were watching, well, you know that things turned out differently, and we’d wound up missing the entire good part of the game and witnessing only the dregs. Life does that to you sometimes, though I doubt anyone’s going to turn that into a placard broadcasting cheerful wisdom.

Profar refused to fish for any of Familia’s sliders out of the strike zone and drew a walk. Luis Rojas stuck with a clearly spent Familia, who walked Pham on four pitches to tie the game. Rojas chose Jacob Barnes to face Fernando Tatis Jr.; Barnes’s fourth pitch was a cutter that did very little cutting, and Tatis demolished it. The competitive part of the ballgame was over, leaving nothing but a few curiosities: Pete Alonso got hit in the helmet with an errant pitch but seems to be fine (whew); Tomas Nido went into the books as the 178th third baseman in team history, seeing no action except heckling from Francisco Lindor; and with the bench nonexistent, the last out of the game was made by Robert Gsellman, who looked less than thrilled with the whole thing.

I felt much the same way. Rojas had to navigate some unavailable/gassed relievers, a short bench and the knock-on effects of both problems to the lineup, and he’d thought through how he wanted to solve the resulting riddle. But damned if it didn’t strike me then and now as another case of tree vs. forest: He asked for too much from an exhausted Familia and then chose the last guy in the pen to face one of the deadliest hitters in baseball in a tie game. Spreading out the relief workload may prove wise over the long term, but a game lost is a game that can never be reclaimed, and sometimes just a few of those missed chances mean your October is empty when it could have been full.

Still. The Mets took two of three from the Padres and have now navigated the first 9% of their month from Hell in a manner much to our liking. Here come the Cubs, and I bet the players will tell you they’ll play ’em one day at a time, give it their best shot and the good Lord willing, things will work out. In case you want some wisdom for your wall.

Taking Stock of the New Mets

The Mets, undermanned and improvised though they are, beat the big bad San Diego Padres yet again Saturday afternoon, taking the season series from a fellow playoff team and getting their 33 games in 31 days stretch off to a positive start.

It was what baseball should be — fun! It was fun watching Marcus Stroman coax ground ball after ground ball from enemy hitters and exit the mound with a gait one could describe as a skip or a strut or something very much akin to both at once. Stroman has been a godsend to these Mets, particularly with Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard‘s returns retreating from the observer like the end of the hallway in Poltergeist, and I heartily wish Steven Cohen would give himself a belated birthday present and sign Stroman to an extension posthaste.

It was also fun watching Francisco Lindor and Luis Guillorme vacuum up said ground balls, moving with an instinctive grace that was thrilling to witness. I’ve been a Guillorme fan since before his oh-so-casual grab of a flying bat made him a cult hero a few years back in spring training, admiring not only his soft hands afield but also the fact that he invariably does the right thing when the ball comes his way, never succumbing to the panic that can waylay even capable young players after the game speeds up on them. As for Lindor, he’s a wonderful quarterback of the infield on every play and always where you hope he’ll be, with his hands a blur on transfers at second. Even when he was hearing boos from the Citi Field faithful (an era that thankfully seems to have ended), Lindor’s defense never went into a slump — he was a $34 million a year glove even when the bat was considerably south of that valuation.

(Truth be told, I’m having trouble adapting to the idea of the Mets as a team that might be not just capable on defense but actually good. That’s foreign to me — for years they’ve been a team whose best-case scenario was, “Well, they have a chance to outhit their mistakes.” Now, more often than not, they’re a team that maximizes its own chances by being stingy with misplays and by minimizing enemy balls that drop in, and I’m having a bit of a problem adjusting. To be perfectly clear, it’s a problem that I’m willing to give further attention, as it’s a wonderful one to have.)

The combination of Stroman’s stalwart pitching and the Mets’ excellent defense somewhat masked the fact that this was yet another 2021 three-true-outcomes game, without much offense except that supplied by the home run: Lindor homered in the first, Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a majestic second-deck shot to hurry along Stroman’s exit, and Jonathan Villar outdid Tatis in terms of physical prowess and post-homer demonstrations by annihilating a ball into the upper reaches of Soda Corner. That leaves just one run unaccounted for — a sixth-inning fielder’s choice in which Dom Smith reached base on the back end of an attempted double play.

So no, it wasn’t the most action-packed matinee ever. But between Stroman’s cocksure walkabouts, the defensive excellence and the showcase home runs, it was a memorable game nonetheless. The Mets have played those a lot of late. One of these days maybe I’ll even get used to it.

Concerned Parties

Jacob deGrom says “my level of concern is not too high” concerning the right flexor tendon of Jacob deGrom, revealing yet another layer of distinction that separates Jacob deGrom from the rest of us. The rest of us had a level of concern higher than the seventeenth row of Promenade once Jacob deGrom had to leave the one-hit, ten-K shutout Jacob deGrom was throwing after six innings at repopulated Citi Field precisely because of the tendinitic condition of Jacob deGrom’s right flexor tendon. As matters of concern went, Jacob deGrom’s right flexor tendon immediately superceded Jacob deGrom’s near-perfect game, which Jacob deGrom was leading, 3-0, thanks in great part to Jacob deGrom’s two-run single.

You can see how whether Jacob deGrom was excelling or exiting, Jacob deGrom thoroughly deGrominated our thoughts Friday night, similar to the way Jacob deGrom thoroughly deGrominated San Diego batters. If Jacob deGrom is pitching, Jacob deGrom is the show. If Jacob deGrom is hitting, Jacob deGrom is the salvation. If Jacob deGrom is suddenly departing and we are given a barebones diagnosis, we are all on WebMD striving to discern a prognosis for right flexor tendinitis.

The only thing we non-medical personnel knew for sure when the game was over was that the Mets had won it, 3-2, holding off the Padres without their leading man. It was as if Jacob deGrom’s teammates had chipped in to give Jacob deGrom a going away present…even though the win was crafted primarily by Jacob deGrom. It’s less that they presented their win to Jacob deGrom than they didn’t give Jacob deGrom’s win away to the Padres.

I didn’t know how long Jacob deGrom might be going away for, but when a pitcher of Jacob deGrom’s caliber (which is basically Jacob deGrom) goes away even a little bit — heading down to the tunnel rather than back to the mound — and the word “flexor” enters the conversation, it’s reasonable to brace for a bad case scenario. Maybe not worst case, but definitely bad case. A good case would have been Jacob deGrom going back to the mound.

The best bad case scenario I could come up with on the fly was another minimal trip to the IL. I could live with that. I did just live with that, only a few weeks ago for a different injury that turned out to be not that bad, but was an injury nonetheless. True, a turn or more through the rotation without a Jacob deGrom start is like a day without sunshine, yet there are shades of overcast when the clouds come out. I doubted we were headed for a dark night of the soul. Jacob deGrom had tendinitis? I once had tendinitis. It didn’t end or seriously derail my career. It probably wouldn’t end or seriously derail Jacob deGrom’s, never mind that only one of our careers involves pitching and only one of our careers is of utmost concern to millions of Mets fans.

Then Jacob deGrom sits for the media after the game and pronounces himself unconcerned regarding the chance right flexor tendinitis might prevent Jacob deGrom’s scheduled return to the mound five days hence, which is either fantastic or delusional. Probably closer to the former, because the fantastic Jacob deGrom — who lowered his ERA to 0.56 and passed 100 strikeouts quicker than anybody in a season since pitchers began to stand sixty feet, six inches from home plate in 1893 — doesn’t seem to delude himself. Jacob deGrom knows his right arm, flexor tendon and all, better than anybody else. If Jacob deGrom chooses to not be concerned, perhaps we should follow his example. Then again, Jacob deGrom doesn’t watch Jacob deGrom pitch, let alone hang on every strike (and extremely infrequent ball) Jacob deGrom throws, so how would Jacob deGrom know enough to be monumentally concerned with Jacob deGrom’s right flexor tendon?

Because Jacob deGrom is Jacob deGrom, and who are we to doubt Jacob deGrom?

Halves and Thirds

As the Mets scored their first seven runs on Wednesday night, I felt a tinge of sadness for the Orioles pitcher who surrendered them. It wasn’t a particularly ceremonial surrender. No white flags, just pitches that didn’t have much fight left in them. I wouldn’t claim to know if the same could be said for the man who threw them.

We’ve done Matt Harvey postscript plenty since the sun set on the Dark Knight. It would be redundant and kind of cruel to go there again. Likewise, it was redundant and kind of cruel for the Mets to keep hitting him, but that’s what they’re supposed to do to the opposing pitcher, regardless of opposing pitcher pedigree. They were having a very good evening in Baltimore. Harvey wasn’t. I’ll admit I was only partly enjoying the onslaught they’d wrought on our former ace. I was enjoying the runs, but wasn’t totally comfortable that they were being charged to who they were being charged to. I’ll additionally admit that when with two out in the top of the third, the Mets up by one and Harvey threatening to slip out of a first-and-third jam, I almost…almost wanted him to not give up anything else.

Then James McCann singled in Jonathan Villar, and Billy McKinney singled in Pete Alonso, and Kevin Pillar homered to bring in everybody else in this sentence who’d yet to cross the plate. It was 7-1. That tinge of sadness lingered like the television camera did on Harvey. “He looks like he wants to cry,” my wife said sympathetically. He wasn’t the only one.

Soon, Harvey and his 7.41 ERA departed the mound and the seven Met runs he yielded remained on the scoreboard and I wasn’t about to give a single solitary tally among them back, because though Matt will always be a Met icon to me, he’s not a Met at the moment. Kevin Pillar, who gave his face for our cause, is. James McCann, who borrowed a first baseman’s mitt and said “OK” when he could’ve big-timed or begged off, is. Billy McKinney, who’s now officially gone longer without ever having heard of me than I’d gone without ever having heard of him, is. Those are our Mets at the moment, and that will do when it comes to deciding battles for hearts and souls.

As the Mets scored their second seven runs on Wednesday night, I was quite content to gorge on the offense, regardless of whatever dismay it inflicted on whatever other Orioles pitchers. Listen, I can’t be responsible for the seamy underside of every boisterous blowout (good luck in future endeavors to Adam Plutko and Mac Sceroler). Furthermore, I haven’t checked the rule book lately, but I assume there is no actual saving “some of that for tomorrow,” especially when tomorrow from the vantage point of Wednesday (a.k.a. today) loomed as an off day. If the Metsies want to score 14 runs in one game while giving up no more than 13, they are my guests to do so.

As it happened, they — primarily via seven typically excellent innings from Taijuan Walker — gave up only one run. Nobody ever tells the pitching staff to save some of that for tomorrow, so why should the slugging staff? Better advice would consist of telling Pillar (two homers), McKinney (also two homers), Alonso (his third homer in two games) and Mason Williams (first homer as a Met) to do again very soon what they just did.

The Mets generated two seven-run halves on Wednesday night. While you’re coming to happy grips with such fabulous fractions, you might want to note the Mets completed the first third of their season at 30-24. Few were the games that ended 14-1 in the Mets’ favor, but there was a veritable cornucopia of victories in the realm of 4-2 and 5-1 and 3-1 and whatever it took to get on a pace for 90 wins, or twice as many wins as Met players have deployed to date. What’s more likely, ya think — the Mets finishing 2021 at 90-72 or the Mets using 135 players? Cite “at this pace” at your own risk, of course. Still, we’ve run through 45 Mets; maintained a very nice clip without a whole bunch of heretofore presumed key Mets available very much; and, well, here we are, out in front, winning a geographically challenging road trip and, at the end of it, bouncing back from a letdown the night before.

The competition stiffens for the next month. All those pesky postponements are knocking on our door demanding an extra seven innings of our time on multiple occasions. The plunge from our version of The Big Three to fourth and fifth in the rotation is as frightening as anything ever ridden at Great Adventure. But ours are the Mets of Pillar and McKinney and all the other blanks that keep getting filled in so very amply. Ample ain’t always sexy, but it gets the job done.

Swell bunch of parts we have here. The sum could be something else.