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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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Greats of the Game

Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza will each be voted into in the Hall of Fame as soon as they're eligible. They have been great for a very long time. They may not have inhabited greatness in tandem when given the chance as early Dodgers and recent Mets, but they are two of the defining players of their generation.

If this sounds like deathgrip of the obvious, well, yeah, but sometimes the players are the thing and Saturday night, one couldn't help but be moved by the sight of legends doing what made them legendary.

Pedro has the world's greatest April record, the greatest record for any month in the history of baseball. Learning that during Saturday's Snighcast gives me a bit of pause for what he'll be in September, but that's a ways off. For now, it's been a revelation, for the second consecutive April, to watch him ply. Keith Hernandez said Pedro earned his paycheck the way he took care of the Padres. I don't know that anybody earns anything over $10 million annually without curing a disease or creating an alternative energy source, but in the terms of what he is paid to do, yeah, he's a bargain.

Martinez and Glavine both have been giving master classes in pitching all April. It's awe-inspiring. Have we ever had this before? Of course we had Tom Seaver when he and the world were young (we just passed the 36th anniversary of T. Terrific's 19-K/10-straight vs. SD) and Doc when Doc was never going to stop being Doc. But that's not what I'm talking about. Pedro and Glavine — sorry, there's only room for only one “Tom” in this paragraph — are bringing a long lifetime of experience at the top of their profession to the mound every fifth day, and they are doing it while still performing at that elevated status.

This isn't Warren Spahn trying to keep it going. These are two aces pitching like Cy Young emeriti, one who some began to doubt in Boston, the other who looked pasturebound after Atlanta. They've combined for eight starts this season and in all eight they have, in the Murphspeak, worn the hitters on their watch chain. It's not Seaver '71 or Gooden '85 or Pedro '99. It's something practically every bit as satisfying. It's not a matter of blowing away the opposition. It's outfoxing them at almost every turn. It's being smarter than the average batter and putting that hard-won wisdom to good use.

It's Pedro striking out eleven and going seven when doing both were ideal. I'm not sure he couldn't have gone eleven and struck out seven, conserving some pop here, working a corner there, teasing a Padre there if that indeed was what was called for. Once the Mets got him a couple of runs, did you doubt Pedro would tease, taunt and tame San Diego? They could don all the camouflage they wanted, but they couldn't hit, they couldn't run and they sure as hell couldn't hide.

If Pedro Martinez was the main attraction (and the indefatigable Carlos Delgado was the featured performer and our 6-7 hitters Nady and Castro headed a strong supporting cast), then you have to give it up for the walk-on made by someone whose name used to stick high atop the marquee and above the title. They're not Mike Piazza & The Mets anymore, but Piazza's cameo as fearsome enemy slugger did not make for an altogether unpleasant sight.

We won 8-1, so I can be generous. Mike got to 399 with a blast off Pedro. Pedro could afford it, so in hindsight, applause, applause. Sadly, I had turned the channel to a Barry Bonds' at-bat in Colorado and missed Mike's mash live (I thought we were still in commercial), but replays showed vintage Piazza, high, deep and almost straight away to center. As 2-1 became 4-1 and 6-1 and 8-1, I could feel good that he collected his first homer since Opening Day, even if it was against us, even if it was in Padre fatigues.

I figured out why Mike Piazza as a Padre taking his swings against the Mets hasn't really moved me. Because he's not a Padre in more than name. He's said all the right things. He talks about the Padres as if he really cares what happens to them, but you can tell he doesn't. He's as likely to throw a game as he to throw out a baserunner, but you know what I mean. This is a soft landing for The Greatest Hitting Catcher in the History of Baseball. This is a place to pad his power totals a little and get some sun and call it a night. He's not pulling that dreadful Johnny Damon “we/us” shtick. He hasn't suddenly contracted “always wanted to be a…” fever. He's a Padre because they pay him to be one. He's back to full-time Met legend as soon as he is no longer contractually obligated to be something else.

Of all the quotes mined from Mike this week, the one I liked the most regarded his amazement that a three-game losing streak in San Diego doesn't set off panic in Petco Park. It's just three baseball games. As Met after Met ran him into the ground, I couldn't help but wonder how many calls to WFAN such a stolen base surfeit would generate if he were still our catcher. I doubt anybody out west will much dwell on the details of Saturday night come Sunday morning. Whether he misses us or we're missing him, I think it's for the best that he is where he is and we are where we are in 2006. At this late date, Mike Piazza deserves a little benign neglect.

So he'll wear 33. He'll hit a few more out. Barring injury or early retirement, he'll come to Shea the second week of August to doff his helmet and cause a Mike-sized buzz, and two months later, I'm guessing, quietly depart from active participation in the game he dominated for a decade — and still can when his muscle memory cooperates.

The Padres had three hits. Mike had two. When he got the first one, the homer, it shouldn't have been surprising. The stats say he owns Pedro Martinez, which is a pretty impressive piece of real estate to claim. The second one was a solid single in the ninth that I was sort of, kind of, just a little hoping would have some lift and distance to it, because with a seven-run lead, would it have killed us to have seen Mike hit No. 400 in a Mets game?

No, but it would not have been optimal. Jorge Julio, perhaps imbued by a stream of shots poured down his throat while laid out flat on a bartop the way a crumpled Popeye revived from the cans of spinach Olive Oyl forcefed him (or don't you read the gossip pages?), has been suddenly, shockingly lights-out the last few times he's pitched. He was dynamite in the eighth. It would do us no good in the long-term to see him blow up in the ninth, not after the first two Padres got on via strikeout-wild pitch and error. Piazza's ensuing single scored nobody and Julio proceeded to emerge unscathed and the Mets had a win and maybe, just maybe, a bulletproof bullpen in the making.

That's an important detail, but a detail for another day. When you've seen Pedro Martinez continue to be Pedro Martinez for seven innings and Mike Piazza guest star as Mike Piazza for one mighty swing, it seems almost blasphemous to mention that anyone else played baseball Saturday night.

5 comments to Greats of the Game

  • Anonymous

    impressive devotion to timely posting, greg, what with the server down for maintenance and all.
    piazza could still hit one out today against the mets (if he plays; he's put in some long innings). i do have to say — grudgingly, in a whisper — that off-season visions of keeping the mike/ramon tandem seem a little rose-colored. piazza's shot as an everyday player. the arm problem is glaring, though it'd be nice if the padre pitchers might deign to look over to first every now and then to keep a runner on. the bat speed is waning: his blast, vintage though it was, felt like an aftershock from a spent force. (maybe he should change his bat size?)
    i will continue to root for him — i look for the padres box scores when i remember to — but we wouldn't be doing as well if he continued to be in our daily lineup. cold, but i think true.
    and right after jason ragged the pods for their endless rotation of color schemes, how bout them crazy cammie tops? a nice tribute to the (local) troops, i guess, but the pods really are clueless about building a tradition. 37 years later, and there's still the whiff of expansion about them.

  • Anonymous

    Good post, Greg. Don't think I could have said it better. I also had fleeting hopes for that single to keep right on carrying out of the park in the ninth. Pedro's still Pedro and Mike is still Mike, at least for brief, beautiful moments. Isn't it amazing the way Piazza, in his current state of decrepitude, can still make it look so effortless, so inevitable? Like, “of course I can homer off Pedro Martinez. What made you expect any less?”
    And speaking of Mike and Ramon, if we could take the Mike and Ramon we saw last night (even with Piazza's arm) and bottle them up to use all year, I would do it in a heartbeat. Alas… (I'm telling you though, Castro keeps playing like this and he'll be giving LoDuca a run for his money).
    I'd like to bottle up last night's Pedro as well, and unleash him every fifth day on unsuspecting adversaries. That plan may be a bit more feasible. Toe soon to tell, perhaps. (You'll have to excuse me while I go hang myself for that insufferable pun).
    PS It'll be good to see our other Pad-Mike take the field healthy and whole. Best of luck to him…within reason.

  • Anonymous

    It was great to see Mike go deep, even if it was against us. And yeah, you weren't alone in hoping for anoter in the 9th.
    I am hoping Mike has a solid year, maybe .260 with 30 HR or so, and then DHs for a non-Bronx AL team for two more, ends up with 500 HRs. HOF in 2013.
    And I know fan polls are dopey and meaningless and nothing to get worked up over, but what's with the 40% of Met fans who voted on the WB11 site that the Mets shouldn't retire #31? Were these nimrods not paying attention the past 7 years?

  • Anonymous

    The problem may be that they were paying attention for the last 3…

  • Anonymous

    But not during that game against the Braves last July when Piazza hit a three-run, opposite field bomb on a foolish 0-2 pitch, right after everyone finished talking about how much his bat had slowed down. “…Mike Piazza with an opposite field three-run homer! And the Mets take a 6 to 3 lead in the bottom of the eigth inning!” Those were the days…