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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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These Are Not Game-Winning Plays

Even Marv Throneberry touched third.

As legend and record have it, Marvelous Marv hit a triple against the Cubs in 1962 but was called out for missing first. When Casey Stengel came out to argue, coach Cookie Lavagetto stopped him. Don’t bother, Case, Cookie told him. He didn’t touch second either.

But he touched third. Everybody touches third. “It’s just hard to miss third base,” Jerry Manuel confirmed. But Ryan Church took the hard way home, pulling off the highly unusual feat of sliding in safely at the plate while technically never making it there.

The Mets didn’t make it last night. They didn’t make it to third base or to a third run or a twelfth inning. They didn’t make those mythical “game-winning plays” Steve Phillips pounded into the ground Sunday night except this was Monday night turned Tuesday morning and there were plays to be made and all of them were game-losers.

They were all made by the Mets. The Mets of 2009.

“That’s unbelievable,” Manuel said about Church missing third on Angel Pagan’s drive to the center field wall. What else could he say? He didn’t pull a Casey and attempt to argue the point. Everybody but the rampaging Ryanosceros knew third went untouched. The man’s got two bases to hit with a foot before home plate and he missed one of them. The camera picked up Manuel in the Mets dugout. His face was turning into one of those comic balloons filled with no words, just disgruntlement.

There’d be more of that.

The bottom of the eleventh in what remained a tie game almost obscured Church’s instant-classic baserunning blunder. Stokes issues a leadoff walk. Humdrum mistake. Then a long fly ball to left-center. Or center-left. It’s very playable, though, and for a change we have two legitimate outfielders who can handle it. Pagan can track it down. Or maybe Beltran. Or Pagan. Or Beltran. Or…

No, nobody tracked it down. No, of course not. Not that kind of eleventh inning. “I called that ball like six times,” Beltran said later. “When the centerfielder calls the ball, everyone has to get out of the way.” Isn’t that also what they say after “lead, follow or…”? I sure hope Phillips and Joe Morgan were asleep by the eleventh inning. Even though it is the centerfielder’s ball, I won’t blame Pagan because a) he just got here; b) he had four hits; c) he slid home earlier in a way no Met seems to slide home — correctly; and d) he had been robbed of the go-ahead RBI by his own rightfielder five minutes before.

Meanwhile, it’s second and third, nobody out. Manuel convenes everybody but the secretary-general of the U.N. on the mound. We’re going to walk the next Dodger and play five infielders and if you count Stokes, Castro and the umps, the Dodger Stadium diamond has more people on it than most countries have diplomatic delegations.

And it nearly worked, too. Stokes gets Rafael Furcal, still on loan to L.A. from the Braves, to pop to the one spot in the outfield that won’t allow Mark Loretta to score from third. Then Brian induces a hard grounder to first, perfectly constructed for a 3-2 forceout at home and maybe even a bang-bang DP and we go on and play eleven more innings, Pelfrey is double-switched in at shortstop, Santos pitches the 21st for the win, Reyes the 22nd for the save.

Except the first baseman is a leftfielder whose literal lack of a glove has been a running storyline for days and he’s not terribly accustomed to his surroundings. Jeremy Reed makes like it’s stoopball except without a stoop. He throws the Spaldeen as hard as he can, well out of Ramon Castro’s range, Loretta scores, the night and the morning are over, the misery lingers.

Whoa. What a tragicomic event.

It never ceases to amaze that a roughly $138 million outfit like the Mets can so quickly deteriorate into undermanned and overmatched. Delgado’s out, sure. And Reyes’ day-to-day status is creeping up on a week. Then we lose Alex Cora, who’s been a wonderful, heady veteran, but, you know, he’s Alex Cora. I found it revealing that afterwards, when Manuel was asked about being at a disadvantage given the players he’s lost lately, he went first to Cora and his intelligence, then Delgado and didn’t mention Jose at all. When all is clicking, as it clicked for three days in San Francisco, everything is Ray Stevens beautiful. But when the streak is over, it’s over, and — don’t look Ethel! — you’re suddenly fielding Reed at first, Martinez at short, Pagan in left and handing the ball to Tim Redding.

Wow. That was quick. But let’s not get caught up in labels. Pagan, as noted, was sublime Monday night/Tuesday morning. Redding, in whom I’m not a believer, wove a fairy tale start for six innings. Luis Castillo, who by default and performance has morphed into a stalwart and an asset, saved the night in the ninth when he corralled Sean Green’s ill-advised fling to first. Aaron Heilman was always making ill-advised flings to first. And to think Sean Green didn’t want Aaron Heilman’s number.

What was also frightening was learning the five errors committed by the Mets were their most since…September 16, 2007. That was the Greg Dobbs Game for you collapsologists out there. The Mets’ six errors twenty months ago no doubt contributed to that pivotal loss to the Phillies, but I mostly remember Dobbs’ grand slam off Jorge Sosa. I bring that up not to relive good times but because when you hear five errors are the Mets’ “most since,” you expect the “since” to be followed by “1963” or thereabouts. Green’s wheel and throw to nobody…the Beltran/Pagan/two-men-on hallelujah twist…Reed’s desperation heave that didn’t have to be so hasty…those were heavy-duty, expansion-team errors. They should have counted as two miscues apiece. And that’s not counting Church’s inexpert finesse of third.

Yet the Mets, who for all their injury and ineptitude are still sort of in first, could have won this game. They had ample opportunity, particularly Fernando Tatis who unfortunately never met a Monday baserunner he couldn’t strand. It’s probably not to their credit that they seemed so outclassed by the unspectacular Dodgers, and it’s not really to their credit that they couldn’t cash in their chances (or touch a most touchable bag when they had to), but all could have been lost a lot sooner than almost two in the morning. Yet they persevered and made it, uh, interesting.

Doesn’t make for much of a moral victory either, does it?

All the bases are covered and touched in Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.

9 comments to These Are Not Game-Winning Plays

  • Anonymous

    HI Greg,
    Surprised you didn't compare Lindsey Nelson's call on the Marvelous Marv play to the play-by-play from last night. It sounded so similar as Howie (or was it Wayne) was so excited about the run scoring play and then was caught completely off guard with the appeal play.
    BTW – because Marv was the batter, at least the runners scored on what eventually became a put-out at first.

  • Anonymous

    I know you can't excuse the players for all the shoddy play, but I'm absolutely sick of Manuel setting up his players to lose. I almost didn't want to watch last night when I saw the disaster he'd made of the lineup. And does Sheffield's clutch presence to shoot a dribbler slower than Castro can run through the huge hole to the right side earn him the right to play the next 5 games over Murphy?
    Church didn't look comfortable coming into the game off the bench. It's almost like he's used to starting, and not used to being ready to play off the bench.
    Reed flat out said he's never practiced that. Not as an excuse, just as a fact. He threw that ball like it was a fly out to LF and he was trying to catch the runner tagging. Big surprise there, as he has OF instincts and had only been at 1B for an inning. Stokes running in front of him couldn't have helped.
    ugh. It was hard to fall asleep after that last night.

  • Anonymous

    Not a baseball “insider” but Manuel appears not to be the strategist I thought he was. No reason why players like Church amd Murphy should be kept in the doghouse and not just benched for a game or two during a prolonged slump.

  • Anonymous

    I thought he played Pagan and Sheffield last night because Wolf is left handed. It paid off in spades in Pagan's case, and Sheffield did get a hit.
    Murphy will probably get a shot to play first base soon, although I'm starting to think Tatis is the best of a bunch of difficult options there. It's really unfair to start pointing the finger at Manuel here, though. The team is 12-4 in May, and the fans never even really stopped griping about them during that 7 game winning streak.
    Regarding Delgado, every first basemen the team has in Buffalo has been playing abysmally so far this season. Nick Evans was supposed to be the team's backup first baseman, but he's hitting, like, .070 and just got sent down to AA. And to have to fly Martinez out yesterday to play backup for the backup shortstop? I mean, Manuel's in a really tough spot right now. But despite all of that, they still played a good game against the Dodgers last night before things flew apart in extra innings. And, as “unspectacular” as the Dodgers may have looked last night, they still have the best record in the game right now. Manny or no Manny, they're not an easy team to beat. I just can't find it in me to start griping at Manuel about lineup decisions right now. He's doing the best he can, and meanwhile, the team is 3-2 without Reyes or Delgado.

  • Anonymous

    No way is he doing the best he can. Sure, Pagan got hits. but he made a key blunder by not yielding to Beltran. Murphy hits lefties. Murphy should be starting. Make him the everyday 1B if you're serious. You shouldn't platoon a position with people that are learning it. The more chances they get there, the better they'll be. so pick one guy, and make him the starter so he's less likely to fail. Bringing in a cold Reed who had no idea what to do into the game that late was a disaster.
    Sheffield only has a high OBP because people haven't realized he can't hit it out anymore and he still has good pitch recognition. He's got 2 home runs, which isn't exactly 'power'. He seems to be mostly a singles hitter, and Castillo often gets harder hits than he does.
    Manuel is too lefty/righty matchup happy, often without even looking at the numbers. Tatis was 2/25, now 2/28 against Wolf.
    Yes, the team is winning. I'm happy with this team except for the fundamentals that Manuel has already said he's not going to bother with until they get back home. But when you have such a disaster as we haven't seen in 15 years managing this team, better to get rid of him before it's too late.

  • Anonymous

    Pagan got four hits, including a 2 out triple that should have driven home the go ahead run in extra innings. Sheffield was responsible for the RBI that tied the game in the 8th. I'm a huge fan of Murphy's, too, and I'd like to see him get more playing time, but I don't understand how you can use this game, especially in retrospect, to argue that Manuel is bad at organizing a lineup. I'm just saying he's doing the best with what he has to work with right now. He's working through some tough luck injuries and a bunch of guys playing out of position.

  • Anonymous

    It's not about Pagan, I like Pagan. Murphy just shouldn't sit for ..5 games now? He's putting those players out of position. Sheffield's game tying hit was luck. Certainly not a cleanup hitter, presence in the lineup drive. Sheff has had a lot of AB now, and he's batting like .240 with 2HR. Murphy is doing better than that. Church..could be. who knows, he's been played so sporadically since he started slumping, that I don't know how he's supposed to break out of it.
    Tatis has been bad at first. He was slumping bad. He was 2/25 against Wolf. What possible reason did Manuel have to start him? Was he serious that Murphy might play first? put him there. Is reed going to get time at first? put him there. he had more hits yesterday than Tatis, and made just as many bad throws to home. Maybe he doesn't make that if he'd been playing all game.
    you're generally not supposed to play for the tie on the road. Don't bunt with Castillo in the 8th. Especially considering he has good numbers against Wolf.
    I'd like to hear more about Reyes injury. Is Manuel just being extra cautious? He's shown signs before of not wanting guys to play if they're is a hint they hurt a little bit. With players collapsing around him, it might've been the time to ignore the _Dodgers_ team doctor and get Reyes in there.

  • Anonymous

    Can't anybody here play this game?

  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree about the first base situation, especially after last night. No one looks comfortable there right now, Delgado is out for at least two months, and Minaya said they're not going to make any immediate moves to acquire someone new. So it really does seem like Manuel should park someone there for a while and let them get used to it.