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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 Step Forward, Too Many Steps Back

The catcher was a spy, but with apologies to Moe Berg, it was the leftfielder who wore the most cunning of disguises for nearly forty games. Turns out Daniel Murphy was a first baseman. He's been found out — praise the lord and pass the ammunition.

Now if we can solve the mystery of the incredible disappearing offense — featuring the shortstop who suddenly vanished midgame — the world may be safe for Metropolitans. But I wouldn't count on that happening for a while.

Yes, Murphy's masquerade, as beguiling as any incognito guise perpetrated on gullible Mets fans since Robbie Alomar impersonated a future Hall of Fame second baseman, has reached a merciful ending with the hint of a happy beginning. The kid from hunger from left field played first base professionally Wednesday night in Los Angeles. He wasn't Keith Hernandez. He wasn't even David Segui. But he wasn't Dave Kingman, and that's promising.

The Mets shouldn't be promising anything else right now, because they appear woefully incapable of delivering anything besides a mildly encouraging position switch. They can't deliver a big hit, they can't deliver a key run, they can't deliver a victory, certainly not over a quality team on the road. That wasn't a good formula for Dodger Stadium. It's not likely to work wonders in Fenway Park.

OK, so they've lost four in a row. OK, so they were swept three by L.A. OK, so they wasted one of their best non-Johan starts of the year. Not OK at all, actually, but it's not the losing that's been the Mets' bad moon rising every late night this week (and doesn't it feel as if the Mets were the third New York team to move to California?). It's the spectacular lack of fight they've put up in these four losses, and I don't necessarily mean the lack of grit, edge, “gredge” or any of the yada-yada many of us, myself included, have bandied about. They just look incapable right now of playing a full, well-rounded game of baseball. I don't know if they've done it more than a few times this year, even during the 11-of-13 good times.

Maybe it was my fever over the weekend, but I didn't think they looked that imposing while they were running wild on the Giants. They were getting on and they were delightfully aggressive and San Francisco was suitably rattled, but those weren't excellent all-around games. They were slugfests won by the Mets. They didn't look that good beating the Braves in that walkoff-walk win last week; it took a lucky call to push them over the top. They looked kind of disheveled against the Pirates, but the Pirates give you lots of wiggle room. It was wonderful beating the Phillies, but I didn't get the sense we were putting it to them. I got the sense the Phillies weren't so hot.

Hey, I'll take 95 instances of the Mets being partially awesome if they can half-ass their way to a playoff spot, but this team is frightening in both its inability to rev on all cylinders and its ability to zitz out on too many of them at once. Until proven otherwise, its talent is concentrated into a small clutch of players, one of whom is available only every five days — note we scored generously for Johan one time and took it out by inflicting penuriousness on Pelfrey, Redding, Maine and now Hernandez — and one who is rarely used when not protecting a lead. There are almost no leads now because the only two healthy talented regulars are being helped by almost no one. Every trip around the order in the Dodger series was an exercise in breath-holding and finger-crossing. C'mon Carlos! C'mon David! They came on. Nobody joined them.

Any team can have four fallow games. What's troubling is what lies ahead, and I don't mean just the Red Sox. Jose Reyes limping into the dugout in the third and then stomping frustratedly through it en route, probably, to the DL was a more harrowing sight than any five flies hit to erstwhile leftfielder Murphy. No team can lose its starting shortstop for any significant period of time and thrive, not unless you've got young Cal Ripken waiting to take over for Mark Belanger or something. The Mets don't seem to have that. They have Ramon Martinez. I've had a soft spot for Ramon based on his burst of big hits the last week of last September. That spot has now hardened and dried

Martinez — his nickname here was going to be “Bring 'Em Home Ramon” if he had tied it in the ninth — didn't lose the game. Putz and his cortisone shot didn't lose the game. Murphy's Tatisian production with runners on didn't lose the game (though when Wright moved Castillo and Beltran to third and second with a long fly to right with nobody out in the eighth, I groaned because I just knew that was our scoring opportunity right there). They all lost the game. Not Liván and his RDA of seven one-run innings. Not Beltran and Wright, of course. But the fightless Mets, the pulseless Mets, the directionless Mets, the depthless Mets, the Mets sans Reyes, Delgado, Cora and whoever else they don't got…they lost and it was pretty apparent they were going to lose. While not as flat-out embarrassing as a passel of their earlier losses, it was just as definitive.

A quarter of the season is now complete. The Mets are one game out of first with three-quarters of a season to go. That's the good news. Beltran, Wright, Rodriguez and Santana are the great news. Murphy playing one fine game at first is a swell development. Except for one bad pitch by John Maine to Casey Blake, the same could be said for Johan's backup singers of late. We all love Bobby Parnell and Brian Stokes, and Pedro Feliciano will have a job striking out Ryan Howard as long as he wants one.

But based on what we've seen, when those we count as assets veer to a bad week, I don't know who or what is going to pick them up. We're seeing a lineup not sustain the loss of its cleanup hitter. Now it will likely be without its leadoff hitter. Should the bullpen show a little more give, should the starters go not quite as long, should, god forbid, Daniel Murphy not be Vic Power…boy are we in trouble. David and Carlos have done almost nothing wrong for a week. They're due to not get the big hit, the big walk or even the big fly ball. Is anybody going to pick them up?

It's forty games in. Do you know where your Mets are?

I do: Barely over .500. It didn't take long to suss them out there either.

Rooting for a team that never seems to score enough? That's not new. That's 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.

6 comments to One Step Forward, Too Many Steps Back

  • Anonymous

    This team just seems to be falling apart all over, whether it's the manager seemingly playing a different guy at every position every day, or the scores of injuries. There is a lot that bothers me about Manuel, but managers hopefully don't have that much effect. What's worrisome is when you have your SS and 1B go down, and also the backup. Injuries. It's probably what cost us last season too.
    You gotta come back from it though, and hopefully be stronger for it. I actually think the Mets played good baseball in SF. They were aggressive, took chances, and pushing the envelope. When chances didn't work out, they just made more. (This was how they played in April too, except they never capitalized on _any_ of the chances) I'm not worried about the home run drought, because the Mets don't need home runs to win. (although they can help, like Church's would've) The Mets, after two years of having their outfield depth shot to pieces and fail and get injured, now have a ton of it. (Included back up guys like Kielty, Sullivan, Fernando Martinez, et etc down in Buffalo) Their infield depth has taken a hit though. Guys in the minors aren't panning out, and we have THREE IF injuries at the Major League level. Right now I feel like 15 days without Jose might be the best case scenario. 15 days we can do, more and we have an issue. Hopefully Ramon just needed a day or two of swings and adjustment to be..acceptable? tolerable? A lot of the offense swings on Murphy now. If he can hold down 1B, and he looks like he can..(please please please play him there every day for a while to get him used to it) then if he can continue to hit like he's shown he can, and Sheffield and Pagan can give some semblance of okay out in LF, then I think we'll be alright.
    I was thinking this last year, and it still holds true. The Mets need to get into a repetitive, comfortable cycle. They really need to go out every day and know who the manager is, what the lineup is, who's playing where. While it's not the sole cause, having guys know how well a guy in the outfield throws to relay, how a guy is batting behind him without having to turn around and check and remember, what they can expect the guy on base in front of them to do, Define the borders of the range between players (Okay Pagan, everything to the right of here I generally get…Ramon, David will get a lot of these here, but you should be moving this way on this type of ball..) and who's going to cover second on a pick off and etc etc etc. This team needs the repetition and the regularity to form the instincts that have seem to gotten frayed.
    And if we're looking for signs Murphy can play first? He's a left-handed hitting first baseman that fields righty at a position where you'd prefer a lefty. Just like the guy he replaced. (Are they just natural righties or what? I don't really get this..)

  • Anonymous

    But he wasn't Dave Kingman, and that's promising.
    At this point having a guy on 1B who slugged 442 HRs in the somewhat-dead-ball, steroid-free era sounds pretty good, given the long-ball starvation diet we're on.

  • Anonymous

    But he wasn't Dave Kingman half the time, and that's promising.
    The other half of the time, it was too bad.

  • Anonymous

    For those who may not have had the misfortune of witnessing Mr. Kingman play a position in a MLB game, be advised: he was…not good. As long as he didn't have to move, it was usually a moderately safe bet that he'd make the play. No sure thing, mind you, but somewhat likely. But when called upon to do anything that involved any kind of agility or movement around the diamond…not so much. I sure did love those massive homers, though, no question about that.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, Kingman just sucked with a glove. He was born to DH. (Not to mention the other things he was, ahem, born to be.)
    I don't honestly think you can get a good read on this team after this series. I think the starting pitching is a much bigger problem than anything else, when you're talking about all-season issues.
    The reason they lost this particular series is simple: They didn't hit. I mean, at all. All the fielding blunders, Church and his invisible feet…all of that would have been forgotten if there had been some hitting. There didn't even have to be a lot, just some.
    There hasn't been a home run in over a week, and that was by Sheffield (!). There were what, five runs scored in four days? That's obviously a fluke, even without Delgado, whose loss really does hurt. This is a very, extremely very, streaky group of hitters. Feast or famine. And they all seem to hit their hot and cold streaks simultaneously. But they're not going to go on all year scoring 1.25 runs a game. That much is certain.
    I don't know how much another slugging bat would bring to the table, because sluggers tend to be very streaky, too. Unless we found one who was streaky on a different timetable…nah, that wouldn't last.

  • Anonymous

    So, when does overrated Omar start taking some hits????