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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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The Ghost of Soilmaster

The high-flying, temporarily much-beloved, pitch-count-focused, never-say-die Mets arrived in Miami to find the Marlins in the home version of their horrible new uniforms and ensconced in their horrible new park before a somewhat larger number of their horrible non-fans than we’re used to seeing.

There was a lot new there, on both sides, but one thing was very familiar: The Mets lost in a fashion that was, well, horrible.

Does it sound familiar that Johan Santana pitched well in Miami but was victimized by his defense? Yes, he looked shaky early — Austin Kearns’s home run was a no-doubter out of a big park, sending Jeffrey Loria’s idiotic giant Pachinko machine into spastic motion. But Andres Torres should have caught Jose Reyes’s leadoff drive — it wasn’t an error or a misplay, just a ball you expect a good center fielder to run down. Which was bad enough. I’d been waiting six months to see Reyes come skidding into third wearing the wrong uniform while David Wright stood forlornly to one side, but seeing it was still depressing.¬†Omar Infante then followed Reyes’s hit with a little parachute into no-man’s land for a very speedy Marlins lead. Set Torres on a slightly better route and it’s 2-0 Marlins after an inning instead of 3-0 — or perhaps Johan pitches differently to Kearns and much else changes, too.

Does it sound familiar that the Mets clawed back in thrilling fashion, only to spit the bit defensively and be undone by a Marlins rally? I don’t want to go back and look at how many times this has happened before, because it will just make me mad. But if memory serves I remember about 53,299 games at Soilmaster that ended with the Mets undone by little bloops, or infield hits, or HBPs, or any other variety of wretchedness that in retrospect seemed inevitable. With the bottom of the 9th nigh, I tweeted out a warning that the Marlins were sending up an insane slugger, a Met killer and an anything-that-happen speedster. My advice: Believe, but buckle up.

Being a prophet is no fun sometimes.

None of this is to discard the Mets’ latest thrilling comeback, which tonight was keyed by not one but two pinch-hit doubles, courtesy of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter. None of this is to discount that Ike Davis looks like he’s finding his way, that David Wright remains awesome, or that from top to bottom Mets hitters seem to have absorbed the lessons of Dave Hudgens: working counts, making pitchers throw strikes, tiring starters out, getting into bullpens, waiting for mistakes and then clubbing them. When the likes of Ronny Cedeno and Andres Torres are drawing walks, you know the students are paying attention in class.

Nor did Frank Francisco’s trudge off the mound in defeat mean the rest of the bullpen didn’t continue to shine. Ramon Ramirez struck out two in his inning of work, Bobby Parnell gets a pass because he was victimized by Ike’s awkward attempted ole of what should have been a Reyes groundout, and Tim Byrdak was superb. And look, Francisco will blow saves; a starter can have one bad inning and survive, while a closer wears the resulting headline around his neck until the next time he succeeds.

Marlins Park turned out to be something of a non-factor for me, perhaps because I’d seen it on ESPN at the beginning of April and had my chance to gape at it in horror then. Yes, it’s terrible: The lime-green walls make the eyes spasm, the Red Grooms thing is ghastly, the letters set in the pavement are stupid, and the throb of bass from the outfield nightclub (???!!!) is distracting. (Speaking of which, Mr. Loria, since you have a nightclub out there whose bass rattles teeth throughout the stadium, why play square old-timey organ fare? In for a dime, in for a dollar.) Maybe it’s just that I already thoroughly hate the Marlins and everything about them, but my reaction to three hours of Marlins Park was more supercilious eye-rolling than active disgust.

Weirdly, the new park reminds me a lot of Joe Robbie, or whatever the hell the old football stadium was called at the end there. The walls are randomly tall, the outfield grass looks unhealthy and abused, and lots of good seats are either empty or filled with visiting fans. I even spotted sacks of Soilmaster out in the bullpen, instead of in a storeroom where they belong. Perhaps the storerooms are still filled with office supplies Loria robbed from the Expos’ grave.

(The fish tanks are cool, though. And the bobblehead museum is an amusing idea. Which means Loria and his architects are batting about .020.)

We all knew the Mets weren’t going to win every game the rest of the way out. Still, they almost pulled off another one, a 12th come-from-behind victory in what’s still a very young season. I wasn’t worried when they were down 3-0 to Mark Buerhle. I expected them to come back, to tie up the game and then to take the lead. Which is nice, but not normal. When baseball teams are leading charmed lives, it’s your duty as a fan to remember these times are fleeting. Soak in as much as you can, because before you know it there will be a stretch where absolutely everything goes wrong and you’ll spend a week gaping at the TV in horror like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

And even when your team is leading a charmed life, remember the baseball proverbs.

A run unscored is a run regretted.

Give no extra outs as gifts, lest more precious things be taken from you.

Yes, that eighth inning was fun. But it would have been more fun if Rob Johnson had bunted the ball fair with Cedeno coming down the line, making the score Mets 6, Marlins 3. Just as it would have been highly preferable for Torres to corral Reyes’s leadoff hit, and for Ike to play a step back on his little grounder. Taken together, that’s three runs against us, in what turned out to be a one-run loss.

Oh, and one last baseball proverb before I say goodnight.

Beware Greg Dobbs, in whatever raiment he cloaks himself, for his allegiance is to Satan.

5 comments to The Ghost of Soilmaster

  • Andee

    Ike and Andres both making costly errors, both on balls hit by Reyes? We won’t see that again, I can pretty much guarantee it. What we will see, however, is Franky Frank spitting the bit, over and over again, until they come up with someone who doesn’t suck even worse. I mean, I know everyone’s bullpen is a piece of crap these days, just about, but isn’t there anyone in this organization who can hold a lead of less than five runs? (Yeah, I know…Jenrry Mejia. Don’t get me started.)

  • 9th string catcher

    What you said.

  • FL Met Fan Rich

    I wish I could be the Mets closer, get a big fat overpaid contract and have a big fat 6.59 ERA!

    Where can I sign up for that?…..How long can we stay with this loser?

  • Wow. Tough crowd. I didn’t think he pitched that badly, honestly. Stanton hit a low fastball — a pretty good pitch he just got. Sanchez flied out. Bonifacio’s single came with the infield in, and might well have been an out if they’re playing at normal depth. Buck struck out. Frank broke Dobbs’s bat for a little parachute no one could catch. Is that being hit around the park, or bad luck?

    And if Frank does start to blow regularly, the Mets will be in the same boat as about 2/3 of MLB teams this year.

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