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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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Shot August Nights

There are several numerical ways to flesh out the state of the Mets after Wednesday night’s rerun of Tuesday night, which was a carbon copy of Monday night (assuming that creepy dude from W.B. Mason still sells carbon paper), which wasn’t materially different from Sunday afternoon’s defeat, if you can remember back that far in this abysmal blur of a second half. The differentiator most recently was Matt Harvey’s tough, brilliant, faultless six innings of nine-strikeout pitching. No other Met meaningfully distinguished himself. The Mets lost, 5-2, after losing, 6-2, after losing, 3-1, after losing, 5-2.

Or you could say they’re losing, 19-7, and will likely resume losing at 1:10 this afternoon.

The Mets have lost 28 of their last 39 games, just about all of them by a score of 5-2, or so it seems. Their last comparable extended stretch of second-half futility occurred in 2009, the year when everybody was seriously injured or spectacularly inept, occasionally both. They stumbled to 27 losses in 37 games at one point. The 2004 Mets lost 29 times in 40 games down what others would call the stretch but what we recall as the last days of Art Howe.

That’s the company your 2012 Mets are keeping right now. Also, the Houston Astros. That is to say that unless there is a dramatic reversal of fortunes, the Mets and the ’Stros will go down as the only two National League teams to have not compiled a winning record over any of the last four seasons. With the welcome ascension of the Pirates and the unstoppable surge of the Nationals, everybody else will have had at least one 162-game span of competence in the current quadrennium. But nobody from the Expansion Class of 1962.

The bullpen has at least a little something to do with the Mets’ tragic number for ensuring a fourth consecutive non-winning campaign is suddenly 14. Here’s something to chew on that — unlike Tums but like the Mets — will give you no relief: The Mets have eight pitchers on their books in 2012 with ERAs over 6. Some are no longer here, some are very much here, some of the samples are thankfully small, but each pitcher in question did his worst to contribute to the damage:

• Frank Francisco: 6.42
• Elvin Ramirez: 7.30
• Robert Carson: 7.36
• D.J. Carrasco: 7.36
• Manny Acosta: 8.39
• Pedro Beato: 10.38
• Chris Schwinden: 12.46
• Garrett Olson: 108.00

Schwinden absorbed most of his blows in two starts, and Olson’s three-digit earned run average was compiled in all of one-third of an inning, but when you’re talking 12.46 and 108.00, the moment for niceties has passed. Speaking of which, after Francisco raised his ERA from 6.06 Wednesday night, he took his frustrations out by hurling a Gatorade cooler as hard as he could.

Naturally, some random Rockie rookie lined it to right for a double.

Overshadowing miserable Met relief pitching and even Harvey’s singular progress was the news that the Mets came up with a relatively graceful way to shut down Johan Santana for the rest of 2012. They took an MRI, they found something not good but (supposedly) not terrible with his back and now he’s on the disabled list. This is what passes for good news in the August 2012 Mets’ world. I had hoped Johan could be eased off the mound for the year after throwing five solid innings — consecutively, not cumulatively — but I’ll accept that he was periodically capable for a few batters at a time over his last five historically horrid starts so that we don’t have to spend all winter wondering if he has anything at all left.

I’m sure he does, but everything since Reed Johnson crunched his ankle on July 6 has been such a nightmare that one is entitled to wonder if rest and rehab is going to bring him back to the pitcher he was for the first three months of 2012. It’s such an eerily familiar refrain: Johan will go to Florida and get ready for Spring Training. It’s as if “Florida” is where the Mets tell kids where their favorite injured players went — kind of like That Farm Upstate. This makes it four of five years that he’s been a Met when a season ends with Santana long absent from their rotation as the year ends. The cycle of long-term contract grief just goes round and round in that regard.

But it had to end this way after he slid from three perfect frames to start against Washington last Friday to frighteningly ineffective over the next two. He stood bravely in front of his locker later saying he planned to make his next start, the one that will now be assumed by Collin McHugh. I didn’t believe it when Johan said it. I don’t believe Johan believed it when Johan said it. When I saw Johan say it, I thought of Spencer Tracy as aging Mayor Frank Skeffington in The Last Hurrah, voted out of office after an eternity of dedicated service to his constituents. In his concession speech, Tracy announced he planned to run for governor.

A couple of scenes later, he was dead.

Which brings us back to the Mets and how they’ve played this August and every August since 2009. They’ve participated in 103 games in these past four Augusts and lost 64 of them. The Mets of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 haven’t necessarily been great from April through July, but when make-or-break time rolls around, the Mets roll over. Translating that 39-64 mark to a full MLB season, they’ve howled their way to a 61-101 pace, or as “dog days” as it gets.

Make no mistake: “dog” is an appropriate phrase to apply to this August edition of the Mets, and not in the man’s best friend sense. The Mets haven’t just given up. The Mets give up over and over. The Mets do not play hard. The Mets do not play to win. The Mets do not play not to lose. The Mets play to get it over with. You can see that on SNY and WPIX (unless Cablevision prevents you from the latter). I saw it from very up close Tuesday night as I was privileged to sit next to some of my favorite folks in one of those cushy seats three rows behind home plate — which is part of a nicer story that deserves telling in a sunnier context — and observe from as near a vantage point as one can what a baseball game really looks like when the home team is neither trying nor succeeding.

The Mets looked so beaten from the start, so overmatched — by nine guys wearing Rockies uniforms, eight of whom I’d never heard of before Monday night. What killed me about it, as I watched each Met take his on-deck swings; study the opposing pitcher; step to the plate; and theoretically compete was how little effort seemed to inform their approach. There was very little hustling to first base. There was very little hustling in general. There was an air of que sera, sera to the whole enterprise and very little ability visible to the not wholly untrained eye. Sure, I show up in a good seat and now I’m an expert, but I’ve been watching the game for 44 years. I’d recognize a spark if I saw one. I saw none.

Then just to make sure my eyes weren’t lying to me, I watched Wednesday on TV to see if I was missing something in person. I don’t think I was. These guys these last two nights, excepting Harvey for six innings and Chris Young before he hit his predictable wall, are lacking purpose. They show up at the office because they have to. I watched BP Tuesday night from the field, not the first time I’ve done that in this current malaise period. BP may rightly be described as a “colossal waste of time,” but whose fault is that? If you play for a team that’s lost massively more than it’s won for more than a month, why on earth wouldn’t you use your time seriously and intensively to improve yourself? The Mets come on the field, get in the cage, do what their routine dictates and prepare to be beaten by teams as good as the Nationals and as bad as the Rockies.

That’s how it looks from here, anyway. When Terry Collins insists his teams don’t play fundamentally unsound baseball, he’d be advised to take a look, too. Because the only team he has does play fundamentally unsound baseball. Their lack of talent — which even Sandy Alderson explicitly acknowledged to Mike Francesa Wednesday afternoon (can somebody tell me his vaunted “plan” again?) — is forgivable on an individual basis. But a) not doing things full-out and b) not doing things correctly are the baseball equivalent of sinful. Alderson is charged with constructing a representative roster, which he and his staff haven’t done (due partly to lingering Minaya and Madoff effects and partly to his own staff’s misjudgments). Collins is charged with having the players who are here en pointe, as they say in ballet. He should have them ready to go from the first pitch and ready to fight to the last pitch.

He has them ready to go home. Or they’re ready to go home, and he and his staff haven’t done enough to maintain their readiness. Collins isn’t responsible for the first two dismal Augusts noted above but the last two are all his, especially this one. Collins was congratulated far and wide for having this bunch playing the right way in April, May and June. There’s nothing to recommend whatever he’s doing since July got going and August proceeded to sink its claws into the Mets’ will to live. I’m not calling for the manager’s head, because honestly I’m tired of regime change, but as a longstanding advocate for and customer of this team, I am yearning for some kind of shakeup. He’s gotta do something different now, just as Alderson has to get him a whole lot of somebodies different eventually. The pixie dust from the season’s first third has left no residue. It’s another awful August in another awful era.

And man, it is awful. Sunday afternoon, in my de facto drug-induced state, I listened to Eddie Coleman take calls while he sat in Nationals Park riding out the rain delay. A cheer went up behind him. It wasn’t the tarp coming off the field, he explained, but the crowd reacting to the Dodgers doing something to the Braves on DiamondVision. The Nationals are in a pennant race. Their fans — whatever their caliber of fandom — have something to cheer about, something to be invested in this August. The Braves fans have that. The Phillies and Marlins fans don’t, but at some point in the past four years, they’ve been able to take their team varying degrees of seriously. Across the National League Central and West in August from 2009 to 2012, acolytes of every team but the Astros have been able to pay attention to the scoreboard like it matters in at least one August because it has mattered to them.

It hasn’t mattered to us since 2008, which is now a very long time ago. Never mind how 2008 and 2007 ended in shame. At least we had an August. We’re barren now. We’re reduced to straining to eavesdrop on others’ Augusts. Good for the Nationals fans. Good for the Braves fans. No good for us now or lately.

Yet I do watch and I do listen and I do attend, even when there are no cushy third-row seats waiting for me. I was at three consecutive Mets-Marlins game two weeks ago. I will be at today’s Mets-Rockies game after having been at Monday’s and Tuesday’s. I will be at Saturday’s Mets-Astros game. I’m there with people like me who don’t give up our affinity just because the Mets have taken away the significance of our Augusts. We love our team and our habit too much, no matter that we are shy of a logical reason why we should. We love the game even though the games are detestable. We love the ritual no matter that losing has uncomfortably become part and parcel of it. We love baseball and we’re not severely interested in anybody else’s version of it except ours.

It is our blessing when we anticipate it and arrive to be immersed in it, and it is our curse as it unfolds unhappily before us. Yet here we are caring about it, because once August becomes September and September becomes a memory, lousy Mets baseball will be vaguely preferable to none at all. Not by much, but by enough.

Still, it shouldn’t be this way. This fan base deserves better. Every fan base would say so on its own behalf, but it’s really been so long since our Augusts bristled with anything but disgust that one can objectively say it’s our turn to have a whirl in the pennant race spotlight. The Nats are finally getting theirs. The Pirates are finally getting theirs. The Orioles in the other league are finally getting theirs. The Mets are getting nowhere except deeper into their annual August nothingness.

Run to first, at least. Run to first and sprint to September. It won’t kill you and it can only make us stronger.

21 comments to Shot August Nights

  • Andee

    This is a situation where the manager and the entire coaching staff have to be fired, just to get everyone’s attention. Collins is probably no worse than the average dunderhead NL manager, but like Super Chicken, he knew the job was dangerous when he took it. Yeah, they have to eat a year of Terry’s contract, but so what. It would be nice if they could cut 15 players off the roster, too, and just bring up the entire Bisons staff on September 1, and maybe even a couple of B-Mets. At least they’ll be happy to be there.

    Okay, Jeff Wilpon, you want to meddle? Now’s the time. You march in there and tell everyone that the only people who are guaranteed jobs next year are the two players who went to the All-Star Game, and everyone else is going to have to earn it. And they have the next six weeks to do it. If that means you eat piles of money, so be it. If termites are eating your foundation, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on the house. The termites don’t give a shit. They’re hungry.

    But envying the Pirates and Nationals…oh boy. The Pirates haven’t even finished over .500 in 20 years. The ExpoNationals have ONE playoff appearance in 43 years of existence, 30 (!!) freakin’ years ago in Montreal, and lost in the NLCS. DC hasn’t seen a postseason game since 1933. Those are droughts. This is just a New York drought, which Mets fans feel they should be exempted from because the city is run by obnoxious Yankees fans.

    People forget that the Yankees could easily have turned out very differently if Steinbrenner hadn’t been prevented from trading his blue-chip prospects during his suspension. Rebuilding a minor league system takes years; other than Wheeler, all the prospects that came in on Sandy’s watch are in the low minors now. Sure, it would be great to get some phenom who just whizzes through the minors and blows everyone away, but how often does that happen, and how long does it usually last when it does?

    • Andee

      Oh, make that 31 years. Even better.

      • Joe. D.

        Hi Andee,

        No team needs to start all over and build from within when in serious contention three years by the all-star break three years running and they fall because nothing is done to help them get stronger for the stretch drive. One does not need to sacrifice blue chip prospects to fill holes even if it’s in the form of a rental. Money speaks too.

        Also, Sandy made an interesting comment with Francesa yesterday, saying how the Mets have strengthened their minor league system and then adding that he now has more players he can use in trades to get outfield help next year.

        What happened to not trading prospects away or being like Omar?

        • Andee

          I don’t think the rule is ever “don’t trade prospects.” It’s more like, “Be careful about trading top prospects unless the return is absolutely worth it.” And if there’s someone who’s blocked at his position(s) (Zach Lutz comes to mind), it makes sense to try to deal him for someone who won’t be blocked, like an outfielder, if the talent exchange is equitable.

          Sandy has a lot of tough decisions to make regarding personnel. One thing he didn’t have last year that he has now are a whole slew of new guys on the bubble who will be rule 5 eligible. McHugh is actually a holdover from last year’s rule 5 crop and wasn’t taken; if he keeps doing what he did today, he’d be poached for sure if he was left off the 40. Cohoon, Dykstra, and Germen are others I can remember who were rule 5 holdovers from last year.

          Obviously, there are guys who are no-brainers to protect, like Wheeler, Mejia, and (if he’s not traded) Flores. Harvey looks like he’s here to stay, too. This year, I don’t know for absolute certain who is eligible, but here are some names I’ve seen bandied about: Havens, Lagares, Satin, Gorski, Familia, Lutz, Aderlin Gonzalez. Also, what about Kirk and Spin and Duda? Have we seen enough of them, and if so, do they have any value as trade bait?

          What’s really freaky about this team is that early on, they had no trouble scoring runs, and then it seemed like the league figured out that Kirk and Spin and Duda and Baxter can’t hit breaking balls, and Bay was shoved out there to clog up the lineup at the same time, and that was that. Getting a Hunter Pence in trade wouldn’t have changed that equation all that much; same problem, higher price. Sandy is going to have to work this out on the trade market. The only FA outfielder who is worth a huge payday is Michael Bourn, and giving a 7-year deal to a guy over 30 is probably not the right move for this team right now even if he’d come here.

          Sandy is going to have to figure this out on the trade market. It’s not hopeless, there’s plenty of young pitching here, and there’s more coming. They need sticks, particularly in the outfield and behind the plate, hopefully with gloves attached.

          • Joe. D.

            Hi Andee,

            In that interview with Francesa, Sandy indicated that our minor league pitching is our strength and thus it gives him players he can use to get outfield help instead.

            Sounds logical except that we have so many holes on our pitching staff now that dealing from our strength could cause that strength to also become our weakness.

            Sandy needs to spend money to compliment the young kids coming up, that we all agree. He can’t do it with the types he’s acquired the past two years. If he doesn’t, that means his long-term plan is really more of a hope because there is no guarantee with prospects and, relying on that mostly on it’s own – without the infusion of good established players to compliment them – it is a certain path to failure.

            Philosophy is philosophy but reality is also reality. If these cost-cutting measures are the only way he can help the Wilpons retain ownership, then he is fighting a losing battle on all fronts.

          • Andee

            I’m surprised nobody corrected me that it’s Aderlin Rodriguez, LOL. Well, the guy just got promoted to high-A, so I guess it’s not too surprising that nobody here has heard of him. But the kid does have some pop.

  • 9th string

    Coaching can only go so far when you have no offense, outfielders or relief pitching. I think next year is the telling one as to whether this regime will work. Talent is the issue here – there’s not enough of it to go around.

    • Andee

      Agreed, but they can’t do much about that right now. They can in the offseason, but we’re talking about shock therapy for the troops starting today. I tend to think field managers, especially in the NL, are mostly interchangeable anyway; they have no strategic minds at all, they function largely as babysitters whose job it is to stay out of the way until there’s a fight that needs to be broken up in the sandbox. There’s more where Terry came from. And I tend to think that Warthen is as responsible for the constant parade of crap relief pitching as anyone; one after another, regardless of prior reputation, they come to the Mets and suck. Can that really just be snakebite?

      What I am concerned about is Sandy being run out of town the way DePo was in LA. I can smell it coming. Neal Huntington took five seasons to remake the Pirates, Mike Rizzo four to do likewise with the Nationals (who got rare gifts from heaven in Strasburg and Harper on his watch), Bobby Cox (as GM) took six to rebuild the Braves into the monster they became. Will Mets fans give Sandy five years? If people are already calling for his head after less than two, it doesn’t seem likely. And we’re probably not going to get any consensus #1 overall picks, either; the Astros have that sewn up this year, and there’s not a whole lot of difference between picking third and picking tenth.

      • Lou

        I agree with you about Warthen. He was a Minaya holdover and I think he is one of the “houses” Sandy was referring to in Mike Francesa’s interview yesterday. I would say he’s gone and I am hoping Sandy can get Dave Duncan over to Flushing. Remember, Duncan worked for Sandy in Oakland. I don’t agree in regards to Alderson though. I think the Wilpons have given him total control over baseball operations out of complete necessity. Farm systems do take years to rebuild and I think he will be around to enjoy the fruits of his labor. This is going to be an interesting off season based on what Alderson said in yesterday’s interview.

  • Steve D

    Sandy said on the radio yesterday that he still felt Jason Bay had some value to the team for next year. I first thought that was laughable, but then realized he has to say that in the infinitesimal chance somebody wants to take some iota of this guy’s salary for next year. Same deal with Santana…lie if you have to. The Mets pay $68 Million to 5 guys, of which only Wright is anywhere close to earning it, and $30M to 22 other guys and Bobby Bonilla. For math geeks, the Royals have a total payroll of $64M, but because the Mets are so top-heavy, the median salary for each team is the same…about $850K. How do the two teams compare?

    Royals 55-68
    Mets 57-67

    Royals BA .265
    Mets BA .254

    Royals ERA 4.26
    Mets ERA 4.23

    Royals HR 103
    Mets HR 102

    So in the largest market in the world, we are basically the Royals and expect exactly the same next year with one slight difference…we may go through all next year twisting on whether it will be Wright’s last year with the Mets.

    • Lenny65

      “Some value to the team next year”??? Huh? A MLB player hitting .148 has NO value to ANYONE!!! What, is there some out-starved team out there whose lineup is just so potent that they need someone to help them end innings in a reasonable amount of time? This is NOT an encouraging statement to hear from your GM. Sabermetrics are not necessary to determine that Jason Bay is completely finished, simple eyesight is more than enough to draw that conclusion.

      It’s also time to face reality re: Johan. If…IF…they can squeeze a few more miles out of him, terrific. But they have to move forward fully expecting that will not happen. Is there any other MLB team that counts on huge question marks as frequently as the Mets seem to do?

      I truly felt that 2012 would end up being a season they could build upon. I felt they’d hang tough, maybe tease us a bit with a “baby” run before folding and have a little enthusiasm and optimism heading into next year (boy am I sick of the phrase “next year” too, but I digress). I liked the job Collins was doing, that is until the dead-eyed, stumbling, go-down-quietly Mets of 2009-2010 returned with a furious vengeance. Now I’m not sure what to think anymore. I’m not nearly ready to scream for (more) “regime change” but I do know this: if they begin 2013 with basically the same roster and the same results, the torches will be lit and the pitchforks sharpened. It’s a sickening display, just repulsive, nauseating baseball.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    2 more numbers that I imagine are going to let me down: 20 & 1,419.

    At least we can say this about 2012: if Bob Murphy was narrating the highlights on film, it’d make for great TV.

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Pete Gray hit .185 for the 1945 St. Louie Browns. Have the Mets discussed chopping off Jason Bay’s left arm to try and increase his batting average?

  • Joe. D.

    “can somebody tell me his vaunted “plan” again?”

    Hi Greg,

    Better ask Jason and Andee on that one rather than me and some others…. :)

  • boldib

    I’m about to commit the crime of heresy. As I was watching last night’s “Mets Groundhog Day” game I came to this rash, disgusted conclusion:
    If the Mets are not going to protect Wright in the lineup (how will they – who’s out there?) then trade him tomorrow for a solid front of the rotation pitcher, preferably a power pitcher. Build on your solid starting pitching, upgrade defense and speed – like the old Cards.

    Something else I’ve been thinking about. Does anyone offer to restructure their contracts to help the team in bad financial times? Like NFL stars do to help with salary cap issues. Would Wright, Santana, Bay defer, say, 5M next year? I know, I know. Never mind.

  • Johnny L.

    And the Neros, I mean Wilpons continue to fiddle. I’d just like to hear some encouraging thoughts/plans/ideas that they have or may discuss with Alderson. I truly believe if not for their crony Selig, they would have been stripped of ownership as McCourt was. I know the situations are not alike, but do they have the resources to run a MLB team that plays in the center of the universe? I know they have spent (unwisely) on ML talent, but where do they stand spending wise on the Amateur draft, and where I think this club has been borderline invisible, signing players from Latin America. I’ve averaged 20 or so games for 30 years and at this point I debate every time someone suggest going to Citi. I feel like at this point (and the past 4 or so)I’m being robbed. I guess I still hold some bitterness towards Fred, when he refused all suggestions to pursue Piazza. I can’t get the whole “Todd Hundley is our catcher” outta my head. God bless you Mr. Doubleday where ever you are.

    • Andee

      McCourt was different. Until the last few years, the Pons did put money into the team, lots of it, for decades. Problem is, it was funny money, and they spent it like drunken sailors. McCourt used the Dodgers as his own personal piggy bank to finance his whoopie-deluxe lifestyle, putting virtually nothing into the actual ballclub. The Wilpons have, I believe, the second-longest ownership tenure in MLB, after the Steinbrenners. That probably has a lot to do with why they’ve been bailed out. But it won’t go on forever; Selig does have 29 other ownership groups to answer to, and he probably is not long for the job anyway, at his age.

      • JohnnyL.

        Andee. I did point out the situations were different. My issue now is, Do the Wilpons now have the finances to run a NY franchise? Last not on WFAN Richard Neer ran through a litany of items that has our owners in the red, and it is far from optimistic. I cannot believe Selig would let an owner he was not as tight with continue to run his team by a thread. Folks have said, let’s be patient for a year or two. The reality of the situation is, that without a few hail mary drafts by Sandy, the forseeable future is bleak and I fear 2012 will be the rule rather than the exception for at least the remainder of the 2010’s. Hope i’m wrong. But even if I’m not, the rule of The Wilpons has been to approach/reach the pinnacle, than stand pat. (2000, 2006)

  • Joe D.

    Hi Andee,

    This is an interesting read by an old friend of the Wilpons. Also notice the quote from Sandy about buying fifty percent players – wonder who he was talking about?

    • Andee

      If that’s from the Francesa interview, I don’t think he said “50 percent players,” I think he meant players who could get them to at least “50 percent,” or .500, since that would be a vast improvement over what’s there now.

      But you know, I expect a lot of singing and dancing from GMs when they’re asked stuff like this. They don’t want to show their hands. Did anyone really expect him to say, “Yeah, Jason Bay is Tay Suckzor and him dying in a plane crash would solve half our problems”? He’s not going to say any of his players just suck rocks, even if it’s true, and he’d be pretty stupid if he did. Same thing about Duda. He’s not going to poor-mouth guys he has on his own roster. But he’s not just going to hand them jobs, either. The distinct impression I got is that they are going to have to work for it, similar to the Ollie/Castillo thing; they come to spring training, they stink, they’re gone.

      Nor is he going to promise the moon and stars in either FA or trade if he doesn’t yet know what the Pons will let him spend, who would be willing to come here, or who will be made available in trade. Again, why show your hand? If other GMs know you’re desperate and that you hate 3/4 of the guys on your roster, that’s not a good position to be in. Especially when he’s working for recalcitrant owners who probably won’t tell him what budget he has to work with until the last possible second.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Andee,

        Not talking about showing our hands, but what he was generalizing it terms of what strengths the Mets have in which to deal with.

        In terms of fifty percent players, he was alluding to that point when talking about productive and five star ones as well. Either way, he was talking about talent and fifty percent players were all he has obtained for us. No escaping that.