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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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.500 In Miniature

When your team has been immersed in an era of losing, your main ambition for them is that they start winning. Or at least stop losing more than they win. Nobody aspires to be .500 unless you can’t get and stay there. We haven’t gotten there and then beyond it for keeps since 2008. Hence, .500 looks pretty darn aspirational in 2014.

On Sunday, thanks to rain on Friday, we got to take .500 out for a little spin. They handed us the keys to a vintage doubleheader, which comes standard with three settings: sweep, swept or split. When you win the first game, you only care about the sweep. The Mets didn’t win the first game, making avoiding the “swept” the overarching desire of what remained of the day. That’s also not a very uplifting goal, but when you’re trying to raise yourself from a potential seven hours of total futility, a .500 day is a million times better than one expressed as .000.

Back when doubleheaders were less often contingencies than regularly scheduled treats, Ralph Kiner drummed into me that winning the first game is paramount. Winning the first game meant you had one victory in your pocket and they couldn’t take it away from you. When the first nine innings of Sunday were over, the Mets had expertly pressed that win in the Diamondbacks’ palms instead. They wasted six fabulous Rafael Montero innings — 10 K, 3 BB, an early solo homer and only one other hit — because they couldn’t touch April’s eminently touchable Bronson Arroyo.

They poked at their old recurring nemesis, but only in the feeble Weeble sense, which is to say Arroyo wobbled but the Mets could never discern a way to make him fall down. There were three initial hits that generated a run in the very first inning and then there was nothing but frustration. Before Arroyo’s six frames and his bullpen mates’ three more were over, the Mets would leave 10 runners on base and erase five more on double plays hit into. Not only did this offensive inefficiency writ large render Montero’s promising start irrelevant (for the purposes of winning the opener, that is), but it compressed the immediate margin for error into almost nothing.

So when Daniel Murphy — not a second baseman or any kind of defensive player by nature — couldn’t hold on to a baseball thrown into his glove during a 5-4 force attempt, which allowed the Diamondbacks to score the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, doom was spelled out as clearly as any word on any banner paraded pregame. A Mets team that wasn’t struggling to return to .500 might have found a route to winning in the bottom of the inning or pushing the game to extra innings, but the Mets are indeed struggling to return to .500. They took their last licks and sucked up a 3:09 2-1 loss as quickly as they could.

The Mets disregarded Kiner’s advice (just as the Banner Day judges disregarded banners paying tribute to Ralph…and most of the other well-done banners) and dug themselves a doubleheader hole. There would be no sweep. There now needed to be no swept.

Thrilling or not, a split was attained. Daisuke Matsuzaka emerged from the bullpen to give the Mets a start just as good as those with which he finished September 2013. As dependable as Dice-K has been as a reliever, starting is what he does and he seems better suited to being one-fifth of the Mets rotation than does Bartolo Colon, except Bartolo Colon was fronted a two-year contract to take up that space and Dice-K came to camp on a minor league deal. Neither Colon nor Matsuzaka figures to be around when .500 finally becomes a rearview-mirror memory, but in the interim, the Mets might be missing the boat on which veteran they’ve assigned the inevitable inning-eating role.

Dice-K devoured his six splendidly, especially considering it was his first start of they year: only two runs on three hits and a walk, plus six strikeouts. Not only did he pitch, but he hit! Dice-K flared a single to left and drove in the Mets’ first run of the second game. See? The bat meeting the ball can produce marvelous results sometimes.

The Mets tied the game in the fifth on a double from Bobby Abreu — a second game of a doubleheader lineup entry if ever there was one — and took the lead when pinch-hitter Ruben Tejada succeeded at his unlikely role with a single. Murphy would later complete his penance for his drop by registering his third hit of the nightcap (Ravishing Recker had four) and put the Mets up, 4-2, a score expertly protected by workhorse closer Jenrry Mejia.

It felt good to win the second one even if it felt worse to lose the first one. It felt no more than OK to have gone 1-1 altogether. That, in case you’ve forgotten during these seasons mired in the .400s, is precisely how .500 works.

16 comments to .500 In Miniature

  • Kevin From Flushing

    As Citi Field annoyingly reminded us, twice, the Mets and Diamondbacks played 2 other doubleheaders in history, in 2002 & 2003. Considering how lovely those 2 experiences were, picking up 1 win is a major triumph.

    You could clearly hear Wright and Flores calling for popups from the upper deck in Game 2.

  • Michael G.

    The Mets hit into five double plays in game 1 (all on the ground), tying a club record. But it could have been worse. The Yankees are one of four teams to hit into seven DPs, the single-game record for one team (including extra innings); they did it on 8/14/42, vs. Philadelphia, in nine innings. The record for both teams in a game is 10 (including extra innings), accomplished four times, one of which the Mets participated in, against the Giants on 8/21/04; the Mets hit into fours DPs, the Giants six, in 12 innings. (This is all according to Yahoo Answers.) And Joe Torre hit into four DPs in a game by himself once as a Met.

    • Kevin From Flushing

      After that game, Torre famously said to Felix Millan, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

  • BornAMet

    The sad takeaway is that the Mets still lost the series to one of the worst teams in baseball. Guess what that makes us…

  • Harvey

    The Mets reached base 16 times in that first game and scored only once. The last time they did that was in the 1970s.

  • dmg

    let’s not forget that murph — who has actually become a decent infielder, by the way, making his drop even that much more of a groaner — could have made amends in the bottom of the ninth. with 2 on 2 outs, the team’s leading hitter could hit a single and tie it up. he didn’t, of course.

  • Dave

    And hands up if you genuinely believe that replacing Hudgens is going to change this. Pig, hold still, we need to fix your lipstick.

    • Steve D

      Same old Stem…the only thing that will work is the thing that worked in 1980…SELL THE TEAM. No need getting worked up about this franchise…this ownership is driving it into irrelevance.

      • Dave

        “…is driving it into…” Interesting choice of verb tenses. Wouldn’t “…has driven it into…” have been more appropriate?

  • Lenny65

    None of those cheap-o moves they made during the off-season have helped at all. Colon was unnecessary, as we already had Dice K and a boatload of young starters to promote. Granderson is worthless when he’s not playing 81 games in that farcical Bronx bandbox. Valverde, Farnsworth, Lannan, these Young characters, for the most part all completely useless.

    This lineup is one of the most pitiful lineups I can ever recall the Mets trotting out and I go back a long way with this team. It’s every bit as sorry and woeful as anything they fielded during the pre-Davey “dark ages”. Letting good starting pitching go to waste is the most heinous of baseball sins IMO and it actually pains me to watch them feebly blowing another easily-winnable game because they don’t have anyone capable of hitting his weight.

    I think I’ve been extraordinarily patient with this current regime but this month has just been brutal even by Mets standards. Maybe dumping the hitting coach is a good idea, I don’t know. But I do know that that lineup is not a major league lineup, it’s a sad joke. We all knew going into 2014 that offensive firepower would not be our strength but this is ridiculous. Daniel Murphy is our ofensive hero thus far, Juan Lagares has been a pleasant surprise and DW will hopefully get it going again but the rest of the lineup is a soul-sucking black hole of awfulness and it’s really getting tiresome. I don’t know what can be done but then again I don’t get paid a lot of money to figure that sort of stuff out, you know?

    • Steve D

      Could have had Nelson Cruz (16 HR 44 RBI .295 BA) instead of Chris Young (3 HR 11 RBI .204 BA) for about the same money. This team is hitting .222 at home. I would say fire Sandy, but the moron owners would probably find someone worse.