- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Big Wheel Keeps On Turnin’

I saw mention of the sports fan pejorative “bandwagon” last night in the wake of the New York Rangers skating their way into the Stanley Cup Finals [1]. Those who are not inclined to root for the Rangers scoffed at the onslaught of their opposite numbers who weren’t necessarily so bold and brassy when shots on goal weren’t being stopped so regularly regally [2]. Simultaneously, those who long ago made the suddenly successful Broadway Blueshirts their lifelong cause are instinctively repelled by apathetics and onlookers they sense are pledging only the most fleeting of fealty now that Ranger rally towels are de facto fashion accessories..

To both camps I would suggest pull for whomever you want; enjoy or disdain the result as much as comes naturally to you; and react as you will to the unusual phenomenon of hockey in June in the borough of Manhattan…but don’t get overly worked up over the emergence of so-called bandwagon fans.

Are there such creatures? Of course there are. Winning at its highest level attracts attention, spikes enthusiasm and draws in the less than normally loyalty-oathed. Getting caught up in something exciting of a local nature is fine, fun and — to put it in seasonal terms appropriate to ice hockey — sure as hell beats an early trip to the golf course.

I hopped on board the Mets bandwagon in the late summer of 1969 and have remained stubbornly moored to it for four-and-a-half decades, a period encompassing some long, lonely (and recent) stretches when the bandwagon’s been up on blocks in some shady Iron Triangle garage. When, at some unforeseen future juncture, the parts it’s been missing finally come in, I will, in whatever capacity I am empowered, invite any and all who desire admission to hop on up and soak in the sensation of cheering on a team bound for or at least approaching glory. There may be pride in private pain, but there is ecstasy to be had in broadly shared adulation.

It’s all rather pie-in-the-sky at the 25-28 (though 3 GB) moment, but should our dormant vehicle ever pass inspection, that ol’ Mets bandwagon will commence to roll in earnest probably because it is fueled by starting pitching like that delivered by Zack Wheeler [3] Thursday night, won’t veer off course as long as it receives relief pitching on the order of what its formerly maligned bullpen provided and shouldn’t stall as long as it converts slightly more than enough of its scoring opportunities into actual scoring.

The theoretical Mets bandwagon will whoosh! ever so delightfully down Legitimate Contention Lane should the offense truly kick it into high gear. Thursday in Philadelphia, its output merely sufficed, producing four runs in support of a starter who gave up only one and three relievers who gave up none. Two bases-loaded Met innings manufactured but two runs (one of them brought in by Wheeler himself via Zack’s Excellent Adventure of surprise single, advancement to second on an error, third on a fielder’s choice and home on a sacks-juiced walk), or as many as Chris Young [4] himself generated by that sporadically effective weapon known as one swing of Chris Young’s bat.

The offense is a work in progress. So is the pitching. So is everything about this franchise, but the pitching is further ahead of the offense and everything else about this franchise. Pitching is why the Mets have won three in a row, edged to within three games of first place and a fan can allow himself to puzzle out the components to a potentially reliable winning formula.

Wheeler pitching into the seventh with command, control and nine strikeouts is the main ingredient. Everybody plays the fool when they’ve decided a pitcher who is today celebrating his 24th birthday and still stands three weeks from completing a full major league season is a cause for concern when his nights are less stellar than last night. Zack hasn’t exactly lit up 2014, in part because he’s barely 24 and he hasn’t yet completed a full major league season. Wheeler vs. the Phillies yielded a Met victory [5], but the real struggle for a while is going to be Wheeler’s talent vs. the learning curve. The former figures to outlast the latter.

We haven’t seen too many lines as sparkling as Zack’s 6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 9 K & 1 lousy solo cheapo Citizens Bank Park HR surrendered to old buddy Marlon Byrd [6], but we have seen comparable pitching performances undermined by inadequate hitting and/or arsonistic reliving. Offensive sputter notwithstanding, four were enough Mets runs last night. I think back to the halcyon days of good pitch, no hit consortiums that called Flushing home and all the times Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, McAndrew and later Matlack would make a single mistake and leave the mound screwed. In that context, four runs is a bounty. Should the Mets score four runs a night in service to starting like Wheeler’s, we’ll stop noticing the propensity they have for not properly unloading bases.

That’s assuming we continue to get Scott Rice [7], Vic Black [8], Jenrry Mejia [9] and their bullpen brethren to maintain the pace they set Thursday, which was simply perfect. Three wins in a row, three outstanding games from the pen. What makes this current streak so encouraging is none of the pitchers are squeezing a few last miles from not so gently used arms. You get a couple of good outings from a Farnsworth or a Valverde and you’re just waiting for the bottom to fall out or, more likely, fly over a distant fence. You watch the likes of Black, Mejia and Jeurys Familia [10] develop, and suddenly your team having a lead in a late inning doesn’t seem like an automatic disadvantage.

Add all this uncharacteristic optimism up and you probably still don’t have the makings of a full-steam Mets bandwagon just yet, but you also don’t feel as if it will be folly to continue to keep up spiritual payments on your personal seat license.