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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 Pursuit of Perfection

You know things are strange when Greg Prince violates a baseball taboo.

The email arrived about midway through Bartolo Colon‘s attempt at retiring 27 straight Seattle Mariners, with the subject line HERESY. “I’m not feeling more than minimally emotionally invested in Bartolo Colon’s particular effort today,” Greg wrote to me.

He didn’t spell out what that effort was, and he acknowledged still being superstitious, but this is asterisk stuff. Because there was the email, its subject matter very plain. And what did I do? I didn’t scream about jinxes and respect and losing one’s mind. Instead, I laughed. Because I was feeling the same way. I’d noticed that Colon hadn’t allowed a hit, walk, error or other imperfection, but I wasn’t glued to my iPad as he chased history. I was working, with somewhere between half an eye and one and a half eyes on the game.

Why the relative lack of psychic urgency on both our parts? I can think of a ton of reasons.

First of all, it’s Mets-Mariners, which is not the kind of thing that gets the blood pumping. It’s the stuff of shrugs and eye rolls.

Second, 3:30 pm for a midweek baseball game is just bizarre. My internal baseball clock is pretty well-calibrated, but it has no setting for 3:30 pm.

Third, it was so far away. We’ve joked in these parts about San Diego being West Kamchatka, but if so then Seattle is Ulan Bator. (Some disclosures of sorts: Seattle is lovely and you should visit, and the West Kamchatka joke’s on me since I’m heading to San Diego tomorrow morning.)

Fourth, no insult whatsoever to Colon, but he’s Matt Harvey‘s understudy, brought in on an emergency basis with the understanding that we shouldn’t count on him seeing a second April 1 … or even a first September 1. “A perfect game would enhance Bartolo’s trade value,” I thought at one point, which should be horrifying but still strikes me as fairly sensible.

Anyway, when Colon got into the seventh my blood finally stirred to sluggish flow, because despite all of the above, wouldn’t that be a thing? A Mets perfect game? Or even a Mets no-hitter that would survive the age of instant replay? The combination of At Bat and my iPad left me about a minute behind game action, so I was hiding from Mets Twitter and getting impatient with At Bat’s freezes and dropouts, yet I was too superstitious to switch to a real TV.

Then Robinson Cano lined a clean single to left and I thought, “Oh well.” Which is good — Johan Santana cured Mets fandom of waiting to lament a terrible curse, leaving us free to cheer for perfection because it’s kind of neat. Which is less epic but so much healthier. When Cano’s ball touched down, we all moved on — and being Mets fans, we were soon caught in the familiar trajectory that moves inexorably from WOW MAYBE PERFECT to OH NO A HIT to UGH WE COULD LOSE THIS ONE. (Happily, we didn’t.)

With Colon thwarted, the most compelling part of the game was watching the Mariners’ talented young hurler Taijuan Walker go about his business. Walker is big and dripping with talent — he’s got a nice arsenal of pitches and natural movement. But he’s also raw — next time you grumble about Zack Wheeler, compare him with what you saw from Walker today. Walker has so much movement that he’d probably be better served trying to back off his adrenaline, throwing the ball down the middle of the plate and letting physics take care of the rest. But he can’t do that … maybe not ever, but certainly not yet. He was wild in the first, escaping with just one run surrendered, untouchable in the second and third, then wild again in the fourth. There are no guarantees in baseball, but sometimes you are pretty sure a young pitcher is going to come unglued again and stay that way. That’s what happened to Walker, in scary fashion: In the fifth, he cracked Ruben Tejada‘s helmet with a fastball to the right of the NY decal, one that left Tejada dazed but one hopes unhurt. (A diagnosis the Mets should make very conservatively.) Walker clearly shied from throwing his fastball in anger after that and was gone after a sixth-inning meltdown.

Walker’s got a lot of talent. He doesn’t know what to do with it yet, which isn’t any kind of sin. Contrast him with Colon, who works with a much smaller arsenal but has learned how to make amazingly effective use of it, outfoxing hitters by joining pinpoint location with slight changes in fastball velocity. The difference? A big part of it is that Bartolo Colon is 41 and Taijuan Walker’s 21. Seriously — Colon signed a pro contract with the Indians when Taijuan Walker was a year old.

Pitching’s tough. It’s great to be given a lightning bolt for an arm, but it can be the work of a baseball lifetime learning how to use that weapon to perfection. Or near enough to perfection, anyway.

12 comments to The Pursuit of Perfection

  • Dave

    I happen to be out in Seattle this week and there are a ton of Mets fans here. The idea of Mets-Mariners is kind of an abstraction, true. You tend to think it’s a misprint on the schedule when you see it, but that’s also why so many fans seem to be out here. It’s a once a decade thing, and that makes it more special, not less.

    Having said that, I couldn’t agree more about Colon. My only thought was that a perfect game might enhance his trade value. He’s not gone yet, but he certainly doesn’t feel like a Met either.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    What I was thinking (and I was watching) was I doubt if any pitcher has been traded a week after pitching a perfect game. First we trade the Batting Champ, then we trade The Cy Young Winner, now The Perfect Gamer. It just seemed right, I thought it was going to happen.

    • The Jestaplero!

      And we traded Marlon Byrd, who, if he wasn’t the Comeback Player of the Year, should have been.

  • mikeski

    It’s great to be given a lightning bolt for an arm, but it can be the work of a baseball lifetime learning how to use that weapon to perfection.

    You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt! You need a curveball!

  • If anything came out of that game, I think it is the concept that the Mets cannot go any longer without a backup infielder. And Sandy Alderson is channeling his Omar Minaya, pretending that no one will ever be hurt, or maybe have lingering effects of getting hit in the head (or hand). I remember losing not once but twice in Washington in extra innings because the Mets had to put Jordany Valdespin at shortstop in extra innings and don’t you know the ball found him at the toughest place on the field (besides catcher) at the worst possible moment. All so the Mets can keep Chris Young AND Bobby Abreu, when one is redundant and two is decadent.

  • The Jestaplero!

    I was sure that the perfect game was a lock. Harbingers: Colon rules at Safeco Park; day game after night game; Jim Duquette subbing for one of the regular radio announcers (and, Josh Lewin being present to even out the karma).

    Also, just like with the No-han, I raced home to get to the teevee, and spend a good chunk of the later innings listening to the radio while circling around my nieghborhood looking for a parking space.

    I did everything right, I don’t know how it could have possibly gone wrong, and I do think he would have made it if he could have retired Cano in that at bat. But hey: how classy was it of Bart to applaud Cano’s hit?

    By the way, seems I was wrong about them trading Bart: according to the Daily News, no GM wants to touch Bart’s 2015 salary. Oh, well – I like him, I’m just not sure where he’ll fit next year, assuming everyone’s healthy/not traded.

    • SJGMoney

      His 2015 salary, with nothing after that, is part of his appeal, the Daily News doesn’t know jack.

      • The Jestaplero!

        Well that’s what *I* thought – he’s not a rental, one year is not onerous, price isn’t bad, doesn’t show any sign of breaking down. This was John Harper, who wasn’t opining, but quoting an “unnamed” GM. Mystery GM could have been engaged in counterintelligence, to bring down the asking price, of course…

  • Dak442

    San Diego? Comic Con? Argh, so envious!

  • I couldn’t disagree more. I was glued to the screen rooting hard. No-hitters are relatively commonplace (except in Met and Sadre land) but a perfect game? Now that’s something. And while Colon is transient, he’s easy to root for and instantly likeable. It was a tuff battle and the Cano at-bat was gripping. A perfect game would have been amazin’ and the only highlight from a forgettable era

  • Seth

    When you are a lifelong Mets fan who’s lived in Seattle for a long time, the Mets coming to play the Mariners most definitely gets the blood pumping!