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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 Closer & The Continuer

“The Mets — ah, the Mets! Superlatives do not quite fit them, but now, just as in 1969, the name alone is enough to bring back that rare inner smile that so many of us wore as the summer ended. The memory of what these Mets were in mid-season and the knowledge of what they became suggest that they are in the peculiar position of being simultaneously overrated and patronized in our recollection.”
—Roger Angell, 1973

Almost nobody scores runs off Jacob deGrom. Almost nobody hits home runs but Lucas Duda, but Lucas Duda hits a home run almost every day. Put those facts of Met life together, and you have a decent shot at being up by at least 1-0 in a given game started by deGrom and co-starring Duda.

Sunday, the Mets were up by twice that much. Through six innings, luxuriously locked deGrom had the Brewers thoroughly washed, set and braided, leaving them trailing the Mets by two runs, both of which scored on Duda’s 18th round-tripper of the season, his fourth since the All-Star break and the Mets’ fifth in that span. Except for Curtis Granderson reminding us he’s alive and belting one out on Saturday, it’s been all Duda all the time in the Metropolitan power department dating clear back to July 12, when Chris Young delivered his dramatic pinch-homer against the Marlins. That was more than two weeks ago.

Chris Young hasn’t hit a homer in more than two weeks and it’s still the second-most recent Mets not named Lucas Duda have managed.

Jacob and Lucas did their jobs. No other Met with a bat was doing much of anything. Once the Brewers scratched out a couple of base hits to start their seventh, another Met faction would be counted on to perform capably.

With two on and one out, deGrom heads for the hair dryer and the rest of us are left to hope the Met pen doesn’t curl up and die. It’s instinctive behavior for us to think that way. How will whoever’s coming in on the heels of another beautiful start ugly it up?

Trick question. Vic Black entered and kept the game looking sharp in its natural tones; two popups rinsed the Brewer threat out of our hair the seventh. In the bottom of the eighth, after the Mets put two on for no apparent reason in the top of the inning, Jeurys Familia was called on to maintain the Mets’ 2-0 edge. Maintain, he did, in order, no less.

“Even with the best of the short men, the brevity of their patchwork, Band-Aid labors; their habitual confinement in faraway (and often invisible) compounds during the long early stretches and eventful midpassages of the game; their languorous, cap-over-eyes postures of ennui or lassitude — are they asleep out there? — for the first two or three hours of the event; their off-putting predilection for disorder and incipient disaster; the rude intrusiveness of their extroverted pitching mannerisms into the staid game-party; their reckless way of seizing glory, or else horridly throwing away a game nearly in hand, all in the space of a few pitches — all these confirm some permanent lesser status for them: scrubs, invisible weavers, paramedics, handymen. The slur persists, I think, in spite of clear evidence that relief men — the best of them, at least — are among the most highly rewarded and most sought-after stars of contemporary baseball.”
—Roger Angell, 1985

The bottom of the ninth brought Jenrry Mejia to the mound. That’s how it works these days: Black to Familia to Mejia, with maybe Edgin mixed in if a particularly nasty lefty is lurking. They don’t individually avoid every hazard — Vic can walk guys and Josh has been known to roll around on the ground at the worst junctures imaginable — but they’ve certainly grown consistent of late, haven’t they? Consistently dependable, I mean, in case your instincts are still set on Farnsworth or Valverde or, for that matter, Manny Acosta Time.

Do you remember the last ninth-inning lead a Met reliever irretrievably mishandled? If you don’t, it’s a sign that the times, they really have a’changed. Best as I can tell, it was on June 7 at San Francisco when Mejia allowed a 4-3 lead to dissipate into a 5-4 loss. That was more than seven weeks ago. It was so long ago that I had to comb through the Met pitching logs on Baseball Reference to find one of those “BL” notations that signify a pitcher was served a double-scoop of futility: a blown save and a loss.

So in comes Mejia, whose previous six outings each merited an “S” in the box score. On SNY, it was mentioned that the last Met closer to streak that efficiently was Billy Wagner in July of 2008 (no great shakes before that sudden spurt of spectacularity, Billy would pitch three more times and then be shut down for the season, setting up that year’s bullpen for exploits likely still inducing nightmares in particularly skittish Metsopotamian precincts). Mejia was seeking his seventh save in seven consecutive outings. The last Met closer to do that? I don’t know. I assume either Jesse Orosco or Jesus Christ.

Mejia’s not necessarily a bump-free ride. An opposing batter or two reached base in five of those six saves. But none reached home. That’s key. Also helpful is not teetering on the brink of debacle. You get to do that now and then if you’re a closer, since “closer” is a subset of “human”. But you do that too often, it’s not just bad for our nerves, it’s tough on the closer’s shoulder, elbow, what have you. Goodness knows Jenrry Mejia has lost enough time to injury. He shouldn’t hurt himself and he shouldn’t hurt us.

The Brewers can be a mountain of an assignment in a ninth inning, and they presented Jenrry with multiple hills to climb. Mt. Lucroy, for example, can elevate the ball. But he grounded to short for the first out. Mt. Davis — the strangely spelled Milwaukee version that got on in the seventh, not the Oakland iteration that blocks out the Alameda County scenery — also grounded to short, but inconveniently unauthoratively. Ruben Tejada, back in the lineup Sunday after the republic nearly dissolved in his absence, made a desperate grab and throw, but Khris Davis was safe by a step. Mt. Reynolds, who might as well be a mountain, struck out, but then Mt. Segura nuisanced Mejia with a single to center.

Well, isn’t this a predicament? Two out, but two on. Lyle Overbay is the last slope Mejia must scale. He’s oh-for-two lifetime against Jenrry, which doesn’t mean much, unless you’ve watched one too many Met closers over the years, in which case you believe Overbay is overdue. After Mejia falls behind two-and-oh-no, you don’t just believe it, you’re bracing for it.

Then, one more pitch, the eighteenth of the half-inning. It becomes a grounder to second so harmless that Daniel Murphy doesn’t rush the throw to first. Call the batter Lyle Oh-for-Three. Call the pitcher 7-for-7. Call a Mets fan relieved by the relief pitching he’s been seeing over an extended period.

I love the sight of Jenrry Mejia stomping off the mound in triumph. I love the smell of reliable relief pitching in the late afternoon. It smells like…victory. We’re not used to that aroma. Met bullpens usually stink. But the one we have now is kinda sweet. I’m kinda sweet on it. On its arms. On its heart. On its insistence on not imploding.

“My gratitude always goes back to baseball itself, which turned out to be so familiar and so startling, so spacious and exacting, so easy-looking and so heartbreakingly difficult, that it filled up my notebooks and seasons in a rush. A pastime, indeed.”
Roger Angell, 2014

11 comments to The Closer & The Continuer

  • rich porricelli

    Glad I insisted on passing the time as I did yesterday..What a great win ..Number 50 I believe…Nothing like a bullpen to set up a nice Sunday night…

  • BlackCountryMet

    It’s strangely unnerving that I’m almost becalmed when Familia and Mejia come in to pitch. They’re not quite Braves level yet but almost there. I honestly believe that one,possibly two bats are all we’re away from having a good contending team. This is a big test for Sandy(and ownership)

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Farnsworth and Valverde legitimately feel like they happened in 2013.

    And if someone in the pen inevitably needs TJS, we’ll have Parnell back next year.

  • The Jestaplero!

    What the hell was Terry doing sending The JDG out for the 7th? He was already over 100 pitches, and we have a very capable 7th-inning man in Black who, given his tendency for wildness, is ideally brought in to start an inning clean.

    DeGrom is on an strict innings count. THere was no way he was getting a complete game. That was just dumb.

  • open the gates

    Jesus closed for the Mets? That must have been in ’69.

  • Michael G.

    Hall-of-Famer Angell so correct (of course) about the unappreciated, undervalued yet incalculable importance of good relief men. Easily as valuable as good starters. Without Rivera, how many titles would the Yankees have had in the Torre era? (Would Torre even be part of the HOF ceremonies yesterday?) With just competent relief we would not have had the anguish of ’07 an ’08. The current Mets pen inspires hope for this season and certainly for next year.

  • Rochester John

    Thank you for the Angell passages. My favorite piece of baseball writing is Angell’s description, in “Five Seasons”, I believe, of Seaver, Mays, Staub, et. al., ranging through the Shea outfield during the ’73 playoffs, trying to calm the crowd after Pete Rose’s dastardly dive into Bud Harrelson at second base. If you can find it, it’s a gem.

    • “…and so it came to pass that forth from the home dugout emerged a holy company — Yogi, Cleon, Rusty, Tom, and, yea, Willie himself — and right swiftly did they hie themselves toward the troubled multitudes…”