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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 Disturbingly Unknown Quantity

Saturday’s was one of those games in which you tend to focus on one key element that went awry until you realize the other key element never went anywhere and thus rendered the first key element’s awryness moot. Noah Syndergaard, Terry Collins said, threw two bad pitches. Your impulse will be to obsess on those two bad pitches, each of which were turned into home runs with a man or more on base. And you will, because they resulted in five runs allowed, and there’s no way you can ignore your talented starter surrendering five runs on two swings. You will search for a rationale. You will rue pitch selection and BABIP bloops and FIP fates. You will seek to dissect Syndergaard’s pair of shortcomings all the way from here to Denmark.

But you can’t ignore the other key element. The Mets didn’t hit a lick against Michael Pineda and the approximately 48 Yankees relievers who trudged in behind him at Joe Girardi’s hyperactive direction. Together, the 49 of them shut out the Mets, 5-0.

If Collins’s one big moment of managing — pinch-hitting Juan Uribe for Lucas Duda with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth when the Mets were already down by five — had paid off, yet the Mets still lost by, say, 5-3 or 5-4, the impulse probably would be to fret over the hitting. We’d feel reassured that Syndergaard pitched very well (6 IP, 8 SO, 0 BB) when he wasn’t making the two bad pitches (a fastball to Carlos Beltran, a sinker to Brian McCann).

But why couldn’t they get one more big hit?

Why couldn’t they bring one more runner home in a key situation?

Where is Yoenis Cespedes (0-for-17) and why have you replaced him with Folgers Crystals?

What is Kevin Long doing to stop this offensive shame spiral? Can we get Lamar Johnson back?

How about Dave Hudgens?

Yeah, hi Pete, you’ve got a great show, first time, long time, listen, I wanna know why Terry isn’t batting Cespedes ninth, they need to get Wally up here to read him the riot act and maybe overturn a few buffet tables, the guy’s a total bum.

None of that happened. Uribe struck out and Saturday’s bottom-of-the-inning paucity continued unabated. Nevertheless, the nagging feeling never left the pitching side.

It was pitching that carried the Mets through the Cespedesless portion of summer, back when everybody was going 0-for-17 and nobody batted an eyelash (though if Collins had batted an eyelash cleanup, it would have been an improvement over John Mayberry). It was pitching that provided the floor — keeping the Mets from ever falling more than 4½ back while waiting for the lumber-carrying cavalry to arrive — for an otherwise anemic attack. The pitchers executed Dan Warthen’s master plan of throwing “strikes when you have to” and “balls when you want to”. The starters as a unit made you feel like Dwight Gooden did in 1985. Gooden admitted to Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated that when he was having his season of a lifetime, he quietly rooted for his teammates to get him a run or two and then make their outs already yet so he could go back to the mound. Three decades later, I understood the impulse. I only wanted to watch our pitchers. For that matter, the only Met hitters I wanted to watch were our pitchers.

Now? Nowadays, give or take an unheralded Marlin rookie or bulging Yankee battalion (Pineda, fine…but six relievers for fourteen outs with a five-run lead?), you figure the Mets are going to hit. There will be slumps, but slumps end. Even if slumps are slow to cease and desist, all it takes sometimes is one good inning of hitting to make everything better for your batters.

It’s never that simple for your pitchers, especially our pitchers. One bad inning of pitching makes everybody anxious. Two bad innings can quickly equal a loss. A loss fuels anxiety. The element you counted on to prevent or at least curtail losing is no longer a certainty. It’s not a matter of Syndergaard not matching Pineda on a given Saturday. It’s Syndergaard not matching Syndergaard from June or deGrom not measuring up to deGrom from July or Harvey…

Oy, Harvey, and all that implies.

Pitching is more than the backbone of a baseball team. It is the back discomfort of baseball. “When it comes to backs,” I never get tired of quoting Paulie Walnuts quoting a doctor friend of his, “nobody knows anything, really.” Nobody knows what good inning limits really do. Nobody knows how resilient anybody’s arm really is. Nobody really knows why there were Hall of Fame pitchers who took the ball every fifth (or fourth) day for a generation and rarely missed a start and nobody really knows why all the TLC in the world can’t divert a fresh, young gun from the DL let alone TJS.

What I don’t know is if the set of solutions the Mets are attempting to apply to their pitching questions will answer anything. Let’s skip a day. Let’s skip a start. Let’s skip Harvey into the clubhouse after five. Let’s leave it to Logan Verrett to make everything better. Logan Verrett filled in twice for Harvey. Logan Verrett will fill in for deGrom on Tuesday. Logan Verrett is this organization’s little blue pill. I hope they’re taking him as directed.

Goodness knows this staff is talented. If goodness knows anything else, I hope goodness will let us know ASAP. DeGrom looks tired. Syndergaard throws two bad pitches out of 88 and somehow gives up five runs. Harvey has a recurring case of the agent. Steven Matz isn’t the least bit grizzled. Jon Niese is excessively frazzled. Bartolo Colon is Bartolo Colon, which is usually great, except for those nights when it decidedly isn’t. Sharpness has been in short supply in general. Still, you’ve gotta trust that enough of these exceptionally talented fellows will sharpen in time for those moments when there won’t be time to work it through; or to rest them up; or to skip merrily along and let Logan do it.

For 148 games, it’s been a long season. You’d be inflicting harm only on yourself if you didn’t relax a little when everything didn’t go right. Those 148 were played to get us to the 14 games that remain and then (knock wood) an unknown quantity beyond. The known quantity that got us most of the way here was starting pitching. I wish I could know that it will be as sound as it was in the heat of summer the rest of the way. It is the lengths our starting pitching can go to that will likely determine how long our impending autumn will run.

In theory, relaxation is still advisable. In practice, good luck with that.

23 comments to The Disturbingly Unknown Quantity

  • Michael G.

    From what I’m reading/hearing. Thor is relying too much on blinding speed and not enough on mixing in breaking stuff in a way that keeps the hitters off balance. Plus he admits to being a little amped by all the commotion. These highly talented pitchers are still young and learning their craft, requiring fans to be a little patient as the process plays out. Of course, patience is not the hallmark of fandom. Let’s Go Mets!

    • Patience is for the long term. This is about the fierce urgency of next month. If we were ten out, I would be down with development.

      • Eric

        For me, making it to the play-offs this season is good enough. The rest would be house money.

        If the young stud starters – including Harvey not repeating Strasburg’s 2012 no-show – get raked over in a play-off defeat due to rough edges, I’ll still be satisfied the team got there and look forward to them establishing an all-time rotation next season with all the green worn off.

        However, if their growing pains result in missing out on the play-offs this season, that would not be good enough.

  • otb

    It still hurts to see Carlos Beltran in that Evil Empire uniform. But the scar came off and the bleeding started again in the first inning. It didn’t help that the Fox announcer, whatever his name is, was obviously pulling for that team whose name must not be uttered. I muted the TV and put on Howie and Josh, but too late.

    Greg, you had me looking up acronyms, BABIP and FIP. I’m not really up on all the sabermetric stats, but I did think that Syndergaard pitched well. The two hits that preceded Beltran’s blast were soft. A one run homer would not have hurt nearly as much, and perhaps the bats could have coped a bit better. Anyway, FTY and LGM tonight.

    • mikeL

      yea that homer-home run call was awful.

      i was frustrated with d’arnaud’s pitch selection to beltran – and then realized it was plawecki behind the plate.
      was scouting report lacking?

      pitching concerns aside it seems like with cespedes’ bat gone cold the memories of all of those weeks of cold bats have gotten into the mets heads…

      was hoping for a sweep, i’ll settle for embarrassing (or hell, defeating) the yanks on prime time.

      nats could lose one and monday morning won’t feel like – most of sunday.

    • Howie and Josh were the antidote from the word go yesterday. Didn’t hear anything the unlistenable had to say yesterday, will go the WOR way (TV delay notwithstanding) again tonight — though I really wish Josh would tell the Chargers to take a few bye weeks.

      • mikeL

        yes would have been for me as well but save satellite, i live in a mets radiocast-free zone. the NY state capital region’s main AM sports station switched over to the MASSACHUSETS red sox 3 seasons and incredibly no other outlet jumped on the opportunity.
        the sox went on to last place that year, and we had harvey every 5th day, but still no home-state respect for the mets!

        all the more reason the mets need to win decisively tonite – for all the country to see.

  • Rob E

    One thing that has baffled me this month is the number of hits they’ve given up on 0-2 pitches, the number of 0-2 counts that turn into 3-2 counts, and the overall inability to finish guys off when they are up in the count. Beltran’s HR came on a 0-2 pitch. Odd for a staff of strikeout pitchers with wipeout pitches. You really got to see it in the Matz/Tanaka game, where Matz threw nearly twice as many pitches to get to the same point. deGrom and Familia have been the worst.

    I’m willing to write it off to the inexperience of both the pitchers AND the catchers, and I don’t think it’s anything to worry about long term, but man, it makes you want to pull your hair out at this point in the season.

  • Mikey

    Tom Kohler ruined Cespedes. Symbolically, but he still ruined him for almost a week. Another reason to hate the Marlins. and they’d better win today.

  • Daniel

    I was at the game and though sold out it surprised me how dead the crowd was even when the Mets threatened or Thor needed a big K. Crowd only livened when told to by the PA then they’d die out. Kinda lame. Thor’s pitch selection on 0-2 to Beltran was very poor. I chalk it up to brain freeze from jitters in front of the crowd in the first inning because after that he was great except forte mcann homer of course

    Cespedes is worrying, hopefully batting him 3rd or cleanup will help, though he is due for this mini slump. Starting pitching is a big worry, hopefully Harvey can reassure us if he pitched his 15 pitches well tonight

  • eric1973

    Rob E. — This 0-2 right down the middle bit has been going on all year, and is something you and me mentioned a couple of months ago. Really ridiculous. Wondering if they mean to throw it there, or just consistently miss location.

    • Rob E

      It’s not that they just groove one down the middle. I’ve seen a lot of guys get hits on pitches that were barely hittable. Guys seem to have these at bats where they foul off a bunch of pitches (even opposing pitchers). And a lot of the hits are little flares or bleeders. They just don’t finish guys off. Syndergaard made a couple of bad pitches, I don’t know what it is with deGrom and Familia. Familia has gotten the job done, but he’s turned a couple of “gimmes” into close calls. It’s probably a little fatigue setting in and causing shaky command, but we’re not getting the shut-down pitching performances that we were getting regularly pre-Cespedes (even when they were scoring a ton of runs the pitchers were giving up more runs). We need one of those right about now.

  • Ray

    Logan Verrett is this organization’s little blue pill. I hope they’re taking him as directed.

    Tell your agent if your starter lasts for more than 180 innings.

    • Dave

      Yeah, because lots of guys under the age of 30 experience some symptoms of pitching dysfunction. It happens a lot, even sometimes when the moment’s right.

  • Eric

    Ruben Tejada battling lead-off tonight. When Tejada is on his game, he grinds his at-bats, which is an important play-off skill. Still, Tejada batting lead off? I guess the Matrix is spitting that one out. It’s a different look for the line-up.

    Redemption watch:

    After game 149, Nationals (78-71) are 2 games behind the 2007 Phillies (80-69). After game 148, Mets (84-64) are 1 game ahead of the 2007 Mets (83-65). The 2007 Mets lost game 149 to the Nationals.

  • Eric

    The diagnoses regarding Syndergaard and deGrom’s recent troubles are mostly about mixing pitches and location. But it seems like, even accounting for pitch selection and missed location, their pitches are getting hit a lot more. Not just HRs. Not just line drives. But also foul balls and soft hits. Hitters are simply making more contact on what used to be a reliable assortment of wicked swing-and-miss pitches. That’s a movement issue as much as a location issue. deGrom’s unhittable darting fastball from the all-star game has turned into Parnell’s old grooved fastball. Same MPH, different movement.

  • Eric

    “”When he [Harvey] reaches the innings count, he’s out, whether he has thrown 40 pitches or 85 pitches,” Collins said.”

    How silly is that?

    I didn’t know that the breaks between innings were so taxing on pitchers that the number of innings mattered more than the number of pitches (or type or stressfulness of pitches, etc) thrown, never mind the effectiveness of the pitcher in getting outs or how he feels.

  • eric1973

    Glad to see the organization thinks First Place is in the bag already, that Harvey can be taken out after 5.

    Wonder if Boras gets a ring as co-GM.

  • eric1973

    Robles sucks…. and so do you if you think he doesn’t.

  • nestornajwa

    Look, I know the math, strictly speaking, is in our favor, but this team isn’t going to win the 6-or-so games necessary to prolong the season. Do they REALLY have to play out this horrifying string? Just send a quiet congratulatory note to the Natinals and slither off to wherever failures go in winter. Then fire Terry and give us a nice shame-signing of a significant free agent.

    Sorry, but you all know it’s true.