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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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Searching for Marty Bystrom

In light of recent staff-depleting events, I’ve found myself thinking of two names embedded in my baseball consciousness as very specific avatars relevant to our current situation: Marty Bystrom and John Candelaria. Candelaria you might recognize as a veteran pitcher who was acquired by the Mets under stressful circumstances. It was the middle of September 1987, the Mets trying to keep pace with a Cardinal team they had let slip from their grasp in direct confrontation. Ron Darling, their only pitcher who had not missed time at some point during the season, was lost for the remainder of the schedule after tearing ligaments in his pitching thumb fielding a Vince Coleman bunt in what became forever after known as the Terry Pendleton game.

Enter Candelaria, accomplished lefty since 1975, a Brooklyn boy no less. A year earlier, he, like the Mets, was immersed in October’s cauldron, pitching twice and winning once against the Red Sox in the ’86 ALCS. Eleven months later, toward the tail end of a tough season for him and the no longer defending division champion Angels, California and its impending free agent hurler had had enough of each other. A veteran southpaw who had won 149 games was available for the asking, and the Mets put in a successful request. They sent to Anaheim two minor leaguer pitchers (Shane Young and Jeff Richardson) who’d never turn into Nolan Ryan and received the best short-term fix possible. Frank Cashen’s deputy Joe McIlvaine unironically called Candelaria “a seasoned veteran,” as if to underscore the kind of character actor you’d want to thrust into the role of September starter. The Candy Man wouldn’t be eligible for postseason use, but the point was to make the postseason. Rare has been the acquisition whose immediate charge was clearer: take the ball and get us where we need to be ASAP.

John Candelaria did not pitch the 1987 Mets into the playoffs. He didn’t pitch them out of it, either. The almost 34-year-old lefty with more than 2,000 innings behind him gave his new club more or less what could have been hoped for: three starts of varying quality. The first was abysmal, the second was adequate, the third bordered on stupendous. They were three starts that were going to be taken by god only knew who, so the Candelaria flyer was definitely worth the investment. In a year when the projected starting rotation of Gooden, Ojeda, Darling, Fernandez and Aguilera accounted for only two-thirds of the team’s starts, you were happy anybody you’d heard of took the ball.

Sure would be nice, I’ve been thinking lately, to somehow land a John Candelaria out of the blue. Deep track record, a still viable arm, no long-term commitment — can somebody just send us somebody like that? Does that still happen in September? Can it happen this September?

September’s barely started, so maybe. Or maybe we have our Marty Bystrom, thus negating the necessity to cast about for a Candelaria. Bystrom was not a Met, though he made his first impression against the Mets for the short-armed Phillies on September 10, 1980. In his second major league appearance, his debut as a starter, he shut out our boys at Shea, 5-0. “You can never have enough pitching,” teammate Garry Maddox observed, “and when you bring up a young guy from the minors like that at this point in the pennant race, it always helps.” The Phillies were fiercely battling the Expos for first. Any and all lightning that could be captured in a bottle was worth uncorking until it went flat. Bystrom, an undrafted free agent, never did: five starts, five wins, an ERA of 1.50 and, ultimately, a division title that led to a pennant and the first world championship in Phillies history. Marty was a part of it all.

Yeah, we could use a guy like that. If we already have one or two, all the better.

Robert Gsellman is crafting an archetype for himself: that unheralded Met (thirteenth-round pick five years before) who came up late in that season when the Mets were barely hanging on, losing one starting pitcher after another, and placed our team on his previously obscure shoulders. We’ll see how the rest of the story goes, but the beginning sure is promising. Gsellman is three appearances and two starts into his big league career. He hasn’t done a darn thing wrong yet.

On Saturday night, his was the fresh face to shine brightest in a potentially harsh spotlight, halting Tanner Roark and the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Two timely hits (Curtis Granderson’s two-run single and James Loney’s RBI double), one clutch catch (Michael Conforto’s diving grab in center emerging as the long-sought antidote to Daniel Murphy’s bottomless well of vengeance) and an impenetrable bullpen (Smoker to Reed to Familia) sustained his fine work, which yielded only one run on six hits over six innings. I got a particular kick out of what his catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, had to say about him after the game. The neophyte gave the team “young energy,” old man backstop said. Travis is 27. Robert is 23. Trying to win a Wild Card will age a fella.

If Gsellman isn’t overpowering, he is effective. And the effect is electric. Instead of woe-is-us’ing the days away, we move up in the standings. What was more unlikely — the Mets being one game out of playoff qualification or knowing who the Gs-hell Robert Gsellman is at all? Given the pallor left behind by the previous 48 hours, focused mostly on Jacob deGrom and his mysteriously barking forearm, how could you not embrace this shaggy incarnation of vintage Bystrom?

Funny, I was hoping Seth Lugo, Sunday night’s starter, would meet that description, hairstyle notwithstanding. Lugo was also a rookie not on the Met radar when the season began and has also been thrust into what we shall, for lack of a better phrase, refer to as the rotation. Seth, too, has acquitted himself with aplomb. With Jake missing at least one start, Steven Matz’s shoulder in soreness purgatory and Ray Ramirez continuing to lurk menacingly in the dugout shadows, we’ll need a couple of Bystroms. And maybe a Candelaria if one shows up on Craigslist.

24 comments to Searching for Marty Bystrom

  • Dave

    I keep coming back to deGrom not being a highly regarded prospect. Sometimes guys don’t peak until they get to the majors. So maybe Gs and Lugo really are more than we could have hoped for. And for their sake, I hope that next year they each get more dignified uniform numbers instead of these “thanks for being here, but you’re not making the team” numbers they have now.

  • eric1973

    If the baseball gods told us Harvey, Wheeler,  Matz, and deGrom were all A-Ok, I’d be tempted to say “Thanks,  but no thanks,” and stick with Gsellman, Lugo, and Montero, for now. 

    I like the cut of their jibs.

  • Greg Mitchell

    For good luck and in honor of Gsellmen we must now spell rotation Lgo, Mntero, Clon, Sdergaard. Plus Fmilia.

  • mikeL

    candeleria or bystrom…or more recently, perez and maine.

    as we lost pedro for the post-season, and then freakishly lost el duque as well, these two, thrown-into-trades starters helped that similarly depleted rotation get within 1 out of the world series.

    last night was yet more evidence in my mind that this team will cruise onward and upward, regardless of who’s *not* there to help push.

    it was inspiring to see gsellman so coolly get out of trouble.

    and yes comforto’s catch was beautiful and fitting. he was the natural hitter that made letting go of that other natural hitter bearable. and he’s got the better glove!

    great, great game last night and now lugo gets to a chance prove himself during prime time. i’m not the least bit worried.


    • Jacobs27

      How different that post-season might have gone without those injuries to the rotation… Even though Maine and Perez did step up.

      Last night really was great to see. Success in key spots from unlikely sources. Gsellman gutting through the 6th, Conforto’s catch… Granderson got a hit with 2 outs and RISP for crying out loud. Crazy! Awesome!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I don’t have any stats to back it up or not back it up, but it seems to me that Gsel, Lugo, and Montero have pitched in extremely good luck in their first 1 and 1/3 times thru the rotation. I can’t see that sustaining itself. Sooner or later the line drives and sharp grounders right at somebody are going to start falling in.

    Or maybe, in this year of possible miracles, they really are good at clutch pitching, like DeGrom used to be way back when, two weeks ago.

  • Seth

    Is it worth pointing out that these games mean nothing to the Washington Nationals?

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Gsellman looks like a grunge rocker from the 90s. The group would have been called Robert and the Gazelle Men.

  • Jacobs27

    It’s worth noting that, although he’s never been highly touted, I had heard of Gsellman before this year. He actually pitched really well for Brooklyn three years ago. I only remembered him for his funny name (he didn’t have the hair yet back then), but he was impressive on the mound (2.06 ERA in 12 starts). (

    This year, the Cyclones have a guy called Harol Gonzalez who’s no big prospect either, partly because he’s short and tops out around 88 mph. But he’s had a great season (1.66 ERA, 85 Ks in 81.1 IP, 0.98 WHIP). He’s got a nice assortment of pitches that move, including a cutter he’s just learned this year and had success with. Really fun to watch, kind of a mini-Pedro in his delivery and mannerisms. Worth keeping an eye on for the future.

  • mookie4ever

    Seth, don’t kid yourself, the games mean nothing in the standings and to Dusty, but the Nats players remember 2015 very well. I am sure they would love nothing more than to beat us into oblivion, and of course, Murphy has his own agenda. Would be priceless if we somehow claw our way close enough that the thought of a sweep in the last series could make them sweat it out. Not likely, but that thought is just delicious.

  • LeClerc

    hmmn. And I thought Granderson and Loney were in the hitless protection program.

  • eric1973

    Great one!

  • Matt in Richmond

    And THAT is why you don’t use your front line bullpen in games you are losing, barring rare circumstances (haven’t pitched in a week, multiple off days coming up). So they are fresh when you need them to nail down wins. Look, I wish Reed & JF could pitch in every close game, but bringing them in to games we are losing (unless they just need the work) is a desperation move, and we haven’t hit desperation times yet, not even close. More Kudos to TC and the gang for handling everything thrown at them with aplomb.

    Side note, a tip of the cap to Travis for so seamlessly guiding these young pitchers. He really has handled himself like a veteran of much more advanced years. And I LOVED watching him fly around the bases last night. Not too many catchers score from first on that hit, and he did with ease.

  • eric1973

    Not saying all the time, but never doing it means there’s no consideration or thought in ever doing it. Certainly could have snatched some extra wins by being creative in that manner.

  • Matt in Richmond

    No. I don’t believe your statement’s true. Every time I’ve seen it brought up on this blog we didn’t rally anyway, and then even if Reed & Familia were perfect and we did rally to win, you have to factor in them potentially not being available to hold down a future win. It’s a desperate ploy akin to going all in in poker. You only do it if the odds are heavily stacked in your favor (days off, plenty rested) or you have been backed so far into a corner you have virtually no choice.

    • Greg Mitchell

      And yet you have defended using Familia in blowouts even with 7 or 8 games in a row coming up with no breaks. Now you say don’t use him or Reed when down 2-1 because then they may be less available in days ahead.

  • eric1973

    What a defeatist attitude……from the most optimistic guy on here.

    • Matt in Richmond

      All depends on how you look at it. I would argue that it is my optimism that refutes the notion that guys other than Reed/Familia can never be trusted. I think you have to have faith that other guys can keep you in the game sometimes too. Also, it is my optimism that tells me we don’t need to make desperate moves at this point in the season. Yesterday was the best outing for Reed in a couple of weeks. I think it’s fair to say that the bit of rest he had the previous couple of days probably served him well.

  • Eric

    A good win paired – again – with injury news. deGrom is now going to miss multiple starts, which doesn’t seem like awful news team-wise given his 3 subpar starts in the row. A replacement-level sub doesn’t seem like a worse option right now.

    Still, an ace-level deGrom is the one I want starting the WC game.

  • eric1973

    Fair point, my friend.