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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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An Evening at the Improv

Met pinstripes are magical. Put any player in them and they perform wondrous feats. Players you’d all but forgotten about. Players you’d barely heard of before. Players on whose backs it would not occur to you to pursue a postseason berth. They’re all here, whoever they are, and they’re wearing Mets uniforms in the service of winning Mets games when every Mets game might as well be a Mets season in miniature. Eight one-game seasons remain.

These New York Mets of Matt Harvey and David Wright…no, that’s not it.

These New York Mets of Jacob deGrom and Neil Walker…no, not them, either.

These New York Mets of Jon Niese and Justin Ruggiano…uh-uh.

Can we at least say “these New York Mets of Noah Syndergaard, a.k.a. the formidable Thor, the lone stud who has remained stalwartly studly from April to September, with his mighty thunderbolt of a right arm…?”

Don’t be silly. Of course we can’t. Syndergaard’s got the strep. He’s been scratched for tonight. Rest up, Norse horse. We will need to ride you at some point. I’m not so enchanted by magical Met threads that I believe we can put them on anybody who wasn’t leading the league in RBIs for Cincinnati and succeed as if nobody valuable has dropped like a fly (or a fly ball off the glove of Luis Cas…nah, too soon).

The folk trio you’ve seen during all those PBS pledge drives, Sean, Gil and Martin, will pitch in Thor’s place tonight. Correction: It’s Sean Gilmartin. You may remember him from such 2015 highlight film outtakes as Rule 5 Rules! and If You Send Me Down, You’ll Never See Me Again. In a normal year, whatever a normal year is in Flushing, Sean would be that last pitcher you can’t quite remember is filling out the obscure end of the bullpen. In this abnormal month, Sean is a veritable celebrity, considering the Q (or “Who?”) ratings of his reliever colleagues.

Gilmartin’s making a start tonight, but ultimately he will probably not throw alone. Gabriel Ynoa made a start last night. If Gilmartin was projected as No. 18 on the Mets starting pitcher depth chart when they broke camp, Ynoa was 18A. Nowadays, the starting pitcher depth chart is good for cleaning Dan Warthen’s glasses. Ynoa didn’t so much start against the Phillies on Friday as throw two so-so innings of relief in the first and second. He gave up two runs and five hits, but the important thing is he gave the Mets length — reliever length — and got them to the third.

From there, the pitching got a little sitcommy, one ancillary character after another entering the main set only to exit moments later. Edit in smash cuts, lay down a music bed and sweeten with canned laughter, and it would make for a solid evening of prime time entertainment to have on in the background while you’re doing something else.

Except this is late-September pennant race baseball and you’re trotting out Ynoa, Logan Verrett, Josh Smoker, Erik Goeddel and Josh Edgin instead of one fully formed Steven Matz (Friday night’s projected starter, if you can remember as far back as Thursday afternoon). Some of these chronic fill-ins were more effective than others. None was in danger of being spun off into his own series. It was more Full House than TGIF.

But because Met pinstripes are so flattering and turn almost every bit player into a star, it didn’t matter all that much. When the Phillies pitched, the Mets hit. Travis d’Arnaud, who is occasionally confused for his brother Travis, who used to be a rising-star catcher for the Mets, came out of offensive retirement to lash a run-scoring double in the second. Terry Collins was so stunned that he immediately pinch-hit for Ynoa even though there were at least seven innings to go.

To be fair, removing an ineffective emergency starter early when there was a chance to put runs on the board would have been stunning behavior for this manager a week or two ago. That was mid-September. This is almost late September. Anything goes. Anything but Jay Bruce’s name on the lineup card, that is.

The Mets and their secret ally Jeremy Hellickson shifted into whichever gear makes you go moderately faster in the fifth. The game was slogging along and would take 3:40 to play, but clocks, like roster limits, are immaterial this time of year. There were singles and walks and runs and a Met lead and, after Hellickson could help us no longer and he was replaced by some other dude on the Phillies, a three-run homer from…

Michael Conforto? We still have him? Yeah, I guess we do. Conforto lives and hits and is only whatever young age he is and he’s probably still toting his talent around and if it’s bursting out of him like it did at this juncture last year, well, watch out world…and get the eff out of the way, Jay.

The Mets were up by four until they were up by two until they were up by five, which is where it ended. The bullpen parade was halted when Hansel Robles took control of the final two-and-two-thirds innings like the calm, wily veteran he is. Juan Lagares, last seen supplanting Collin Cowgill and elbowing Rick Ankiel, laid down a pretty bunt and ran down a sinking line drive. Lucas Duda got a hit. Ty Kelly and Matt Reynolds were in there somewhere. Asdrubal Cabrera, our indefatigable Weeble of a shortstop, wobbled but didn’t fall down (keep Thor and his strep the fudge away from him). Even Eric Campbell drove in a run. Also, Eric Campbell requests we stop prefacing our compliments of his accomplishments with “even”.

From a mosh pit of Mets arose a messy 10-5 victory one night after a 9-8 triumph for the ages. For nine games prior to Thursday, the Mets wrung 24 runs outs of their barely damp washcloth. Now they’re raining runs until they’re not. It seems to go in cycles. Meanwhile, the state of the, if you’ll excuse the quaint expression, rotation — the one so abundant in talent that we were planning on telling Bartolo Colon to grab some pine, big fella, healthy and robust Zack Wheeler is here to take your place — seems to have been foreseen in General George Washington’s final dispatch from 1776: “I begin to notice that many of us are lads under fifteen and old men, none of whom can truly be called starting pitchers.”

I’d say Thor will presumably recover from his strep throat, but I don’t want to seem presumptuous. On Thursday, when Matz was ruled unavailable, I was going to write something to the effect of “remember when learning you’d lost a starting pitcher seemed like a big deal?” But I thought better of tempting the baseball gods into doing something to Syndergaard. I apologize for even thinking it.

Nevertheless, we got by on Friday and we’ll attempt to get by on Saturday and for the seven mini-seasons beyond that remain. Because the roster is nearly if not quite a surfeit, we have the multitude of limbs and other body parts to make up for personnel shortfalls. Every game really is a season unto itself. Emerge a champion from each of these microcampaigns, gain a chance to legitimately contend for the one enormous title off in the distance. Based on what we’re seeing, this is how it’s gonna have to play out — subject to change, since we’re always seeing something we haven’t seen before.

It’s all very ad hoc, very improvised. Hell, it’s practically improvisation.

“How about you, sir? Give me a pitcher, a hitter and a situation.”
“Um, Gabriel Ynoa, Michael Conforto, and the Mets are trying to win the Wild Card.”
“OK, that’s a good one. Let’s see… ‘I’m Gabriel Ynoa, and I’m making my second start in the bigs…and I’m Michael Conforto and I’ve basically disappeared from view since April…we’re gonna help the Mets gain ground on September 23!’ And…scene.”
“Oh, very good. Ha, yeah. It’s like you were really in a pennant race or something. Hmmm…”

Is this any way to get to October? The Mets are a game up on San Francisco, a game-and-a-half ahead of St. Louis, so the answer is a definitive maybe.

17 comments to An Evening at the Improv

  • Dave

    “Eight one-game seasons remain.” Bingo, Greg. When people ask me why crowds are so much more intense at NFL games than they are at baseball games, I’ve always said that because a 16-game season is essentially making each game as important as 10 in baseball. But now we’re at a point where every span of 3 hours (not that the past few games have wrapped up so quickly) is a full campaign in itself…well, you already did the math.

    My wife and I are treating ourselves to a series of 30th anniversary gifts (having been married exactly a month before the last time we all collectively reached the Holy Grail), starting with tomorrow’s game. I’m expecting to see a sign as we get off the subway pointing interested parties to where pitching auditions are taking place. I have a pretty nasty left-handed slider, or at least I do when throwing cat toys to be fetched, so maybe I’ll contribute an inning tomorrow, or at least be a LOOGY option. I think my cat Pepper has quicker reflexes than Phillie 1Bman Mo Vaughn Jr, I could make his knees buckle. At least if I’m throwing this little toy mouse we have about 15-20 feet I could.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Just so freaking proud of Collins and the boys. They take hit after hit and don’t flinch. He knows his players and never shies away from making a controversial move. If Campbell hadn’t come through after being brought in for Conforto who had crushed the ball all night and Philly had gotten back in the game, he would have taken all manner of shit just like he had to the other day. He does not care. He makes the call and it’s the players job to execute. Props to him and props to Soup. This has become truly a total team effort and it’s so much fun to watch.

  • Curt

    In some strange way, over the last 30 games the Mets have caused me not to care. This has nothing to do with whether we win games or make the WC game – I care desperately about that. But we could lose the last 8 games and I will consider the season a success.

    The adversary perseverance factor for this team is astronomical and that won’t change whatever happens the rest of the way.

    And let’s face it, a rotation featuring Thor, Colon, and a bunch of minor leaguers isn’t going beyond the division series anyway. Not unless we can get Noah to breathe heavily on Arrieta, Lester and Hendricks.

    • Lenny65

      The Flubs haven’t won anything yet, remember last year when their vaunted power was going to give our weary staff fits? Never say die! But I do agree, any season featuring meaningful baseball once autumn officially begins is a success IMO!

  • LeClerc

    I know the box score says Jeremy Hellickson pitched 4-1/3 innings – but it seemed so much longer…,

    After his many, many 3 and 1 counts, I started having Antonio Bastardo flashbacks – and began to wonder anxiously “why can’t the Mets melt this #$#%^#% glacier!!?”

    Finally they did, and the tortuous visions of Antonio evaporated.

    Congratulations to Conforto, Lagares and Robles – for turning a Marathon into a mere 10,000 meter run.

  • Eric

    Before the Mets were swept by the last-place Braves – who have now won 7 in a row and are pushing the Marlins to the edge of the WC race (strength of schedule!) – the Mets were 1 up on the Giants and 2 up on the Cardinals. Entering play today, the Mets are 1 up on the Giants, 1.5 up on the Cardinals. The sweep felt like the WC game was escaping. Two days later, they’ve cleaned up almost all of it (they were 2 up and are now 1 up in the loss column on the Cardinals).

    The last ace standing missing his 2nd to last start of the season doesn’t seem like a big deal. At this point, pitching an ace seems contrary to how these Mets win. Picking Gilmartin’s name out of a hat with no preparatory stretching out of his arm and placing the rest of the worn-out patchwork staff on call again is the new normal.

    Replace-Mets. Zombie Mets. They. Just. Won’t. Die. … Or they might die tonight and tumble suddenly out of the WC race. Or they might win out.

    When will we ever again see another Mets team, or any other team, play this way with this kind of roster, and play this different kind of baseball for game after game in the final stretch of a closely contested play-off race? There’s no precedent that I can think of to compare this to and pattern an expectation on. It’s fascinating.

  • steve

    Laugh out loud good blog today!

  • Jos. W. C.

    Jay Bruce, batting ninth, left handed pitcher.

  • Dave Schulps

    Are Sean, Gil and Martin friends with Olivia, Newt and John?

  • mookie4ever

    My favorite moment in that game was Mikey’s homer to left, showing off his Vegas abroad education and reminding all of us what we fell in love with. Also Lucas’ double and an actual smile from the big guy. Wait, I can’t forget to mention Juannie’s beautiful running catch. I never fully realize how much that golden glove is missed until he shows up with it again.

    In other words, the whole damn night was filled with favorite moments. Great team win. Keep it up, Metsies! The promised land is nigh.

    Off-topic: does anybody else despise the way Keith says “your Metsies” ? Seems so smarmy and condescending, as if he were still a Cardinal. It’s the only thing that bothers me about him, I find all his other quirks hilarious.

  • 9th string catcher

    For me it’s keiths “right down the pipe” comment he says about 6 times a night; not every pitch finds a corner, Keith.

    But you metsies fans just reminds me that he is not a homer, which I take as a good thing.

    Eric – great comment. This team is like the bad news bears and the English in Henry the fifth rolled into one!

  • eric1973

    I think all 3 have now become total homers, not as bad as others in other cities, but much more than Met announcers have ever been.

    Now Keith says “we” and no longer apologizes or corrects himself.

    • Rochester John

      And if they’re going to be homers anyway, it’s time for them to stop sighing, rolling their eyes, and bemoaning September baseball, with its call-ups and 39 man rosters. The Mets would be hopelessly out of the WC race without the full complement that they have now.

      • Eric

        Indeed. Reports are Flores’s wrist hasn’t improved, he still can’t swing a bat, and looking more likely he’s out for the season. Another key player to throw on the pile.

  • 9th string catcher

    Go 51s!!!

    • mikeL


      but who let ty kelly swing away on first pitch?? up against a guy known for allowing walks.
      his job was to get on base. period.
      very disappointing waste, given that jay bruce was actually effective. with kelly on and (if) bruce connects, mets are down 1 with three outs. instead down two with two outs.
      TC must have been working on pitching matchups for the 10th!

      oh well, it would have been something else.
      instead, some rest for the battered first line and a chance for the reserves to get AB’s.

      wilmer continues to be missed (messed) though…ugh! and tonite teufel holds duda when his chances to score looked decent.

      every game – THE season!