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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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Possibility Has Its Night in the Sun

Dee Gordon was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the fifth inning Friday night. Then he stole second. One out later, he dashed to third on a ground ball in front of him. Dee Gordon did three very Dee Gordon things to the Mets as Dee Gordon will.

So Gordon was on third, two were out and Giancarlo Stanton was up against Fernando Salas, who had just replaced Josh Smoker. Stanton didn’t even have to do his trademark Stanton thing. The Marlins were up by four runs. A home run would bury the Mets — on the off chance that they weren’t already buried — but a hit of any kind would serve Miami’s cause handsomely. A double, let’s say. In the fourth, Stanton doubled off starter Rafael Montero to nudge open floodgates that were about to be blown off at their hinges. The Marlins were on their way to a six-run inning and a 7-1 lead. Montero was on his way to the component of the clubhouse most familiar to him, the showers. Showers would have been welcome to pour down over Citi Field at that point. All that rain all day, all these Marlin runs all night. Yet the skies were bone dry and the Mets’ luck appeared just as arid.

True, Curtis Granderson had taken a notch out of the Met deficit in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run homer, but too many miles of bad road awaited. Stanton was a flash flood warning unto himself. Whatever Salas gave up in the way of a hit was going to close the Mets’ narrowing road to victory.

Salas would give something up, right? He was the eighth-inning man when the season started, yet has crept down the depth chart with alarming alacrity in recent weeks. He was on in the fifth, basically the second mopup man in another bucket brigade. Stanton stood in. Chops were perceptibly licked.

What happened next? Not what you’d expect if you were expecting the Met worst. Salas threw one pitch and Stanton popped it to third, where Wilmer Flores reeled it in, no muss, no fuss, nowhere for Gordon to go except back to the Marlin dugout to grab his glove. Fernando Salas kept Dee Gordon from doing that vital fourth Dee Gordon thing. He didn’t let him score.

The Mets still trailed by four, but the burial plot didn’t grow deeper. It was a small victory that found a companion an inning later. Hansel Robles was pitching. He let Marcell Ozuna get as far as third base. Two Fish made it on with two out. Ichiro Suzuki, who has more hits on more continents than anybody who’s ever lived, was pinch-hitting. Another Marlins sticking it to the Mets scenario was unfolding…except Robles folded it into his back pocket. He popped Ichiro to second. Ozuna didn’t score.

Marlins had ceased. Would wonders?

Come the bottom of the seventh, wonders definitively carried the day. The Cespeless Mets were full of offense, soldering together six consecutive hits versus Brad Ziegler. Flores singled; Jose Reyes doubled; René Rivera singled in Flores; Asdrubal Cabrera pinch-singled in Reyes; Michael Conforto singled to load the bases; T.J. Rivera — who had gone deep in the first for the Mets’ early, lonely run — whacked a double to left to bring home plodding Rene and stiff-legged Asdrubal. T.J. landed at second, Michael at third. If you were scoring at home like the Mets were scoring at Citi, you knew a grim Cinco de Mayo had transformed into Fiesta de Las Carreras. The Mets put cuatro runs on the board to knot the noche at siete apiece.

Translation: Mets 7 Marlins 7. Kyle Barraclough replace Brad Ziegler. You could have asked Don Mattingly what took him so long, but with the pace of play already glacial (“Sweet Time” Montero crammed ninety pitches into three-and-two-thirds innings), that would have been rude. On the other hand, the next two Mets batters were a little too polite to Barraclough. Jay Bruce struck out swinging. Neil Walker did the same. Grandy, however, offered the reliever whose name should be continued on a second jersey nothing in the way of help. He took three unintentional balls before Mattingly flashed four fingers to load the bases.

Flores was up again. His hit keynoted the seventh. His walk would accent it. Wilmer took four pitches, every one of them allergic to the strike zone. The Mets, previously down by six runs, suddenly led by one. Cue Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, each well-rested after Thursday night’s washout and each theoretically primed to protect a hard-earned edge. The Marlins can disrupt the best of theories, but this one proved sound. Reed overcame a two-out single in the eighth and Familia threw seven pitches in the ninth to corral an ideal save.

The 13-15 Mets improbably prevailed 8-7 in this festival of runs, pushing themselves into sole possession of a motley second place in the National League East and raising their cumulative record since April 1, 2011, to 494-506. That Friday night some six years and a month ago was Terry Collins’s first game as Met manager. This Friday night was Terry’s one-thousandth. He didn’t pull into port a winner on his maiden voyage, which also happened to involve the Marlins, but his milestone outing wound up suitably shiny.

I wouldn’t necessarily call No. 1,000 a microcosm of the Collins administration, but it certainly had its familiar elements. A starter of last resort. An early implosion. A leaned-on bullpen. An opponent imposing for its peskiness. A lineup improvised from whatever parts were healthy. An aversion to being covered in dirt. A slight flinch indicating a pulse and a heartbeat. A comeback that wasn’t predestined yet never felt inconceivable. A win that could have been a loss but wasn’t.

Terry puts in Salas and Salas stems the tide. Terry replaces Salas with Robles and Robles stands firm. Terry rests Cabrera for the most part but brings him off the bench and Cabrera extends the rally. Flores starts at third for a change, scores the innocent fourth run and drives in the essential eighth run. T.J. moves up to the two-hole and knocks in three. Jose and Curtis are given chances to succeed and eventually stop failing. Addison and Jeurys grope until they get a grip on their roles again. Terry was not directly responsible for every good thing that happened in his thousandth Mets game (he’s two weeks from having managed the most in franchise history), but let’s not pretend he’s a fully innocent bystander to the success of recent innings not to mention seasons. Conversely, he’s lost more than he’s won over the years and not every move pans out — but let’s not pretend every setback is his dumb doing.

The part I like is the not giving up. Some games you don’t detect it. Some games the Mets are dead and stay dead. Post-Montero, I assumed this was one of them. I was shocked Gordon didn’t score in the fifth. I was shocked it was still only 7-3. Yet I didn’t see any payoff percolating. I figured we’d lose anyway. I figured wrong, which is the best wrong figuring a fan can do.

There’s a difference between staying dead and playing dead. Terry’s Mets rarely play dead and they don’t easily roll over. They almost always look as alive as they are capable of doing — and Collins kvetches enough to get their attention when they don’t. Long ago, on a June afternoon during his first campaign, I watched the Mets fall behind, 7-0, then confidently and determinedly march back into contention. Not for a title, but for a day. It wasn’t overly dramatic, but it was impressive. The Mets won that game, too, 9-8. It was likely the first game of the Terry Collins era on which I didn’t reflexively give up despite long odds. Winning didn’t feel probable, but it definitely felt possible.

Joe Namath guaranteed a victory. Mark Messier guaranteed a victory. The only guarantee to emanate from a Terry Collins-guided Mets team has been implicit, but it’s implied consistently. They promise the possibility of victory, of truly trying to deliver a win for as long as such a result is accessible to them. Friday night they lived up to their generally unspoken pledge. It’s all you can ask out of your team when its losing by six in the fourth and four in the fifth. That it was ahead by one after nine is testament to what diligently pursued possibility can yield.

Hell, I would have been happy just to have kept Dee Gordon from scoring.

20 comments to Possibility Has Its Night in the Sun

  • LeClerc

    Positives: TJ, Curtis, Wilmer, Rene. Post-Smoker bullpen.

    Negative: Montero (WHIP = 3.29).

    All in all: Beautiful.

  • Jacobs27

    I don’t know if game 1000 of Terry’s Tenure was a microcosm, but if it can be a blueprint for this season, it should be fun.

  • Dave

    I think even the fans whose lives revolve around their desire to see Terry unemployed have to be impressed by the fact that a guy who everyone assumed originally took the job as a babysitter until the team advanced beyond the “what’s the least expensive way to do this?” stage, will soon have managed more games than anyone else in franchise history. Lesser men might have said “screw it, I should just go fishing instead” long ago, many people in all lines of work are retired by his age, yet he keeps going in a job that has at least as many demands as rewards. Good for TC, good for the Mets.

    But I would by now take Plawecki over Montero for the next scheduled start.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Great piece. There are reasonable discussions to be had surrounding some aspects of TC’s leadership, but anyone who refuses to give him any credit for the recent success and simultaneously bashes him whenever the team struggles has no credibility.

    Baseball sure can be crazy though. The offense catches fire without Cespedes, the bullpen has been (mostly) solid, and the rotation is coming apart at the seams. The good news is that it is highly unlikely the starters can continue to struggle this much. I wonder if one contributing factor could be that all the nl east teams have been playing each other so much. Ron has mentioned how he would hate to have to face the same team multiple times in such a short span.

    • Dennis

      Great win last night. The veteran players are good enough to carry this team without Cespedes…..throw in what Conforto is doing and the offense should be fine while he’s out.

  • NostraDennis

    Odd side note: Hansel Robles pitched just one inning too early to pick up yet another win. So, he’s not leading MLB in victories. He’s just leading the National League in victories.

  • 9th string catcher

    Love Seeing Conforto and TJ in the lineup – I hope they stay there even when the rest of the team returns. I’ve been high on TJ since he was burning up AAA. TC is never gong to be remembered as a master strategist, but like you said, he gets the most out of his team and they never quit on him.

    Watching the past couple of weeks, I am wondering however if maybe some of the problems are with the pitching coach. God, these guys throw a lot of pitches, they live on the corners, get lots of foul balls, don’t have out pictures, don’t go more than five or six innings, and end up getting injured. We’ve had the same pitching coach for a very long time, and the staff seems to resemble this model.

    Warthen has always gotten his share of credit for the starters success; are there adjustments he or the org should be making here?

    • greensleeves

      Yes, indeed. TJ keeps offering that sweet stroke without sacrificing much with the glove… In fact, his scoops at first have already saved errant throws that are otherwise on target. All of these utility guys can and should keep veterans fresh. Keep him in the lineup.

      Q:Without regular playing time,will Lagares ever find his way at the plate? For so long, he’s been an automatic out.

      • Eric

        TJ Rivera has a weak throwing arm and lacks range. But he has a soft glove and moves and reacts well within his limited range. So 1B suits him.

  • eric1973

    Jose looks like he’s back at home at SS, and he got to some balls that would have gone through Cabrera/Reyes. TJ is hitting like last year, and is a breath of fresh air, once finally given a shot. Find a place for Wilmer every day, and we’ve really got something here.

  • Matt in Richmond

    No chance has Wilmer earned an everyday spot. He is 3 for 27 with zero extra base hits vs righties. And one of those hits was the hilarious 75 ft pop up that eluded Koehler last night. He is serviceable at best defensively and quicksand on the bases. I’m all for him starting vs lefties but otherwise he’s got to be utility/pinch hitter until he shows something different.

    As for Rivera, his sample size is still so small it’s hard to make strong judgements about him. My gut tells me he could be a fantastic utility guy but will get exposed if he stays in the starting lineup too long. For sure he doesn’t have the pop you typically want from a 1st baseman. Great attitude and approach to the game though.

    One additional bullpen note. Is it time to start giving some serious props to Robles? For all the talk of Salas being overused, Robles has been in the exact same number of games (15) while pitching 3 MORE innings (16.1-13.1) and carries a sparkling 1.61 ERA and 1.16 WHIP compared to Salas’ unfortunate 6.75 and 1.88. And before anyone tries to say that Salas got worked harder early in the season, nuh-uh. In fact Robles had a stretch in early April where he appeared in 5 out of 6 games. Salas never had that much condensed work. Funny how reality and perception so often don’t match up.

    • Eric

      TJ Rivera = Josh Satin? Maybe. Let’s find out.

      I think the grand slam that Robles gave up to Franco is still hanging over him, but I agree he’s been climbing back up the ladder. More so with Salas struggling, Robles’s righty power arm is important.

  • skoonix

    So glad I stayed with the game & watched the WHOLE thing! It was fun, unsettling, sad, maddening & then glorious. Love that the subs are coming through – Rene Rivera is a damn good back up catcher & with how fragile TDA is – Rene is really delivering. GO METS!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    If it fits on an LP cover I guess it can fit on a uniform back. I had this in the 70’s. No relation that I can find, I checked when I first heard of Kyle.

  • Eric

    Under Collins, even while losing, the LOLMets never gave off a vibe they had given up competing. Among his faults as a manager, a dysfunctional team culture is not one of them. There’s a lot to be said for that.

    The Mets of 2015 and 2016 were resilient and took off on unlikely runs to the play-offs after bottoming out. The disappointment of losing the WC game has obscured somewhat that the Mets’ late charge to the WC game last season was very unusual. Maybe the 2017 Mets’ Plan A has already failed, the team has already hit its nadir 2+ months ahead of schedule, and we’re already back on an unlikely rollercoaster ride to the play-offs. It’s a fun thought.

    TJ Rivera’s righty contact bat is the closest thing the Mets have to a 2014-2015 World Series-vintage Royals hitter. Not many walks, not much power, but plenty of contact.

    The challenge will be finding a position for Rivera when Cespedes and/or Duda returns. Bruce likely is 1st in line for 1B when Cespedes comes back. If Duda is back soon, at what point will Rivera’s righty contact bat earn the starting nod over Duda’s redundant streaky lefty power bat? Alternatively, will Collins consider Rivera at 2B over Walker?

    Rivera is technically a utility infielder like Flores, but also like Flores, he’s clearly better suited to 1B due to lack of range and a weak (versus Flores’s slow) throwing arm.

  • Curt

    9 out of 10 times I’d have turned off this game when we went down 7-1. End of a long week, tired, had things to do today. I have no idea why I didn’t. That kind of game makes you believe anything is possible.

  • eric1973

    People can twist statistics any way they want to suit their own needs. Salas played a major role in building an early game and a half lead over the Nats. When he went into a tailspin, so did the team, and all the sliderules in the world cannot change that. Robles has improved greatly since the beginning of the season.

    The same people were telling me how great Gilmartin and Goedell were last year, and I am sure they can recite the stats to back it up.

    Now we should see more of Flores due to Cabrera’s Strawberry-esque dive. Gotta keep the wrist straight. And how apropos that Sandy was doublespeaking his way through the injuries when the unfortunate play occurred.

    The same people who speak about small samples proudly use them whenever a slumping player they like gets a hit.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Eric1973 can you be more specific? Unless I’m mistaken you are at least partially calling me out and I’d like a chance to flesh out my argument. Can’t do that now though because I’m not sure what small samples or statistical manipulating you’re referring to.

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