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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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One Lead is Safe at Coors Field

You don’t bring a Jason Vargas to a slugfest if you wish to prevail in the slugfest. Then again, you might not have a full-fledged slugfest without Jason Vargas, for as offensive a bent as Coors Field possesses, it takes a Vargas to ensure at least one side’s scoring soars to mile-high levels.

A properly calibrated Iron Mike would serve the same basic purpose as the Mets lefty, but the club generally doesn’t travel with a NEW YORK road jersey quite so large. Vargas, on the other hand, fits into his uniform fine for as long as he wears it, which, when he starts, isn’t for very long. Judging from the postgame coverage SNY airs, no Met is ever quite so thoroughly showered, dried and dressed when facing the media as Vargas. Never pitching beyond the fifth inning at least earns you first dibs on the hot water.

Tuesday night in Denver, even after an eighty-minute rain delay, Jason got to knock off extra early, leaving the game in the third, having surrendered three consecutive home runs (to Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Ian Desmond) before hitting a guy. The hitting a guy is what moved Mickey Callaway to remove him, reminding me of Baltimore Colts legend Art Donovan’s tale of teammate Don Joyce. Joyce devoured 38 pieces of fried chicken and every side dish on the table to win a gluttony contest, yet was still careful to add saccharin rather than sugar to his iced tea at the end because he didn’t want to overdo it.

It was 6-2, Rockies, when savvy veteran Vargas exited with more velocity than he throws, leaving Hansel Robles to clean up his mess — perhaps not the ideal match of personnel to assignment — and the Met hitters to add ballast to the bromide that no lead is safe at Coors Field. Colorado’s lead, inflated to 8-2 before the fourth and 9-2 by the fifth, proved safe. Hansel, like Jason, didn’t let his spate of recent positive pitching get in the way of testifying on behalf of the ballpark’s reputation. The most Callaway could fiddle while Robles burned was asking for a crew chief review of an RBI double that struck the yellow foul line high on the left field wall. There was not much doubt that it would be confirmed fair, but when your pitchers are letting you down, you can’t be blamed for hoping a second glance might prop you up.

Mickey would have been better off requesting a crew chief review of what he was thinking when he aligned his rotation in advance of this series. His starter from Tuesday has registered a 13.50 earned run average across four career outings inside the home of the Rockies. A stiff shot of Vargas followed by a Robles chaser may be the quintessential Coors cocktail. You can chug one of those babies in the dampest of humidors and you’ll still feel its kick.

The Mets’ newly honed ability to reach bases and cross plates eventually emerged, albeit for display purposes only. The visitors whittled their deficit at various intervals to 9-4, 10-6 and, most tantalizingly, 10-8 in the ninth inning, but recovering quickly and completely from a Vargas-Robles hangover is nearly impossible in thin air. The oddest of several Met missteps was Asdrubal Cabrera getting himself caught off second base with two out in the fifth after strike two on Todd Frazier got away from Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta. Cabrera could be seen urgently motioning the batter to run to first, apparently believing Frazier had just swung through strike three. With simple mathematics preventing Todd from advancing, Asdrubal engaged tentatively in a rundown that would be ultimately scored 2-5-6-5-4 for the third out, an outcome that certified Tuesday as not just an official game, but an official Mets game.

Perhaps the most encouraging development from the two-run loss was not the cosmetic compilation of runs registered versus the preternaturally generous Rockies relief corps but that the Mets slogging through the soggy evening while not blatantly exhausting their bullpen. Chris Beck and Tim Peterson soaked up the final four innings sans excess Sturm und Drang, Peterson demonstrating the most absorbency (six up, six down). Tim was added to the roster anew when Jay Bruce was dispatched to the disabled list, as inevitable a destination for him as an early shower is for Vargas. Poor Jay…bad foot, bad back, bad hip…bad season.

Because the Mets decided in favor of an extra arm to withstand the delights of Denver, they entered Tuesday’s game short of a spare outfielder. Given the presence of righthander German Marquez on the mound for Colorado, Callaway opted to start in left field lefty-swinging Dom Smith, heretofore almost exclusively a first baseman, but someone who had taken a handful of fly balls previously, if never amid the cow pasture that constitutes Coors Field’s most distant precincts.

When you play left field behind Jason Vargas and Hansel Robles, you should be all right. The only defensive skill critical to exhibit is the ability to jog to the track and sympathetically watch the ball clear the fence. Smith did that fine. Smith also injected the Mets outfield with more youth than we are accustomed to seeing. With 23-year-old Dom keeping company alongside 25-year-old Michael Conforto and 25-year-old Brandon Nimmo, Tuesday night marked the first Met lineup in which left, center and right were all manned by kids under 26 since September 24, 1997. Populating the outfield that long-ago Shea night — one game after the Mets had been eliminated from their valiant Wild Card chase — were Butch Huskey, Carlos Mendoza and Alex Ochoa.

Huskey and Ochoa enjoyed respectable if briefer than projected major league tenures. Mendoza, whom presumably few remember broke up Dustin Hermanson’s no-hit bid in what innings later became known to aficionados as the Carl Everett Game, sipped one cup of coffee with the ’97 Mets and another with the 2000 Rockies. Between those stints, he was drafted by the fledgling Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a team-building exercise gone awry. The composite Flushing staying power of the Huskey-Mendoza-Ochoa unit never added up to more than this mention in this blog.

Conforto has already been a National League All-Star. Nimmo, despite a couple of foibles in right Wednesday night, could be on the road to becoming one extremely soon. Smith is still finding himself, an occupational hazard for 23-year-olds regardless of profession. Dom’s first base competence didn’t inspire anybody’s additional confidence in the ninth inning on Sunday in Arizona when he flipped a seemingly caught ball between his legs and provided umpire Bruce Dreckman every inclination to call an out baserunner (Alex Avila) safe once he dropped it like he was Marv Throneberry handling a slice of birthday cake. As Casey Stengel might have suggested, if you wanna be an acrobat, join the Flying Wallendas — and if you wanna be the Mets’ regular first baseman, transfer the ball from your glove to your hand like a regular first baseman.

Smith is a decidedly irregular left fielder, considering it’s never been his position until this season, and then just for the sake of experiment. With Bruce on the DL and Yoenis Cespedes suspected in certain quarters as something akin to spiritual AWOL, experiments can suddenly take on a life of their own. The Mets’ third outfielder these days is Jose Bautista, better suited for pinch-hitting as he strives to extend the twilight of what remains of his major league career. Dom has thus been thrust up the outfield depth chart. The cringe factor at seeing “Smith” penciled in next to “LF” might have been as high as Coors’s elevation, but the young man did nothing blatantly wrong in the field (if nothing particularly encouraging at the plate). Giving his bat every chance to connect is a reasonable goal on a team that, snapped three-game winning streak notwithstanding, probably isn’t about to begin valiantly chasing a Wild Card. Let’s just say it won’t be the occasional Dom Smith start in left that figures to hold the 2018 Mets back.

Besides, if some other team stuck their version of Dom Smith in the outfield, we’d envy their flair for versatility, admire how they cunningly infused their lineup with an extra dose of potential power and yearn for the brand of Mets manager who gaudily dared to insert Kevin Mitchell at shortstop. Assuming the worst of the contemporary Mets is understandable, often justified, but now and then giving something unorthodox a chance to succeed — or even not succeed — isn’t the worst thing a ballclub can do.

Starting Jason Vargas at Coors Field is the worst thing a ballclub can do.

Vargas won’t give up any runs on Thursday, June 28, because the Mets won’t be playing. But you will have something to do, thanks to OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS, a literary-leaning get-together at Two Boots Midtown East in Manhattan. Check out the details here. We hope to see you there.

3 comments to One Lead is Safe at Coors Field

  • LeClerc

    Contractual obligations to Cespedes, Bruce, and Vargas quite unfortunate.

    You roll the dice – sometimes they come up snake eyes.

  • Pete In Iowa

    Let’s play along here. On a ball which bounded, oh, some seventy feet from the catcher, why wouldn’t Cabrera have crawled on all fours to third in any event? Even if was strike three, why get into a run down, when a mere flip to first would have gotten Frazier anyways????
    Yes, Greg. An official Mets game indeed.

  • K. Lastima

    Sandy must have thought he was signing the Bizarro-world “Vargas!!!”