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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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As If I Care

The upset of the season occurred Sunday afternoon as I was upset — mildly, but palpably (if not Papelbon) — that the brink-of-elimination Mets were defeated by the cusp-of-clinching Red Sox. The two teams may play in the same quadrant of the country, but they’ve hardly competed inside the same universe in 2018. Yet the Mets played as if they could have won the finale and the series, and I found myself watching and rooting accordingly.

The first part shouldn’t be a big deal. Baseball allows for scattered aberrational results. For a game or three, lesser teams jump up and bite better teams. The second part, the caring…that was definitely different. I actually cared about the Mets winning this baby beyond mere default mode. It took 149 games, but I may have finally got my fan groove back.

It mattered to me more than it didn’t how this game came out. It wasn’t simply that the Mets and Red Sox had split two and that the third was in doubt down to the bitter end. It wasn’t even wholly another chorus of Let’s Not Lose One For Jake, our all too familiar rallying cry. Ultimately, the best we could do in that regard was not lose while Jacob deGrom held forth in the box score. We lost later. Jake, whose religion normally forbids the surrender of earned runs, inadvertently sinned in the third inning, allowing three of them. His Holiness didn’t quite locate as he wished over the span of a few batters. Bad on him for one very rare instant.

The instant could have been a killer. It wasn’t, as Jake was Jake in the other six innings he worked, striking out twelve altogether and allowing nothing else. The Mets might have been doomed by deGrom’s impression of a human being had his opposite number, Chris Sale, stayed to take full advantage. But ramping up for the postseason after an injury, the AL equivalent of deGrom was on a light pitch count. With no Sale, the Mets had a chance to be in business.

They attempted to go to market in earnest in the sixth versus the Boston bullpen. The inning’s highlight was a no-quit at-bat by Amed Rosario: eight determined pitches versus Drew Pomeranz, eventually achieving what he seemed intent on producing, a double off the Green Monster that shuttled Austin Jackson from first to third. Actually, Rosario probably wanted to hit it out, and in twenty-nine other ballparks probably would have done so. Still, it was a hellacious plate appearance for a hitter who probably would have gone down swinging not too many weeks ago.

A run was generated shortly thereafter on a one-out sac fly to right from Wilmer Flores. Mookie Betts aggravated his side making the unsuccessful throw home and left the game, which likely led to the second run. Jackie Bradley moved to right from center and Tzu-Wei Lin took over in center, arriving just in time to not quite run down an extraordinarily deep fly ball from Michael Conforto that also went for a run-scoring double, pulling the Mets to within one.

Rosario getting it done. Conforto getting it done. I’ll take Frick and Frack getting it done if they’re wearing Mets uniforms (Frack had a superb year in the minors, but mysteriously wasn’t added to the 40-man for September). Rosario and Conforto, though, that’s our immediate future. That’s our present, really, if you backdate it to evaporation of the deepest dismay and disgust of midsummer. The Mets have been a highly watchable unit most games. They certainly were in Boston. Our two under-26 potential stars are the primary non-pitching reasons we can convince ourselves this isn’t just a late-season illusion toying with our perceptions.

We could perceive another opportunity in the seventh inning, Jacob having continued to keep the Sox in their offensive drawer, the Mets hanging in and hanging on at 3-2. Jay Bruce walked on a three-two pitch to lead off. Brandon Nimmo offered his bruised body for advancement and Heath Hembree accepted, dinging he who grins through pain (21st HBP for Brandon this season). Joe Kelly replaced Hembree and retired the next two unremarkable batters. But Rosario, who has given hope to the heretofore hopeless, singled to center, scoring Bruce to knot things at three.

This was exciting. The Mets could possibly win. At the very least, deGrom could possibly not lose. Hooray for attainable goals! But tied with the best team in baseball, I sought more. I sought a win for all the Mets. I’m aspirational that way. Jeff McVail…er, McNeil seemed like the ideal sort to get the next big hit for us. Alas, clever defensive positioning on a grounder up the middle and absurd baserunning on a dive into first ended the threat.

Jake ended his day past a hundred pitches through seven, his mistakes confined to that one uncharacteristic dim early inning. His team’s mistakes, however, were still in the game. Wilmer Flores worked out a walk off Brandon Workman to commence the eighth. Mickey Callaway made use of his expanded roster and pinch-ran Jack Reinheimer for Mr. Molasses. Great move, I thought. Less great move: Reinheimer leaning so far toward second that he might as well have been in Waltham. Jack may be quick, but Jack wasn’t nimble…and Jack got picked off. The nascent threat was snuffed. DeGrom would have to settle for a no-decision. His ERA spiked to 1.79 from 1.71 in his latest quality start. Gussying up his won-lost record would have been welcome, yet Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes have already framed his Cy Young case accurately.

If you don’t know Jake by now, you will never, never, never know him at all. Leave grumblings about 8-9 or wherever his W-L winds up to the willfully ignorant. Jacob deGrom is to pitching what the Boston Red Sox are to all facets of baseball. Nobody’s better this year.

Yet the Mets were tied with the best there are clear through the top of the eighth inning, with good old reliable Seth Lugo, the Nathan Detroit of the Mets relief corps all year long, coming on to maintain the tie. Except when Jacob deGrom has started, Lugo isn’t necessarily good or reliable. No knock on Seth. Nobody on the Mets seems to wants to lend Jake a helping hand. Lugo gave up one run in the eighth, or one run too many. In the ninth, facing the sixth Red Sox reliever of the day — Steven Wright closing in lieu of Craig Kimbrel — the Mets continued to suggest life. Nimmo walked with one out. With two out, however, Austin Jackson was caught looking less by Wright than by Bill Miller, the umpire with a strike zone as wide as the Mass Pike. Thus, the Mets went down to grudging defeat, 4-3.

Losing this game, as noted above, annoyed me uncommonly within the context of 2018. I’ve recently grown used to the notion that the Mets aren’t comatose as a matter of course. I’ve come to really enjoy watching them do what they do well. The starting pitching we’ve known about. The second-half progress of Conforto and Rosario has been a delight (this was the ninth game this year in which both have registered at least two base hits apiece, albeit the second game the Mets have lost when they’ve done so). McNeil, dunderheaded dive into first notwithstanding, has been a genuine revelation. Nimmo takes a bruising but keeps on cruising. I’ve seeped into that mindset I remember from around this time, oh, 35 years ago. We have, I said then, Hernandez, Strawberry, Wilson, Brooks, Orosco, this kid Darling…how bad could we be next year?

We have, I say now, Rosario, Conforto, Nimmo, McNeil, deGrom, Wheeler, Syndergaard…how good could we be next year? There’s a long way to go before taking theoretical leaps of faith, never mind invoking comparisons that would take a loaded farm system and a savvy general manager to make foolproof. Yet I’m not instantly disgusted or discouraged by everything and everybody that isn’t deGrom anymore, and that’s a step up. I’m honestly irritated that we didn’t take two of three from the Red Sox, a state of being I couldn’t have imagined in June when we rolled over and over for a spectrum of competition that spanned the Cubs to the Orioles. I’m reflexively treating these Mets, even Reinheimer, as major league-caliber. I’m believing we should win games when the score is close, regardless of opponent.

I realize that could lead to letdown I don’t need as the sands run out on the schedule. But what the hell, we’re already mathematically eliminated from the NL East race, we’re a nudge from being disqualified from Wild Card contention and the calendar’s been mentally turned to 2019 for months. Why not get worked up just enough to be let down? I think we’ve earned that much.

Thanks to Mike Silva for inviting me on the Talkin’ Mets podcast to reflect on the career of David Wright. You can listen to us here.

6 comments to As If I Care

  • Rob D.

    If we only had a lousy little bullpen, we could be in first place.

  • eric1973

    I have been feeling the same way recently. This team looks to be the team we are going with next year, so the results are actually important. Though some other team will need to figure out whether to call him Dom Smith or Dominick.

    The pitching is healthy and has come around. And with Travis or someone else as catcher, looking forward to 2019.

  • Daniel Hall

    That ESPN Wilbon guy is probably related to the Wilpons. Some consonant shift when they came to America, totally innocent. Ninth cousins, thrice removed probably. They need him to lower deGrom’s value so he does not win the Cy Young, because winning a Cy Young could make him make more in salary arbitration. Come out and admit it, Fred and Jeff, you have been exposed! Everybody knows!!

    I’m such a cynic.

    That game was also infinitely hard to watch because I just knew he wasn’t gonna win it. And I yelled stuff at Reinheimer that I can never take back, either. Not that they would have scored him unless with the help of a passed ball, errant pickoff, and a balk.

  • Good article Greg. I found myself way, way, to into this game considering the Mets’ current record. Like you, I am looking at the same seven Mets (eight if you count Alonso, nine and ten if you count Lugo and Gsellman) and thinking maybe, just maybe. If they can only add another bat and a solid reliever or two…

    The last time I was this giddy over a bad Mets team was 1995, when they also looked like they had turned the corner. Then the new season started and all of GenK went on the DL. Fortunately the Bobby Vee era was just ahead.

  • Gil

    Dont forget Mr. Alonso.

    Get excited for your 2019 NL East Champion New York Mets.