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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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Magic Eighth Ball

Newsradio 88, flagship station for New York Mets baseball, must be pleased the New York Mets decided to make the 8th inning their flagship inning Sunday night. “Hits and runs on the eighth.” “You give us the eighth inning, we won’t give up a lead.” The latter evokes the other news station in New York, but WCBS and WINS each have their lead non-basketball sports story for the morning rush:

Mets win.

Did I say non-basketball? I’m stoked that the Nets are making genuine baller moves, but by the time a fully healed Kevin Durant is on fire in Brooklyn, Jeff McNeil could be deciding which batting crown looks best on the left side of his mantel and which looks best on the right.

Did I say sports? I shudder to think what could be a bigger deal in the world, the nation or the city than the Mets breaking their seven-game losing streak. Give me that eighth inning. You can keep the world.

If you were at Citi Field Sunday night as I was — accepting a replica 1969 World Series ring; avoiding ESPN; singing happy birthday greetings to Ron Swoboda at Colin Cosell’s suggestion; nodding appreciatively that the Mets acknowledged they mistakenly killed two of their alumni; and literally holding on to my hat from the vigorous summer breeze — you could hear what I heard. It was less the roar of the crowd than the exhale of deliverance, first from the five runs the Mets plastered on the glorious faux Shea scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth inning, then because Edwin Diaz wasn’t Edwin Diaz in the top of the ninth. Or he was Edwin Diaz like he was supposed to be, not Edwin Diaz at whom we’ve come to shudder.

Will the real Edwin Diaz please stand up and stay warm, assuming he’s the one who easily nailed down a seventeenth save at the expense of the Atlanta Braves? Earlier in June, the St. Louis Blues won a Stanley Cup to the strains of “Gloria”. Meanwhile, the New York Mets were going down the tubes to the tune of a lesser-known Laura Branigan ditty that’s circulated through my head every time Diaz has encountered trouble:

The night
Spanish Eddie fell from grace
There was amazement on his face
On the night that Eddie failed
Sanity prevailed

Had sanity prevailed, Jarred Kelenic’s advancement would be our heartfelt cause rather than our bête noire. But that’s another story we’ll revisit only three or four times a week for the next couple of decades. In the shorter term, Spanish Eddie…I mean Edwin Diaz didn’t fail Sunday night when entrusted with a ninth-inning save opportunity. No need to pick exclusively on Diaz when it comes to failing and opportunity and trust. Every reliever in the Met-Tone galaxy of stars had dimmed through the seven-game losing streak. One of them was Wilmer Font, just last Tuesday (which in Met time feels like months ago). Somewhat surprisingly, Wilmer Font was our non-Diaz pitching salvation Sunday night, cleaning up a mess left behind by Chris Flexen, who’s mostly avoiding salvation still, though Flexen did have a good moment cleaning up for Noah Syndergaard. His moments starting his own inning were less pristine.

The work of Mets pitchers, none of them wholly hopeless, wasn’t what was ringing the bells off the AP machine Sunday night. It was our offense…our All-Star eighth-inning offense. To lead off the inning that forever changed the course of franchise history — or just went well for a change — former All-Star Todd Frazier whacked a Sean Newcomb fastball like it was ordering onion rings for the table at Holsten’s in Bloomfield (best in the state). I have to confess that while I’ve been happy to have been in receipt of all of Todd Frazier’s home runs this season, I haven’t found them much to look at. If there’s proof to be mined that power numbers are askew in 2019, it’s embedded in every pop fly Frazier lofts lazily over the left field fence. More than any slugger, he’s made home runs unimpressive.

But not this one. This one could have worn a Members Only jacket on his 418-foot trip to the Sponsorship Landing in left. Powerful. Breathtaking. Yet the Mets were still losing. The Toddfather’s blast pulled the Mets to within a run of the Braves at 5-4. It was encouraging for a normal team’s fans. As Mets fans, we were left to discern whether our guys would leave the bases loaded en route to the ninth or eke ahead just enough so their advantage could be fairly easily overcome.

Good thing we had more All-Stars coming up. Like former All-Star Robinson Cano who took one in the wrist for the team (Cano’s been finding holes lately, so we dutifully booed Newcomb for hitting Our Robbie). Like former future All-Star Amed Rosario, who singled Cano to second. Like certifiably perennial All-Star Jacob deGrom’s personal catcher Tomás Nido — an All-Star by transference — laying down the bunt that snuffed out Cano at third but at least pushed Rosario to second while placing Jacob’s Tomás on first. Former All-Star Wilson Ramos pinch-hit for Font and lined out to right, but at least pushed Rosario to third. With everybody pushing Rosario, you think he’d be an All-Star already.

The Braves switched pitchers, bringing in A.J. Minter. Was I scared? Hell no! I was distracted. Up in Promenade, Joe and I, at our first Citi Field game together this year, were deep into a tangent on game shows we strongly or vaguely remembered from our respective childhoods. Font had pitched competently when the subject first arose, so we divined we were onto a winning formula. Ergo, while you might have been worried about former All-Star Michael Conforto taking on Minter, Joe and I were discussing Pay Cards!, Musical Chairs and Celebrity Sweepstakes.

Conforto drew a full-count walk. You can thank us later.

All-Star Announcement Sunday started to shine in earnest with the next batter, All-Star Jeff McNeil. Say it again: All-Star Jeff McNeil. A year ago he barely existed in the Metsian consciousness. In winter, the Mets general manager, new to the job, thought he’d make a splash by dealing for an erstwhile client and didn’t care if one of the ripples was throwing in the second baseman who batted .329 for two months. Or have you forgotten that Brodie Van Wagenen was reportedly considering tossing McNeil’s ass into the jackpot to get Cano and Diaz because, gosh, we really have to convince you to let us pay rapidly aging Cano exorbitantly for another half-decade?

Postmodern Ryan-for-Fregosi aside, McNeil stayed a Met. He couldn’t stay a full-time second baseman because Cano took precedence in Brodie’s eyes. Had Jed Lowrie actually existed, that would make two American League veterans blocking Jeff from playing somewhere. Or trying to block him, because something tells me Squirrel would have burrowed into the lineup somewhere. “Something” is the .348 average McNeil brandishes at present. It is the highest in Major League Baseball.

No wonder he’s an All-Star. No wonder he served the first pitch he saw from Minter into right field, where it fell in front of Nick Markakis. In from third came Rosario. In from second came Adeiny Hechavarria, who had pinch-run for Nido and stolen second before Conforto walked and while Joe and I were debating the merits of the daytime vs. nighttime editions of Let’s Make A Deal. The best deal of all, besides McNeil not going to the Mariners for Joe Foy, was the Mets surged ahead on McNeil’s single.

Hey Minter — deal with All-Star Pete Alonso, the rookie who will form one third of our stellar Cleveland contingent. Better yet, succumb to the Polar Bear’s charisma and swing. Pete doubled down the left field line to bring home Conforto and McNeil and put the Mets up, 8-5. Joe and I ceased game show ruminations just long enough to join in a chorus of FUCK YEAH!!!!!

The five exclamation points were for the five runs.

15 comments to Magic Eighth Ball

  • Ken K. in NJ

    The only redeeming feature of the ESPN broadcast was they had Ron Swoboda on for a half inning or so. He was really entertaining and came out with some pretty dam good quips, especially one about the glove on the image of his catch on the current right field gate at Citi Field being made of the same material many critics thought his actual glove was made of.

    Happy 75th, Rocky!

  • LeClerc

    McNeil, Alonso, DeGrom – three stars burning bright in the darkness.

  • open the gates

    To quote Bob Murphy, April ’62: “… and the Mets win a ball game!”

    PS – here’s wishing Jed Lowrie a relaxed recovery. Because if he gets activated before the All Star break, you just know that Mr. McNeil will become the first batting leader in history to miss the All Star Game due to a demotion to AAA.

  • Bob

    Actually un-muted ESPN when they had Swoboda on. And for the 10th time (1969 World Champs celebration), they showed the black cat running in front of Cubs dugout and the usual prattle of how it was spooky..
    Well- check the book by Donn Clendenon, Miracle in New York-Miracle of 1969 NY Mets
    Page 119 talking about big series with Cubs coming to Shea in early Sept.
    “We knew that Leo Durocher was one of the most superstitious men in baseball. Leo always sat in the same spot directly in front of the third beam on the right hand side of the Cub’s dugout, near their bat rack.
    So three days before the Cubbies came to New York, we went out and got a black cat and fed the cat sardines from Durocher’s favorite spot in visitor’s dugout.

    Tom Seaver pitched the second game of the doubleheader on September 8th. During the seventh-inning stretch, a ground crewman released the cat. The cat immediately ran over to the visitors’ dugout where we had been feeding it the past the three days–directly in front of Leo Durocher. There was serious stare-down between the black cat wanting his food and Leo, wanting to get the hell out of New York. The timing was perfect, since everyone was standing up and singing Take me out to The Ballgame
    during the seventh inning stretch.

    We won second game of the doubleheader,7-1. Seaver won his twenty-first game of the season and gave up only 5 hits. The Mets had home runs from Art Shamsky and me. The wounded Cubs left New York still in first place but with only a 1/2 game lead over the Mets…and Leo didn’t take the black cat with him.”

    I noted Swoboda last night mentioned a “trained cat”..but that was it…….can’t believe Rocky is 75…..

    Let’s Go Mets!

    • Pete In Iowa

      I went to literally hundreds of games at Shea, spanning from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s and I do not ever recall “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” being sung during the 7th Inning Stretch. In the early days (certainly 1969 included), Jane Jarvis played some gig (don’t know if or what the name of it was) on the organ and the fans responded with rhythmic clapping.
      Maybe Clendenon’s story about the cat is correct, but his recollection of the stretch just can’t be right.
      Just sayin’.

  • Henry J Lenz

    Wow! Never knew that cat story. As Dennis Quaid said in ‘Frequency’, “I’ll love Ron Swoboda the rest of my life!”

  • Orange and blue through and through

    To get to 90 wins, the Mets have to go 52-25 the rest of the way. Unless the starting pitching tightens up and the bullpen miraculously becomes really good, the Mets get some kind of outfielder with a shred of talent, and everybody not named Alonso or McNeil plays WAY over their heads, Jets season is only two months away.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    The worst part of the ESPN broadcast was when the broadcasters were interviewing hot dog maven Joey Chestnut. If you want to talk to this guy, fine. But do you really need to split the screen. Talk to him off camera and show the game!

    • They might’ve shown Chestnut surrounded by a bunch of people dressed in hot dog costumes. I noticed them out of the corner of my eye on the way in and I swear I thought it was some religious order’s night out at Citi Field.

    • Pete In Iowa

      Unfortunately Jerry, almost ALL televised baseball broadcasts use some sort of split screen when someone is being interviewed in the booth, as if it’s a good idea. I have to suffer through this on the various networks I get to watch on the Extra Innings package on DISH.
      It’s really infuriating. Why make the screen for the ballgame smaller just to make room to watch some person TALKING?? Can’t they just put a small graphic that says, “Voice of…”

  • Left Coast Jerry

    They showed the hot dog people in the stands a few times during breaks in the action, but they showed Chestnut in the booth while the game was in progress on a split screen.

  • JoeyBaguhDonuts

    Squirrel has the highest batting average in baseball today? A Met practically never does that. I love it.

    That onion rings thing was inspired.

    • My friend from Saturday’s game had just visited there, thus planting the reference in my head (plus Todd Frazier is from New Jersey, which I’m not sure is well known).

  • Dave

    The interview with Joey Baggadonuts reminded me of how the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade coverage is filled with interviews with stars from the hit NBC show Whatever This Is Boring to talk about their Thanksgiving memories. Because what do you know, on Thursday you can watch him and other gluttons stuff their faces…on ESPN. As someone else once said, that’s not a sport, it’s one of the 7 deadly sins. But there it is on ESPN, so it must be a sport. Check your local listings.