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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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Nick of Time

Saturday night found me in Tampa, Fla. Having finished a long day selling books at a convention, I headed out to meet writer friends for dinner. But I had other companions with me: the confounding, vexing, entertaining, and above all else unpredictable 2019 New York Mets.

I was early and the restaurant had Wi-Fi, so I sat down at the bar, fired up MLB At Bat and watched a blocky simulacrum of Marcus Stroman struggle into view. This wasn’t some weird new Gameday wrinkle, but the video feed doing the best it could with an uncertain connection and limited bandwidth. Which was fine with me, even as various gray blocks and rectangles performed what looked like a Dire Straits video version of pitching: It reminded me of watching on a snowy TV, a concept that will soon have multiple generations of baseball fans exchanging baffled shrugs.

The signal sorted itself out after a few minutes and there was Stroman, compact and coiled and wearing a strange number.

I don’t much care if starting pitchers wear position-player numbers; I save my ire for relievers donning digits that properly belong to February invitees with no chance at going north in April. And I really don’t care about Stroman taking the number that most recently belonged to Jose Reyes, seeing how Bob Geren and Travis d’Arnaud had worn it anyway and Reyes’s second Mets go-round did not do that number proud, to put it more diplomatically than he or the club deserves. But that didn’t mean that it wasn’t a strange sight. Yes, there was somebody on the mound wearing a single-digit number, and no, the Mets weren’t down by 12 in the 8th.

Pretty soon I was wishing Stroman’s work was harder to see. He looked like he was nervous and overthrowing, and his luck was miserable — though if luck is the residue of design, Stroman might have a conversation with his new front office about the thinking behind the infield defense. A 1-0 Met lead against Chris Archer became a 2-1 deficit, and then (with a little help from Luis Avilan), a 3-1 deficit.

By now we’d moved to our table, and while the game was still broadcasting itself into the air from the little rectangle of my phone, I was busy being at least a reasonable facsimile of a decent dining companion. Most of what I saw when I peeked around the glasses and plates made me either impatient or frustrated: The game was grinding along with the Mets not doing much of anything while my phone warned me that its battery life was sinking ever lower.

Jeff McNeil‘s pinch-hit drive caught my eye — I’ve watched enough baseball to be familiar with the visual vocabulary of camera angles and how and why they’re chosen, so I could tell McNeil had connected even without the sound on. Then Amed Rosario doubled, and I got excited, and I unobtrusively picked up my phone to put it in my lap for more careful scrutiny, and then I watched the screen turn black.

I walked back to the hotel with a writer pal and said my farewells, but as I rode up in the elevator my thoughts were focused on Pittsburgh and what might or might not have happened there. Into the room, plug in the phone, navigate the stupid hotel Wi-Fi access screen, remember my phone had powered out and so would need a few minutes to roll the stone away from the zero-power cave. So over to the laptop and again with the stupid hotel Wi-Fi access screen and hope the browser had kept my password.

It had, and the Mets hadn’t tied it. In fact, the Pirates were threatening to make tying it harder, with Starling Marte stealing third with one out and Melky Cabrera (who before last week I would have sworn had retired about four years ago) at the plate. I had my bearings, but it looked like the Pirates were about to make my hurried preparations look pointless and vaguely sad.

Then Cabrera hit into a double play. And a few minutes after that Robinson Cano had doubled off the wall and Wilson Ramos came up and clubbed a ball into the seats. After a neat-as-a-pin inning by Seth Lugo, Ramos came up again and bashed a ball over the head of Pablo Reyes, who was in the game to prevent such things.

It was 7-3 Mets, and they’d need those extra runs, as Edwin Diaz was predictably terrible again, as he’s been with maddening metronome-like regularity since the beginning of May. I know Mickey Callaway thinks all change should occur at the pace of continental drift, but this is getting ridiculous. Diaz, one hopes, will be an important asset in the Mets’ future, but he’s a liability in the team’s present and there’s no sign that things are getting better. Let Lugo close and Diaz fix what’s so thoroughly broken in less of a tightrope role, because the Mets can’t survive much more of whatever’s wrong with him.

Ramos, meanwhile, had a career game in what’s also been a funny season. Like so many other 2019 Mets, he’s simultaneously endearing and confounding, a big block of a man whose stolidity comes with an undercurrent of ironic detachment. There’s a twinkle in the eye and a slight curl of the lip that suggests Ramos is A Man Who’s Seen Some Shit, as any player who survives to attain the status of veteran catcher certainly has.

Ramos’s hitting has been solid enough when he’s not required to beat out anything on the infield, a skill deficit for which he can hardly be blamed. His catching, though, has encouraged us to rethink our undying hatred for the DH. He’s looked slow on balls in the dirt and indifferent as a receiver, with both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard clearly preferring to throw to someone who is Not Wilson Ramos. Grading that combination of plusses and minuses has very much depended on what the Mets have done on a given night.

For this night, at least, Ramos outhit his deficiencies — in fact, he demolished them, putting the rest of the Mets on his broad back and carrying them to victory. The pace might have been extremely slow — continental drift comes to mind again — but the destination was safely attained, and it was enough.

9 comments to Nick of Time

  • jerseymike

    Interesting that Diaz was pitching in a non save situation as the Mets were up by four runs. I thought Mickey might put in Jeurys to boost his confidence. But it was Díaz getting the boost. And as could be predicted, he gives a two run homer. To be fair, he struck out three to limit the damage. But at this point you can’t trust him except with a comfortable lead.

  • 9th string catcher

    I thought Mickey made the right decision last night. It was a non-save situation, and Diaz should have been able to have a quick 3 outs and get a little bit more confidence from it. I am really curious to see how well he would do throwing to Nido rather than Ramos. I do think a lot of the pitching bows have been because Ramos is behind the plate. Last year Diaz pitched to one of the great defensive catchers in baseball. If somehow he gets in the game today I need us back there, it would be very interesting to watch.

    And Lugo has been great, but I don’t know if he’s a closer. You can only find out by putting a man, but it’s a different animal. I also wonder if Diaz is one of those guys that shouldn’t be coming in and not save situations, but then again he’s been terrible and just about every situation he’s been put in.

    Gary suggestion last night was to put Diaz in the eighth inning to face the bottom of the order and have Lugo pitch the ninth. I would have been very curious to see if that would have worked. But for God’s sakes they got to think outside the box. Having assigned roles hasn’t worked well at one bit this year.

  • eric1973

    Whenever there is a clutch situation, and Ramos is coming to the plate, I am always thinking that this is the guy I want up in this situation. He seems to come through a lot and hits the ball to all fields.

    He does seem to run with a piano on his back, and he even stops to play it.

  • Dave

    I say dream big, Jason. We can hate both single digit uniform numbers for pitchers and use of “you’re not making the team” spring training numbers (which haven’t even always been pitchers, witness Philip Evans and whoever that other guy was last year). I’d rather wait until football season begins to see a guy wearing #74.

    Although that fielding play by Stroman in the 1st inning might mean he really is an infielder at heart, therefore switching from 6 to 7 instead of 29 or 33 or something.

  • open the gates

    The role of closer is one of the toughest roles (if not the toughest) in baseball. It relies not on just skill, but in an almost reckless self-confidence. It’s why some guys with untouchable stuff wilt in the position. It’s why the life span of the closer is usually so short (see: Familia, Jeuris). And it’s why I, unlike many of my fellow Met fanciers, will always love John Franco. Little guy, didn’t blow people away, didn’t always have it, but always came back the next day and got ’em. Gutsiest Met ever.

    I don’t know what happened to Diaz. He obviously has (or had) killer stuff, based on last year. But he’s lost his confidence, which for a closer is his best pitch. Let him out of the pressure cooker for a while, whether deeper in the pen or in AAA, and let Lugo close for a while. At this point, it couldn’t hurt, and who knows? Maybe Lugo turns out to be a closer after all.

  • Eric Bloom

    Diaz needs 2 weeks in Syracuse.

  • Michael in CT

    It would be managerial malpractice to put Diaz in a game with a one-run lead. Yet Callaway was set to do that last night before Ramos fattened the lead with the bases-clearing double. Diaz no longer has the mindset to finish close games. He needs another role where he can be more effective and maybe regain his confidence. Meanwhile Lugo should be the closer.

  • Dave

    Spring training invite uniform number update…whoever Donnie Hart is will wear #68, which has not been retired for Wilmer Font. Good number for an offensive guard.

    • Daniel Hall

      Donnie Hart? I think I saw those at my local $aving$ Mart. They had an entire pile of them. Three Donnie Harts for five bucks.

      Gee, I didn’t even know I knew where the Wilpons shopped!