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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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A Welcome Unreality

This is just like that other year when the Mets were diddling around for almost four months, then got hot and catapulted themselves into a playoff chase already in progress. Do you remember that other year?

You don’t. Because this is a new one on us. You’d think after 58 years, we’d have seen it all, but there’s always something new to see with these Mets and this baseball of theirs. Keeps one from growing complacent.

This isn’t 1969, when the Mets were already good in early August yet still a few weeks from making up serious ground on the Cubs. This isn’t 1973 or 2001, when the Mets weren’t close to being done diddling yet. This isn’t 2015, when we stressed over the Mets not hitting a whit into late July because for all their offensive futility, they had hovered close to the catchable Nationals all season, so how about getting a Cespedes-type, Sandy? This isn’t 2016 when the Mets modeled frustrating ambivalence regarding whether they truly wanted to defend their league championship before deciding that as long as they were still hanging around, they might as well play like defending champions. This isn’t a 1980, 1991 or 2002 when the Mets strained to contend only to fall thuddingly off the table right about now. This isn’t a 1975 or 2005 when the Mets always seemed one meaningful and ultimately unattainable roll from undeniable legitimacy. This isn’t 1981 when a once-in-a-lifetime HYPERSPACE button was pushed by the powers that be, clearing the first-half, pre-strike screen and giving the Mets a fresh start and genuine split-season hope.

This is 2019, when the Mets diddled, twiddled and resolved (“come get us”) to no effect whatsoever, allowing almost everybody in the National League to pass them, yet quietly never fell so far from the pack that it was statistically impossible to imagine them drifting upward. Implausible, perhaps. Impossible, apparently not.

So as I sat and watched the Mets pour the Pirates into the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers to form the mighty Ohio of National League Wild Card opportunity (three games out of something!), I felt a welcome unreality wash over me. I guess it’s real. If it is real, it’s real weird, but I welcome the weirdness, too.

A week ago, after sweeping the Pirates, I wouldn’t have associated these Mets with contention. A week from now, who knows? I’ve seen that our “playoff odds” have increased dramatically of late. I believe “playoff odds” are the stupidest baseball thing I’ve ever heard of more than I believe the Mets will be fully in a playoff race a week from now. I’ve got “games behind” and “games remaining” and the ability to imagine outcomes and scenarios both pleasant and regrettable. I don’t need “playoff odds”.

Which is not to say the oddity of the Mets being here is unwelcome. More than two-thirds into a season whose essential character is yet to be determined, I’ll tell you who else was at last tentatively welcomed into our finicky graces: Robinson Cano. Perhaps not for five years, but at last for this year. For this week, certainly. The odd outburst aside, we didn’t see what made Cano that feared hitter everybody swore he had been until a few days ago when his bat heated up and resembled lumber that had been burning since the invention of fire. On Sunday, it couldn’t have scalded more, connecting as it did for a double in the first, a double in the third and a sure double in the fourth, except between first and second, Cano stopped dead with a single and a hamstring strain.

I get the feeling we all had the same reaction: “thoughts and prayers” for Robbie’s well-being, and sincere, heartfelt sympathy for his 10-for-17 hot streak…not to mention the role it was playing in our recent success. I don’t necessarily think we were being wholly transactional, either. Nobody wants to see anybody suffer an injury, but if it’s an athlete doing in-his-prime athlete things — even if his prime is behind him — it hurts that much more. Dave Kingman keeping pace with Hack Wilson before ill-advisedly diving for a Phil Niekro fly ball in 1976. Cliff Floyd checking out of a 12-for-18 surge and checking in for heel surgery in 2003. Robinson Cano, the old man playing young again, halting in his tracks for who knows how long. It must have really been bad, because Cano didn’t make the slightest move to get back to first, standing still and waiting to be tagged as if there weren’t an inning going on (walk a few feet in somebody else’s hamstring before judging, I remind myself).

Missing Cano for the final five innings Sunday didn’t affect the outcome of a 13-2 romp that was already 8-0 when our heretofore permanent cleanup hitter gingerly departed the playing field. Whether or not there was a clear-cut Cano causation to the Mets winning nine of their past ten, we don’t know if this IL trip will create a crimp worse than the one that has Dom Smith sidelined until September. It sure doesn’t help. Then again, these Mets have become these Mets on the bats and arms of many, especially the arms. The untraded Noah Syndergaard showed no mercy on the Pirates, keeping them off the board until the seventh and taking a seat after 91 pitches only because it was a little warm out there.

Noah was succeeded to the mound by Donnie Hart, whom you’ve heard of now. Hart, a lefty who tossed a scoreless eighth, is the kind of August pickup available to contenders, someone cast off by some other organization (Milwaukee waived him). There will be no clever trades for Addison Reed or Fernando Salas as September approaches. Savvy grabs at the waiver wire and insightful scouting of the Atlantic League represent the best chances for fringe improvement. You gotta have an arm that you haven’t already shuttled up from Syracuse ten times before? Then you gotta have Hart.

Also not getting injured is a good idea for the Mets who still stand upright. Fortunately, Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis, each of whom homered off Pirate starter Joe Musgrove, appear in tip-top shape; Davis’s ball left PNC Park and might have landed in Forbes Field. Jeff McNeil, rested part of Saturday, also looks ready and rarin’ to go after homering in his second consecutive game. Pete Alonso, directed to take a breather from his unprecedented rookie slump (unprecedented for him, that is; rookies have them as a matter of course), came off the bench and played stellar defense at least. Amed Rosario doesn’t miss games and lately doesn’t miss balls hit in his vicinity. Hits balls pretty well, too.

Meld this core to Syndergaard, deGrom, Wheeler and the better Long Island angels of Matz and Stroman; cross your fingers that bullpen alchemy has become a core competency of Callaway & Co.; get lucky with the scoreboard-watching in this seven-team scramble for a pair of postseason passes…and this unforeseen entry into unreality can continue to be fun. That would make it the opposite of what the Mets were for almost the entire first two-thirds of 2019, not to mention the bulk of 2018 and 2017.

We can definitely welcome that.

17 comments to A Welcome Unreality

  • Greg Mitchell

    Who to replace Cano? Of course could try to find OF so McNeil simply plays 2B. More likely do the lame thing and simply bring up Luis G. But Asdrubal C is avail–hit only .235 but had lot of pop and good walks. To my shock, I see Dillson Herrera has 22 HRs in AAA in only 350 ABs (and it’s not in the Pacific Coast league now), and nice steals. But Brodie may be happier in his place of “We’re not really trying for playoffs so don’t blame me if we fade.”

    Side note: Imagine if Cespedes was coming back this week, as “planned.”

  • Guillorme is reportedly en route. Herrera needs to be added to the 40-man, but so would Cabrera.

  • I feel like there’s an untold story around Dilson Herrera. He was called a future perennial all-star second baseman, and not just by the Mets org, until his trade to the Reds. He still hits at AAA, and he’s still only 25. He hasn’t been given a lot of MLB playing time and while he hasn’t been good in that brief time he hasn’t been awful either, and has shown some pop. Is he trouble a la Jordany?

  • 9th String Catcher

    Cano must go…get healthy? Maybe the hammy has been affecting his game all year and that’s been part of the problem – who knows. We do have enough offense to cover him with Conforto and Davis heating up and it means the defense is better with Lagares/Altherr in center. Really, it’s more about the pitching staff and figuring out the bullpen which is pretty terrifying after Lugo, Wilson and maybe Gsellman. If the starters challenge each other and throw 7 every night, we have as good a chance as anyone, and better than others.

  • Greg Mitchell

    As a fantasy site puts it: “Guillorme, 24, holds a career .202/.268/.225 batting line in 97 plate appearances at the MLB level.” You know how hard it is to have a .225 slugging pct? Come on, Brodie, do something, OF or IF, even Asdrubal. Options aren’t great but show us something. You traded half of minor league prospects and kept Wheeler–now you will not really go for it?

  • MikeS

    The problem with Altherr/Lagares is we definitely lose a bat and with a still shaky pen we need runs. Yesterday Familia gave up a home run. Good thing we were ahead by 12 runs and not 1. Herrera or Cabrera are interesting replacements for cano. I like the proven Cabrera better but that would cost the wilpons money.

  • Damrat

    Serious question: Is there a reason why no-one is mentioning Ruben Tejada?

    • Greg Mitchell

      Yes, Tejada hitting .343 in AAA but as Greg points out he would have to be added to 40-man. Gee, we don’t want to risk losing one of those precious shuttling relievers!

  • Dave

    Not to get too optimistic, but with the Phils playing the DBacks and the Gnats playing the Giants, the schedule is very well set up for the Mets to move over the next three days.

  • open the gates

    Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the Mets have been surging against the weak underbelly of the majors. When they start playing this way against the tough teams, I’ll know it’s not a mirage. That said, it’s definitely been a fun couple of weeks.

    • You play the portion of the belly they put in front of you.

      Less thrillingly, Cano’s hammy is torn. No timetable for return. Get to know Guillorme. Get reacquainted with Tejada and/or Herrera. Forget Asdrbual. Nats plucked him.

  • Daniel Hall

    I have been rooting for Ruben to return pretty much since he got canned so shamelessly three years ago. Boy deserved better. First Chase Ugly knocked his legs out from under him, then the Mets did. And we never quite found out why.

    I also don’t get the rooting to add 35-year-old middle infielders as soon as the current 35-year-old middle infielder keels over. How about somebody that an actually move not that we sold valued pitching prospects for a groundball specialist? We should have seen enough of Cabrera to never want him back. Between him and A Met Evoking Disappointment there’d be about a 90-foot gate between second and short that everybody and there mother could single through.

    Oh if only the team had found a centerfielder at the deadline. Lagares’ career is regrettably toast, and Altherr’s presence on the roster is grotesque.

    • 9th String Catcher

      Agree with having enough of Cabrera. Some great moments for the Mets, but isn’t strong enough in either defensive or offensive capacity. They are essentially replacing Cano with Lagares, which is an offensive WAR negative, but a defensive improvement, not only in CF but in RF as well with Conforto playing his proper position. Cano’s offense is replaced (and improved) with Davis playing every day. So, no real net negative from my standpoint. And another good glove in Guillorme for the late inning defense.