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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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Thinking Can Only Hurt the Ballclub

I love J.D. Davis, from his weirdo back-construction nickname (“Jonathan Gregory Davis” doesn’t obviously suggest “J.D. Davis,” but “Jonathan Davis” plus a little repetition does) and his shrill heckling to his postgame manic episodes and general air of just being tickled to play baseball. But a thinking J.D. Davis is his own worst enemy.

I’ll paint the word picture for future generations in search of an extra dose of masochism: Bottom of the third, scoreless game, frozen night at Wrigley. Taijuan Walker faces Willson Contreras with two outs and Eric Sogard on second. Walker’s 2-1 sinker touches the bottom of the strike zone and yields exactly what it’s meant to: a grounder to the infield. But Davis backs up on it, giving ground to get a true hop instead of coming in aggressively. Then, with the ball in his hand, you see him double-pump, maybe repositioning the ball to get the seams. Whatever it is, it’s a moment in which he’s thinking — and that’s not good for an infielder in the heat of battle whose throws aren’t always true.

Uh-oh, I thought. And sure enough, Davis’s throw skipped into the dirt, clanking off Pete Alonso‘s glove as Sogard alertly kept motoring, scoring on the play. The Cubs led 1-0, and Davis would make a carbon-copy error in the fifth, allowing Kris Bryant to reach.

In between, the fourth proved fatal to the Mets’ chances. Walker fanned the first two Cubs before allowing a single to Jason Heyward, who was safe by an eyelash stealing second. The pesky Sogard survived a 2-2 call just above the top of the strike zone and then drove in Heyward. Walker then started doing what his last name suggests, walking opposing pitcher Jake Arrieta, Ian Happ and Contreras to force in another run and end Walker’s night. All three at-bats featured multiple pitches on the edge of the strike zone, inspiring Walker to give home-plate umpire John Libka a piece of his mind on his way to the dugout. Libka ejected Walker, who was out of the game anyway and therefore penalized by no longer being entitled to enjoy the deep-freeze conditions outside of the visiting clubhouse. (“Stop, don’t.”)

Those two sequences were ultimately all that mattered in the game: The Mets posed a ninth-inning threat against Craig Kimbrel that fell flat, meaning the entirety of their offense was a solo homer by Davis, struck so perfectly that not even the meanest Wrigley inbound wind could have tamed it. This was a problem that got masked in Colorado — there, the Mets took two out of three because they got terrific pitching, played sound defensive baseball and hit just enough when it mattered. Here, the pitching was a little below that level (though Walker was pretty good), the defense was a lot below that level, and the timely hits weren’t there. The Mets’ lineup should allow the team to outslug a lot of such troubles, but the lineup largely hasn’t done that so far in 2021’s weird stop-start season.

As for the in-game controversy, I thought Libka’s strike zone was actually pretty fair. Sure, there were borderline pitches that could have been argued either way, but that’s always the case — only Sogard’s leadoff walk strikes me as a miscarraige of justice according to ESPN’s pitch plotting, and Mets hitters had some calls go their way too. What Libka didn’t do was mysteriously expand the zone from side to side and force both teams to figure out its dimensions, an umpiring distortion so common that we’ve learned to accept it as part of daily conditions, as if weather made the strike zone wax and wane like wood over the seasons. If you want to complain about Libka, do it for another reason, one noted by Eduardo Perez on a not-bad ESPN broadcast — Libka should have known Walker would be steaming on his walk off the mound, and he could have found a pretext for paying attention to something along the foul line away from the visitors’ dugout, so he could claim not to have heard the critique of his strike zone. Instead, he stayed front and center, providing a handy teapot for the inevitable tempest.

Well, anyway. Every season has 40-odd games you should just erase from memory as soon as they’re concluded, because dwelling on them will do no one any good. As I hope Francisco Lindor tells Davis in a quiet moment during infield practice, don’t think. It can only hurt the ballclub.

5 comments to Thinking Can Only Hurt the Ballclub

  • Seth

    “The Mets’ lineup should allow the team to outslug a lot of such troubles, but the lineup largely hasn’t done that so far in 2021’s weird stop-start season.”

    Did they do much of that in 2020? I don’t really recall seeing that last year, either. A note of caution to the “it’s only 8 games” crowd.

  • eric1973

    A lot of us have the benefit of ‘not thinking’ when it comes to a lot of things.

    I like JD a lot, and he’s played well at 3B for parts of the last few seasons. Since Dom is a keeper in LF, as he is one of the few who are hitting, JD better put his head ‘in his ass,’ and stop thinking so much.

    Stroman, Lindor, and McCann look like pro’s out there. Lindor and The Polar Bear better start hitting, ’cause as we all know, “It gets late early out there.”

  • Dave

    Boy, scoreboards can be deceiving. It said the Mets were trailing 3-1, but I know a 10-run blowout when I see one. The first Cubs run was frustrating, and then Walker’s mid-sized meltdown in the 4th (sorry, I don’t agree with the “pretty good” assessment of last night’s start) gave this the “no way the Mets win this game” whammy.

  • Daniel Hall

    Somehow, this team is the only one with a winning record in the division. I saw all five of them play at some point – and not even the Fish looked as putrid as these Mets can look…

  • open the gates

    I hereby declare myself a proud member of the “it’s only eight games” crowd.

    Not only is it only eight games, it’s eight gamee that have been interrupted by more rainouts (not to mention snowouts) than I’ve ever seen before to start a season. And half the team is new and hasn’t really had a chance to jell yet. And the newly imported team icon is starting off his Mets career with a horrific slump (as did Darryl Strawberry, as did Mike Piazza, as did Carlos Beltran, so I’m not throwing in the towel on Francisco Lindor just yet). And Edwin Diaz is actually looking like a closer again. And we have a winning record and are currently in first place in our (admittedly pathetic) division.

    And it’s only been eight games.

    Maybe we’re all thinking a little too much.