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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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And the Mets Played On

Helluva win for the Mets on a Wednesday night in the middle of June. Timely hitting, nice show of power, six runs on the board, solid bullpen work capped by another save for the closer and, of course, a fine start for the starting pitcher for as long as the starting pitcher lasted.

Yet come Thursday morning, no one was really talking about the 6-5 victory the Mets posted over Atlanta on June 15, 1977. Every year right about now when we are inundated by “this date in…” reminders for That Date, it has nothing to do with Jon Matlack’s six-and-a-third sound innings, Bruce Boisclair’s homer or Skip Lockwood’s 1-2-3 ninth. Some wins and their salient on-field details tend to get lost in the bigger picture.

June 16, 2021, doesn’t appear to be a date which will live in the sort of infamy that taps us on the shoulder every June 16 for 44 June 16s and counting. Let’s hope not, anyway. Especially the part about the shoulder. This particular Wednesday night in the middle of June included but was decidedly not highlighted by the Mets’ 6-3 victory over Chicago. Despite the knee-jerk recitation that “we can’t have nice things”, it was a nice win and we still have it. The bullpen did its duty, from Sean Reid-Foley coming on without warning in the fourth through Edwin Diaz nailing down the last out in the ninth. A couple of our sluggers, Dom Smith and Kevin Pillar, also stepped up, each of them homering. Defensive replacement Mason Williams defended against a last-gasp Cub rally with a diving grab that made his insertion an instance of brilliant managing by Luis Rojas. The win, our third consecutive, pushed the Mets to ten above .500 for the first time since the end of 2019 and kept us five ahead of the NL East pack.

Very nice. And excruciatingly irrelevant versus the only thing anybody is really talking about the day after.

Jacob deGrom made another early health-related exit. Any time your franchise pitcher is absented by circumstances we’d rather not countenance on a Wednesday night in the middle of June, it commandeers your attention and activates your darkest anxieties. The Mets could trade Tom Seaver only once on June 15, 1977. When the deal was done, we’d have the rest of the week, the month, the season and our lives to regret it. DeGrom, however, keeps leaving us. Not leaving us in the pushed-out-of-town sense (god forbid), but sooner than anticipated practically every time he pitches. The short-term accumulation of angst mounts a little more every time.

That’s mostly because we don’t know a) what precisely is wrong; b) if anything precisely is wrong; c) how nothing precise could possibly be wrong if something like this keeps happening. All we have to reassure us is the sight of deGrom pitching. That part eases tensions, calms worries, tranquilizes anxieties. That’s extremely nice.

And we can have that nice thing. We just don’t know for how long on a given evening or why, exactly, it can’t be longer. It will be recalled from five days prior that Jacob was disposing of the San Diego Padres with customary controlled fury. Then he felt a little something. He left the game. Later, he wasn’t overly concerned. If he wasn’t, we weren’t. When his next start came around, we saw not a question mark but an exclamation point.

The pitcher who entered Wednesday night’s game against the Cubs at Citi Field with an 0.56 earned run average proceeded to perform better than he usually does. Grasp that, if you can. His fastball sped for itself. His slider eluded any all points bulletin the visitors might have wished issued. Nine batters came up. One drove a ball to the right field wall, where it was caught. The other eight struck out. It didn’t feel like a perfect game was percolating. It felt like Jacob deGrom was pitching per usual. No. 48 so represents excellence in Queens that Kevin Durant played 48 minutes Tuesday night en route to scoring 49 points in Brooklyn.

And, naturally, he drove in a run. DeGrom, I mean, though I imagine Durant would have, too, had the Nets asked. (Alert the authorities — GOATs are running rampant across the boroughs of New York!)

Then there’s a shot of Jacob deGrom in the dugout spewing venom into his glove. We’d like to believe it was because he’s tired of opposing batters not providing him with a sufficient challenge, but no, it was because he knew his anatomy was betraying him again. This time, it was his soreness in his right shoulder. He pitched for an inning not feeling right. He pitched a perfect inning in that condition, mind you.

He pitched no more after the third. After hiding his face and cursing the darkness, he headed down the tunnel, not to return for the rest of Wednesday. He couldn’t risk the shoulder getting sorer, just as the right flexor tendon couldn’t be messed with last Friday, just as the Mets had to be careful about his lat and his right side earlier this season. For someone whose body you’d think was disintegrating after listing the sum of its nettlesome parts, he’s in otherwise excellent shape. For the second consecutive postgame, he told us there doesn’t appear to be anything significantly wrong and he expects to pitch again as scheduled, pending finding out more from doctors and their machines.

We believe in Jacob deGrom, but we are forgiven for doubting his diagnosis might serve as the leading indicator of whether we can expect to see him being deGrominant next week. Even DeGrom doesn’t deny that this is plenty discomfiting, mentally if not physically. “I don’t even know what to say,” he said of his two latest departures. “I’m pretty aggravated with it.”

My sense as someone sitting and watching intently on television is maybe he shouldn’t pitch next week, but my medical bona fides are limited to scraping together a co-payment and requesting a receipt. My wildest guess is Jacob’s otherwise fit and trim body can no longer accommodate all the talent that busts out from inside him. If this were Heaven Can Wait, Jake would demand Buck Henry deliver him a new one, maybe a Colon model. And with a decently cushy divisional advantage in hand, maybe the next couple of starts by The Best Pitcher in Baseball can wait.

I’ve heard it supposed, not illogically, that throwing as hard as Jacob deGrom throws can’t possibly be ideal for the preservation of Jacob deGrom. He routinely throws 100 miles per hour like a person might tie one’s shoes (I wonder how fast he ties his shoes). Yet you keep your eyes on Jake and he doesn’t appear to be overdoing it. There’s no violence to deGrom’s motion, no grunting with each pitch, no groaning except from the would-be hitters when they swing and miss, and his devoted fans when we are suddenly impelled to miss him. Is urging Secretariat to take it slow down the home stretch at Belmont even viable?

I don’t want to be without Jacob deGrom for a single start. Or longer. Especially longer. I’d advise him and the Mets to be extraordinarily careful in case they haven’t already thought of that.

8 comments to And the Mets Played On

  • chuck

    For all the excitement about the Ks, maybe it would be good idea for Jake to take some advice from Marcus Stroman and Crash Davis:

  • Seth

    Feels like it would be better if Jacob was just average great, you know, like around .500 with a 2.something ERA. Maybe all this superhuman stuff is taking its toll.

  • Eric

    DeGrom’s shoulder started hurting in the top of the 3rd inning. In the bottom of the 2nd inning he turned on a low and in 98 MPH fastball and pulled his RBI single hard. The next inning his suddenly sore shoulder didn’t affect his pitching at all, which implies whatever he hurt — this time at least — is separate from his pitching actions.

    That’s not to imply his prior injuries this season came from hitting, but maybe the fix for this particular injury isn’t an IL stint but rather the .423 BA clutch RBI hitter leaving his bat on his shoulder or bunting only until the DH comes to the NL.

    I stopped putting stock in how clean and smooth a pitcher’s mechanics look after reading expert articles emphasizing pre-injury Matt Harvey’s clean and smooth mechanics.

    DeGrom’s issues are reminding me of Chris Sale’s breakdown and stunted career.

    Given that deGrom’s medical exams after each injury this season haven’t shown structural damage and he’s passed his team and personal pre-game tests before each injury occurrence, I wonder if an IL stint and prolonged rest would make any difference. If the cause isn’t a festering injury that needs time to heal but rather that the stress of pitching at deGrom’s current all-time level is variously overwhelming a body that otherwise tests out as fit to play, then why would the basic problem improve with a few days, weeks, or even months off? DeGrom could sit around wasting his age-32/33 season, make no difference to his body, and then get hurt again as soon as he resumed game speed upon his return.

    If that’s the case, then deGrom needs to just accept pitching at his current stress level is too much for his body, pitch through the pain he can’t avoid, and hope the pain stays at hurt and not rise to injury. Or else make over his pitching mechanics to lower the stress level on his body and hopefully prolong his career, which currently seems to be shortening a la Sale, which doesn’t strike me as a mid-season fix.

  • Richard Porricelli

    I have heard from many fans that the IL is now the best place for him.Im not so sure about that ! I think the team is handling it well so far. The above post has it right, no structural damage. Can he really avoid pain with the way he lets it fly? He aint getting any younger ( join the club Jake )..Day at at a time ,a start at a time with this gem of a player..

  • mikeL

    this could almost be some sort of philip k dickian sort of dillemma.
    the mind/soul/spirit reaches a state of perfection – only to be betrayed by the imperfect physical vessel (man-made or otherwise) which hurts and ages and breaks.

    i was disappointed to read the other day that jake eats junk food burgers and fries and big sodas..,at the time i thought “well who am i to question what he used to fuel his body?” but wonder whether jake also does yoga or receives acupuncture.

    there may be something subtle in his mechanics that might allow him to pitch just a *wee* bit more efficiently, a little easier on his body.

    or maybe it’s this knee-jerk MLB pronouncement – mid season(!) that the unwritten rules have changed. we’ve already seen a good number of pitches get away from lesser talents (including chicago’s starter last night) and i fear more batters getting hurt this year as pitchers attempt to adjust…

    like eric, i wondered whether his hitting may have triggered the latest tweak (as it seemed the interminable, and ultimately unproductive enough inning may have contributed to the previous tweak)

    degrom not swinging – and mets batters working faster when jake is between innings – might be part of a game plan moving forward.
    at least in a more perfect world.

    it’s a shame noah wasn’t ready to step in right about now as had been expected to take some pressure off all involved, specially jake.

  • Daniel Hall

    (quietly has an existential crisis in the corner over there)

  • Eric

    “We can’t have nice things”

    How much are deGrom, the Mets, and we fans willing to pay for 1 singular season from deGrom that is beyond all-star, beyond Cy Young award, but ranks atop “the best there ever was”?