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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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Seventh Time’s a Seventh Charm?

One half of a season is behind the New York Mets and so is the rest of the National League East. You can’t ask for a much better situation following 81 games. The chips don’t settle that way very often.

The Mets have finished the statistical first half in first place six times previously. They’ve won their division six times previously as well, but the direct correlation measures only 50 percent. In half of the relevant sample size, the halfway lead held like hell: 1986, 1988 and 2006. All those seasons’ Mets teams were in first at the half by a lot and all of those seasons’ Mets teams won their title by a lot. In the other half of the sample size — 1970, 1984 and 2007 — the halfway lead was more tenuous and hellishly failed to hold, mostly because a scientific study has revealed you can’t win ’em all.

The 2021 Mets hold first place today by four games, same margin as in ’07 (no trigger intended). It’s a cushion, not a fortress. It’s also better to have in hand than aspire toward. The 1969, 1973 and 2015 Mets didn’t need to be in first place after 81 games to finish first after 162, but every other Mets team straining to reach the top probably could have used the boost.

Ultimately, all historical data of this nature is anecdotal. Fun to invoke in early July, of limited utility by early October. If the second 81 games live up to the first 81 games, then we’ve got ourselves a narrative. Otherwise, we’ve got a four-game lead off a 44-37 record, our least gaudy first-place record at this stage of a season, incidentally. Your elementary math skills tell you, correctly, that 44-37 multiplied twice equals 88-74. Your sense of baseball numbers tells you, intuitively, that a pace to win fewer than 90 games isn’t a pace that equals a glide path to the postseason, even in a division where the universally sub-.500 competition has yet to straighten itself out. If the Nationals, Braves, Phillies and Marlins continue to stumble, we have fairly few worries, no matter how anxiety-riddled we tend to be as a people. If any among our rivals suddenly surges, well, we’re gonna need to pick up the pace.

That’s why they make second halves: to write the rest of the story. We’d prefer the inks used be orange and blue, please and thank you.

At the end of the first half, the Mets of this year were both very much the Mets of this year and the Mets for whom we’ve wished this year. They won on Monday night, 4-2. They’ve won four separate times this season, 4-2. That’s a quintessential 2021 Mets score. Sound starting pitching that ferries you safely between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport. Hippocratic relieving that first does no harm. Just enough hitting. You’d like more hitting. You’d always like more hitting, yet you understand you only have so many five-run sixths and six-run sevenths stashed in your holiday-weekend kit bag. Four runs off your fellow first-place Milwaukee Brewers — 11-game winning streak recently completed and, when they dress in navy and yellow, 26 neckerchiefs shy of certification as the world’s most mature Cub Scout troop — was a veritable towerful of them, especially considering how few you seemed en route to gathering as the 81st game got underway.

None. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Bupkes. That’s more ways to say “zero” than runs the Mets wound up scoring. Versus Brandon Woodruff and his 1.87 ERA (about twice what Jacob deGrom has posted), you would have given an eye tooth for 1.87 runs after a few innings. We weren’t getting any runs. We weren’t getting any hits. Woodruff started out totally stifling the Mets and then grew tougher. Nine up, nine down, the last three on strikeouts. Tylor Megill wasn’t as impenetrable, but he did match his opposing moundsman until the fourth, when Ghost Baby — Tylor’s family nickname, we were informed from Tylor’s mom during his parents’ charming interview with the charming Steve Gelbs — got nicked for a solo homer by Omar Narvaez. We were down, 1-0, which, in the moment, felt like the tallest terrain imaginable.

How do you scale such an imposing mountain? With as many steps as it takes. In the bottom of the fourth, Brandon Nimmo characteristically beamed and melted Woodruff’s base camp by doubling down the left field line. Francisco Lindor considered the challenge his team faced if the opportunity Nimmo represented was to be wasted and selflessly sacrificed one out for one base.

Our 21st-century sabermetric sensibilities may have been scandalized — DON’T BUNT! EVER!! OOH, BRIAN KENNY IS GOING TO BE SO MAD WHEN HE SEES THE TAPE!!! — but, son of a gun, the Met who is compensated more lavishly than any Met before him might have known what he was doing. Because Lindor, who doesn’t double at will (if he could, he probably would), moved Nimmo to third by any means necessary, it was going to take no more than one reasonably distanced fly ball to score Nimmo and tie the game against one of the best nondeGrominational pitchers in the league. Dom Smith came up next and delivered that exact fly ball.

It worked. I won’t complain about what worked.

Woodruff and Megill continued to work as well, Megill through five (two hits, two walks, no more runs on the board, a proud mom and dad in the stands), Woodruff into the seventh with no further incident…until The Third Time Through the Order. Act III was Woodruff’s undoing. It was where the mostly sleepy Met bats woke up and clattered. Lindor was satisfied to take ball four. Smith singled, however, and Pete Alonso — who still hasn’t homered more than once all year at Citi Field — lashed a double to score Francisco easily from second and Dom strenuously from first. Dom may not run fast, but he and his short strides, particularly between third and home, were to be neither deterred nor denied. The 3-1 lead Alonso provided was soon extended by Michael Conforto, busting out of his two-for-a-million slump with a solid single to bring in Pete.

Exit Mr. Woodruff, his ERA having ballooned over two. Don’t tell other NL managers, but only deGrom gets better the third time through a lineup.

The 4-1 lead was to be nurtured by the Met bullpen, a night care center you sometimes have no choice but to trust with your precious bundle of runs. After Aaron Loup in the sixth and Seth Lugo in the seventh had so beautifully handled the 1-1 tie, Trevor May looked after our bouncing, baby bulge in the eighth without dropping it on its head. In the ninth, the trumpets sounded for the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy himself, Edwin Diaz. The sound effects caused the Brewers to stir from their own slumber. Diaz gave up a single to Willy Adames, a walk to Narvaez and a single to Tyrone Taylor that scored Adames. Home viewers wavered between sticking pins in their Edwin Diaz dolls or extricating them from the last time he appeared on their screens. Again, whatever works.

A Potsdam Conference at the mound seemed to calm Edwin down. The closer proceeded to strike out Jace Peterson, strike out Keston Hiura, fly out Jackie Bradley, Jr., and snatch back our faltering faith in him. Yeah, Sugar, we knew you had ’em the whole time!

Same for our first-place Mets, comprised of names we haven’t seen in every lineup this year, but have ya noticed they’re almost all here again? The projected starters, save for reportedly nearly healed J.D. Davis, are starting. The valiant provisional starters who defended first place through May and June now constitute Depth City. You look to the bench, you see Villar, Pillar, Guillorme, Peraza, McKinney, Nido. In April, we considered them spare parts if we considered (or knew) them at all. Now we’ve learned for ourselves what they can do, and on the eve of the second half of a first-place season, they are a strength Luis Rojas can flex like they’re Donnie Stevenson’s biceps.

Conforto hinted at a personal comeback Monday night. Nimmo didn’t need one; he’s been “back” ever since he got back. McNeil is getting loose. Smith and Alonso may not be going deep, but they’re taking us far. Lindor may be leading us there. We’ll never fully embrace our bullpen when a game actively hangs in the balance, but I think relief pitchers understand they were born suspect (nothing personal, fellas). We’re down net-one starting pitcher from our rotation, but preternaturally poised Megill has kept us from being down two. He’s a big reason we won by two and still lead by four.

First-place Mets. Eighty-one games to go. At the risk of saying it out loud, this ain’t too bad.

21 comments to Seventh Time’s a Seventh Charm?

  • Seth

    It’s starting to get interesting. Do we really need an all-star break? Why not amortize those 4 days off throughout the month of July and skip the meaningless game and 4 day break that cools off some teams and heats up others? It’s been hard enough to get in a groove this season.

  • Loathe bunting, as you know, but thought it was a fine play in a game that seemed likely to be decided by a skinny run or two. Whatever works!

  • Jacobs27

    The Mets offense has spent 81 games mostly specializing in stringing outs together, especially during the first six portions of ballgames.

    It has been nice to see them string some honest-to-goodness *hits* together in some innings recently, especially 7th innings.

    Here’s hoping it continues.

  • eric1973

    Someone ought to tell Gary and Ron that there is an actual game going on sometimes. These two use every excuse to ramble on about nothing. And the worst part is, these guys are not naturally humorous, like Keith. They have absolutely no sense of humor, so their joking around come across as forced. They try to top each other with corny puns, and to Keith’s credit, he does not partake.

    Darling is the perfect modern National TV broadcaster. Dull as Dishwater. When Keith is not there, the broadcast is lacking, Big Time.

    And the two of them were dead wrong when they criticized Lindor for sacrificing to help score the tying run in the middle of the game. Lindor knows how to hit, he just can’t this year, and he is smart enough to realize that. The faulty reasoning they used is that Lindor is making a lot of money. Last I seen, money can’t play, unless it’s Don, and cash can’t play, unless it’s Dave or Norm. We know it can’t manage, and that includes Kevin, who cost his team the World Series last season.

    • chuck

      Gotta disagree with you here. I could be wrong, but I think Ronnie’s shade throwing goes up a notch when Keith’s not there. The business about whether or not to hold the pitcher on first had us on the floor.

      • Dave

        As did the “it’s always all about you, Keith” bit. Keith is the dorky uncle trying to make everyone laugh with him, Ron is the smartass who follows up with just a few dryly-delivered words that makes everyone laugh at him.

    • Seth

      I get where you’re coming from – Ron tries to be funny and ends up making obscure references that only HE knows what they refer to. Maybe “player slang” or something. And Gary is no stand-up comic. But that’s not his job.

      However — spend 10 minutes listening to any other broadcast team and you will appreciate the brilliance of what we’ve got here. They’re like family — spend enough time with anyone and they’ll get on your nerves (but you still love them).

      • chuck

        …”spend 10 minutes listening to any other broadcast team…”

        Nail. Head. Hit.

        I wish I could say the Red Sox team comes marginally close, but that’s probably because I have an image of Jerry Remy being the Cliff Claven of baseball.

        • Daniel Hall

          Absolutely. Jerry Remy’s great, but their play-by-play is so bland I can’t remember his name. Giants, Cubs have great-ish booths, but not on the level what we have.

          But I wasn’t even aware that F.P. Santangelo had been cancelled in Gnatstown, two months ago; when I watched that early-early game on Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to see that the broadcast was not entirely insufferable. Just a game between two teams I can’t stand (Dodgers), and where I wished they’d somehow both make an L out of it. (Spoiler: didn’t work)

  • Wonderful recap of a deeply satisfying win. Yelich glumly striding away from the plate after his Ks a particular delight. He’s got the perfect face for “glum” when he comes up empty. Loved your “hippocratic” relief (fantastic turn of phrase!) and “ Francisco easily” and “Dom strenuously” made me laugh out loud. Only Pete slides with greater gravity than Dom! LGM, it’s been a fun half!

  • open the gates

    To me, Lindor is one of the unsung heroes of this first half season. That seems a weird thing to say about a guy who was signed for the biggest contract ever and who had to raise his average just to hit .219. But after not living up to the contract offensively, he could very easily have become a soul-sucking “poor me show” like Bonilla and George Foster, or even a useless speed bump like Roger Cedeno (recidivist) and Jason Bay. Instead, he quietly took charge of the infield, raising the defense among the constantly changing cast of infielders into something not seen here for years. He took a leadership role in the clubhouse, helped shape the morale in the craziest injury year I’ve ever seen, and shrugged off the Citi boo birds almost effortlessly. The bunt is perfectly representative of his “it’s not about me, I’m just trying to help the team win” attitude. He’s a guy it’s almost impossible to root against.

    • dmg

      agree enthusiastically on lindor. his defense and the impact on positive mets outcomes is underappreciated: he has saved many, many runs, and he anchors an infield that is vastly improved from years past. (also little noted: alonso’s sharply upped his 1st base defense.)
      yes his bat is less than it should be, but this is coming not only in a new league but during “year of the pitcher 2.0.” that will improve. and in the meantime he will do what he thinks will work best for the team.

  • open the gates

    On another note – after all of the assorted Lucchesis and Yamamotos and Eickhoffs and Szapuckis (and can we PLEASE get some AAAA pitchers with spellable names?), is it actually possible that young Tylor Megill is a keeper? I never even heard of the kid before last week, and he’s suddenly an up-from-nowhere feel good story. Maybe, if Corey Oswalt continues to approximate a decent number-5 (and being decent is all you can ask from a number-5), can we all breathe easier and tell Cookie and David and Thor that they don’t have to rush themselves back, we’re covered for now? That would be nice.

  • greensleeves

    Rocky Raccoon, Take 2:

    His name was Megil
    and he called himself Tyl
    Still, dear old Mom knew him as Ghost Baby

  • Eric

    Winning a well-pitched game from a back-end starter, no less against a division leader fielding a front-end starter, is extra satisfying because the Mets losses wasting too many of those this season have been extra frustrating.

    Megill’s boost to the team reminds me of 2016 Gsellman and Lugo. For deGrom’s 1st few starts as a marginal prospect and emergency fill-in in 2014, he had to earn his next start with each start. Megill is doing that now. So far, so good.

    The anxiety in the top of the 9th was set up by foreboding from the frustrating bottom of the 8th. Textbook table-setting by Guillorme, Nimmo, and Lindor wasted by a typical 2020/2021 fizzle: pop-up, DP. It made we wish Alonso had come out instead of Smith when Pillar came in. I thought the baseball gods were going to make the Mets pay for not scoring at least 1 more insurance run when Diaz came in rusty. It worked out with Diaz getting away with a few hittable pitches that would have been HRs in 2019.

    I want Lindor swinging with a man on 2nd. But I do like the display of faith that his teammate will get the runner in from 3rd, even if I’m skeptical. Smith made Lindor look smart.

  • Unser

    Really enjoyed this post! Midpoint in 1984 was the first time I felt the Mets were a true contending team. I was at Shea for game 81 and after the Mets won (if memory serves, Bruce Berenyi was winning pitcher that day) my mother pointed out to this 13 year old that most first place teams at midseason win their divisions. I was stunned – the New York Mets are now the favorite to win the division?!? They ultimately didn’t, of course, but, as FAFIF has often pointed out, the 1984 season was special for many reasons.

  • Richard

    I think last nights win was one of the finest this season..Locked into a pitching duel- then busting out with late big hits against a kid having a fine season. Brewers have given us fits over the years and we will likely meet them in the first round..Gotta beat these guys!!

  • Daniel Hall

    Potsdam Conference? I call it The Drumheads. And Boom-Boom needs it a lot more often. Case in point, Wednesday Part I.

  • Flashbacks to my Cub Scout youth with the critique of the uniform color scheme. Once more spot on with descriptions.

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