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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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Good Afternoon, Good Night

Marcus Stroman, intermittent instigator of excitement, monitored a Wednesday afternoon nap in Cincinnati as if moonlighting as a day camp counselor for the six-and-under set. He authoritatively lulled the Reds’ offense to sleep and relaxed Mets fans no end with eight innings of shutout ball. Marcus plunked leadoff hitter Jonathan India to begin the game, allowed a single to Aristides Aquino to start the third, walked Joey Votto with two out in the seventh, and…that was it. Mr. Sandman sprinkled his changes of speed in the home team’s eyes all day and, from there, it was off to never never land.

Never did you think the Mets could play a simultaneously rewarding yet placid game on this road trip, yet there they went, winning with ease — and homers. Three homers. A solo shot from Jonathan Villar in the second. A grand slam from Dom Smith in the third. A two-run job from Luis Guillorme in the fifth for the infielder’s first circuit clout in two years. Each homer cleared the Great American Ball Park Fence by barely more than a few rows, if that. One inch over the line, of course, is all it takes for four bags. The Mets wound up a three-run blast short of the home run cycle, but the 7-0 win needed no further power embellishment.

Likewise, what Marcus did, shutting out the Reds on one hit for eight innings, didn’t need to go one inning further. Maybe in another era eight wouldn’t have been enough. A full-fledged shutout might have been sweeter than the Graeter’s Ice Cream Gary Cohen recommended as an alternative to his culinary bête noire Skyline Chili on the menu of high-profile Cincinnati delicacies. Either way, Marcus wasn’t getting a chance at that final scoop of outs, as Luis Rojas and whoever confers with Luis Rojas on how pitching is managed calculated the greater good would be served by limiting Stro to 90 pitches and getting Jeurys Familia a dollop of work.

So it was a combined one-hit shutout, which, after the five tense, wacky, frustrating and what have you games that constituted the first five-sixths of the Mets’ jaunt to Western Pennsylvania and Southern Ohio, was simply delicious. What did Stroman think of not going nine when nine was within reach? Don’t ask. Seriously, don’t ask. Somebody did and the pitcher’s answer was, “Next question.” Not the most helpful response to a reporter who was just trying to glean insights for the fans back home, yet as unhelpful responses go, it was better than the rat/raccoon sighting Francisco Lindor cooked up (with Jeff McNeil as sous chef) in May. Lindor appeared to be obfuscating. Stroman, I thought, shifted, however tersely, into “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies” territory. Publicly concurring with Rojas’s decision may not have jibed with his honest emotion. Taking issue with the manager over Zoom could have stirred a pot he judged best left to simmer on low. The man preaches positivity through his social media. “PITCHER RIPS MANAGER” doesn’t exactly mesh with the profile he strives to put forth. One would infer it doesn’t help him pitch better, either.

Wednesday’s was the kind of game where if your only issue was Marcus Stroman not going all the way and not opining on not going all the way, then it was a pretty delightful Met afternoon. Marcus Stroman has been responsible for many a splendid day and night in 2021. When the games haven’t definitively gone his way, he’s generally kept the Mets close. That’s what he was doing in his previous start, last Friday in Pittsburgh. In that game, Stro worked out of a touch of trouble (runner on third, two out) by coaxing a lineout from John Nogowski to end the fifth. Stroman emoted as Stroman does when he finishes an inning unscored upon. Nogowski barked. Stroman noticed. Benches emptied. Neutral corners were eventually returned to. Then a little more yammering was exchanged, but nothing physical. Marcus didn’t mind expressing himself to the media after that dustup. “He’s just a clown,” the pitcher said of the hitter.

What struck me most about the contretemps, besides how ridiculous Nogowski looked for acting insulted by a pitcher exuding in an age when hitters are regularly lauded for celebrating themselves and their achievements, was how this wasn’t new. It was almost a latter-day facsimile of something I recalled from nearly four decades prior. On July 18, 1982 — 39 years minus one day before Nogowski v. Stroman — a Met pitcher heard from an opposing batter that he needed to behave himself. Then, as now, the batter should have concentrated on his stance, his swing and his business.

The Met who ruffled feathers way back when was an unlikely candidate when viewed through history’s sometimes fuzzy lens: Terry Leach. If you remember Terry Leach, chances are you remember him for his baseball-heroic performance across the injury-pocked Met summer of 1987. That was the year when the Mets never had their vaunted starting rotation in one workable piece. Literally never. The arms that carried the Mets to a world championship in 1986 last threw as a unit in Spring Training. The sure thing that was supposed to be Gooden, Ojeda, Darling, Fernandez and Aguilera (with dashes of David Cone if there was room for March’s surprise pickup) became an exercise in improvisation. A dash of Don Schulze here. A sprig of Tom Edens there. Glaze with John Mitchell.

Hence, thank goodness for the extra-large serving of Terry Leach, unassuming submarining swingman who emerged from the bullpen at midseason, took the ball regularly, and did nothing but win. Three wins in relief in May. Seven wins as a starter in June, July and August, highlighted by a two-hit shutout at Cincinnati on Independence Day weekend. A reassuring, low-key veteran presence all along. Terry was 33 in ’87. None among the Mets, the Braves and Cubs ever gave him a real shot as he drifted through their organizations for a decade. He never much impressed Frank Cashen, not even after throwing an emergency start at the tail end of 1982 that became the only ten-inning one-hitter in Mets history. “Don’t worry, Leachie,” the GM told the righty by way of consoling him when it appeared there’d be no room on the post-championship Opening Day roster for him. “You’ll always keep showing back up around here. You’re like a bad penny.”

Some pep talk, eh? Nevertheless, Leach maintained his demeanor, his dignity and his determination. The ten-game winning streak that kept the Mets afloat followed. But that was 1987. That was five years after the aforementioned incident from the summer of ’82. Back then, Terry wasn’t exactly what you’d call an instigator of excitement, yet he wasn’t reticent about demonstrating satisfaction for a job well done. We’d seen somebody like that in our distant past. His name was Tug McGraw. A gesture of exultation was part of our physical vocabulary.

Less prone to kindly interpreting an opposing pitcher’s body language was Dusty Baker. The same Dusty Baker who today is the almost universally revered wise old head who has managed the almost universally reviled Houston Astros into first place, the same Dusty Baker who’s taken five franchises in all to the postseason. In 1982, Baker was an All-Star outfielder for the second season in a row, a pro’s pro who’d been on the scene since 1968, an essential member of three Dodger pennant-winners, including the club that captured the World Series the October before. By the middle of July the year after, which is to say when Leach and Baker crossed paths at Dodger Stadium, L.A. was flailing in the NL West, failing in their quest to pick up ground on the surprising Atlanta Braves. The Mets were having a much lousier year, but they weren’t expected to do much. Thus, when a middle reliever with little in the way of reputation notched a big out against a big star from a big team, could you blame him for a little bit of a big reaction?

Leach, you see, had struck out Baker while protecting a one-run lead in the seventh. He pumped a fist. Heaven forefend! Wheel out the fainting couch at once! Baker took exception to being what he thought of as shown up, one of the no-nos of twentieth-century sporting sins. Everybody in days of yore had to act as if he’d been there before. Leach, however, had mostly been in the minors since 1976. To not have been excited by succeeding in the major leaguers would have indicated being a little dead inside.

The 1982 Mets being the 1982 Mets did not hold their lead against the Dodgers that Saturday night. Leach left the mound in the ninth, with the bases loaded and one out, entrusting what was now a 5-2 lead to Neil Allen. Allen was the Mets’ closer, one of the few bright spots to light up our perpetually dim early 1980s. Alas, Baker singled home two runs off Allen and, after Pedro Guerrero walked, Ron Cey singled home the tying and winning runs, the latter carried across the plate by Baker himself.

Did Dusty high-five his teammates and head directly to the home clubhouse to spout platitudes to the Southern California press? Not without a detour. The veteran saw fit to, as the Daily News put it, “derisively thr[o]w up his arm with an extended finger at the Mets’ dugout.” Specifically, the Times reported, “Baker pointed at Terry Leach, the rookie relief pitcher. […] Baker had been upset when he took a called third strike earlier in Saturday night’s game and watched Leach punch the air in celebration, something Leach says he has done since he played in high school.”

“The only thing I’m mad about,” Baker reflected a day later, “is that I stooped as low as I did, to his level,” meaning Leach’s. All Leach was doing was being happy and showing it. That sort of crime against baseball decorum was treated as a felony in 1982. It selectively provokes a misdemeanor citation in 2021, as evidenced by Nogowski bristling that Stroman pulled what for our purposes we’ll call a Leach — even if Leach, save for a fist pumped on a long-ago Saturday night, lingers in the mind’s eye as the epitome of mild-mannered.

In case you’re wondering, the Mets would exact a little revenge the next afternoon, pounding the Dodgers, 8-3, and letting Baker know they didn’t care for his act. “This was a good win,” manager George Bamberger affirmed, according to the News, “because of that bleeping finger Baker gave us last night,” though one assumes Bambi didn’t say “bleeping”. “That kinda spurred the boys on. They were telling Baker something after that bleeping finger. Added catcher John Stearns, “When Baker came to bat in the first, I told him, ‘A lot of our guys were mad at you for last night.’”

So much anger can be ginned up over a kids’ game, all regarding who’s excited and who’s offended. That’s why when you get a 7-0 one-hitter, combined or otherwise, it can really soothe the soul.

13 comments to Good Afternoon, Good Night

  • Bruce in Forest Hills

    Nice tribute to Terry Leach. I saw today’s post-game press conference when Stroman was asked if he fought to pitch the 9th. I commented on line that this year’s Mets give a lot of complex, articulate answers to some extremely dumb questions. I thought we stopped judging a pitcher’s character by how hard he fought to stay in the game — after he had nothing left in the tank — with Matt Harvey and the 2015 World Series debacle.

  • Daniel Hall

    I’m just happy we got a nice, cozy 7-0 win. Scored a bunch early, no real danger, and the main attraction was the guy in the Hawaiian Pete Shirt and the kid that couldn’t hold up the cutout of Pete correctly.

    Just a nice game!

    Never mind that Jeff McNeil maybe tweaked a limb and that will develop into another 3-month injury without a doubt…..

  • chuck

    Oh, fair enough. But Greg Maddux has gotta be shaking his head. Would it really have been so horrible to send Stro out there and taking him out if he didn’t finish in nine pitches?

    Also kinda telling that Ronnie was regaling us with the story of Seaver’s shutout balls dumped in a desk drawer.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Not since “Murphy’s a net negative” have I disagreed with Gary Cohen this much. I like Skyline Chili. He’s a food snob, it doesn’t look like Chili and it looks excessive, so he’s against it.

    I had it “live” the 2 times I was in Cincinnati, and when I see the canned version on the shelves at Wegman’s here in NJ I buy it and doctor it up to a 5 way. Next time I do that I will add extra cheese with Gary Cohen in mind.

    Also, the one time I was at Graeter’s Ice Cream I was greeted by an undeserved parking meter ticket and a nasty ticket agent, I’d never praise the ice cream like he does.

    Sweet win yesterday.

    • Seth

      I’m not morally opposed to it, but how do you eat it? Especially at a ball game? You have 6.5 gallons of gravy (and beans) on top of spaghetti. I’m just imagining trying to eat that with a 3-inch plastic fork sitting elbow to elbow with other fans.

      Gary gets a pass, he’s going a bit stir crazy. Who can blame him?

  • eric1973

    Loved Terry Leach in 1987. He saved our season and could have really saved it had he not been yanked out of the rotation by a ridiculous Davey Johnson.

    Our broadcasters, Gary and Ron, yesterday sounded like drunks at a bar, laughing giddily at every single thing that had nothing to do with the game. Those two have become so unprofessional.

    • MEKeating

      Thank you eric1973. GKR has turned into the cool kidz table in a middle school cafeteria with private jokes and no concern with anything else (like, I don’t know, the viewing audience). The insights of Ron (and to a lesser extent, Keith) are still valuable but to appreciate them, one has to suffer through the constant ummmms, hmmms and MMMMMMMMs. It’s probably a vocal tic that would be difficult to correct, and I realize it’s blasphemous to express these harsh realities about Met royalty. But it’s reached the crisis point—they’re approaching Fat Elvis stage.

  • Seth

    Very interesting review of where we are with respect to celebrations. I don’t mind an outburst of emotion when you get the 3rd out — but every home run celebration makes it look like they just won the world series. I do understand that norms and customs change over time. But I can’t help feeling it’s a bit over the top sometimes.

  • Eric

    Mets win; Phillies, Braves, Nationals lose. A good day. (Thank you, Yankees. Return the favor by beating the Blue Jays.) The Mets are hanging onto 1st place by their much injured finger tips, yet they haven’t fallen out of 1st place yet.

    Is the ball juiced again? There’s been a noticeable recent increase of the Mets play-by-play men obviously anticipating a fly ball out and adjusting their call as the ball drifts over the wall. Plus more pitchers doing the Robles pop up point at home runs. Villar’s HR looked like a HR off the bat. Smith and Guillorme’s did not.

    I remember when it was a given that a starter pitching a shutout didn’t come out unless he was clearly losing it, whatever the pitch count. And if the lead was comfortable — eg, 7-0 — and he was losing it, he didn’t come out until he gave up a run, usually runs plural. A starter coming out 1 inning short of a tidy Maddux? That would have been exceptional. Not anymore.

    That being said, Stroman had struggled his last few outings. As Greg Mitchell stresses, Stroman did not pitch at all in 2020 so it behooves the team to take care with his load. Hopefully, this outing means Stroman is catching his 2nd wind. He is a 30-year-old pitcher on what may be his last big contract drive after all. Which is to say, we should expect Stroman’s best the rest of the way, and if finding spots to shave pitch count and innings where it doesn’t hurt the team keeps him on track for his next start, then do that. Especially given that the team’s putative ace has been chronically missing starts, as well as leaving games early, due to mysterious health reasons this season.

    Terry Leach’s 1987 season was a favorite. I enjoyed his funky submarine rising stuff. I’m fine with celebrating as long as it’s contained to the achievement, doesn’t interfere with the game at hand, and it’s not expressed at the opponent disrespectfully.

    Guillorme’s sustaining a .419 OBP so far after his .426 OBP last season. Assuming his 3-error game was a 1-time hiccup, that’s a glove and bat that should be playing. At minimum, he’s providing enough quality depth so we aren’t overly distressed with losing Lindor and clutch Peraza in short order. If McNeil is hurt again, though, that’s stretching the infield depth, unless Blankenhorn comes up slugging.

    Too bad about losing McKinney. Good glove and typical of the Bench Mob, timely hits notwithstanding modest numbers. Brewers, Mets, Dodgers — if one must be a journeyman, at least play for the contenders.

  • judy

    I always thought Terry Leach was the Mets team MVP in 1987.

  • […] It wasn’t the primary time Leach, who helped hold the defending champion Mets within the NL East race in 1987 by successful his first 10 selections as a swingman and emergency starter, has been talked about within the second half. As Mets historian Greg Prince famous following the Stroman-Nogowski dust-up, Leach aggravated Dusty Baker by celebrating a strikeout throughout a 1982 recreation. […]

  • […] It wasn’t the first time Leach, who helped keep the defending champion Mets in the NL East race in 1987 by winning his first 10 decisions as a swingman and emergency starter, has been mentioned in the second half. As Mets historian Greg Prince noted following the Stroman-Nogowski dust-up, Leach annoyed Dusty Baker by celebrating a strikeout during a 1982 game. […]