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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 Day of Trivia and Substance

First off, it didn’t rain. Anybody ready to take that for granted in the middle of a season when it anecdotally “always” rains? Chance of scattered thunderstorms, the forecast warned. I stuffed my disposable poncho I never dispose of and my portable Mets umbrella that I try not to use because then it would get wet into my game bag. They never saw daylight because the sky never saw storm clouds.

Then, and more importantly, the Mets didn’t lose. They could have. They were poised on the precipice of defeat at a couple of intervals Sunday afternoon. Smack in the middle of Promenade, Section 515 — where home plate is directly below; the original “STRUCK! HIM!! OUT!!!” guy is within earshot; and sunscreen unchecked by umpires was the order of the surprisingly dry day for arms, faces and legs otherwise susceptible to burns — you could feel a grip being lost, a good game going bad, a win getting away.

But it didn’t rain and the Mets didn’t lose. The Toronto Blue Jays, who you’re glad are in another league’s Eastern Division, loomed large but were cut down to size when it mattered most.

What mattered first was Rich Hill, the 1,145th Met overall, striding to the mound to serve as starting pitcher. I’ve been to three games this year. In all three games, I’ve witnessed a pitcher make his first start as a Met. If it happens again, I’m contemplating commissioning a custom-made satin jacket embroidered with my new nickname Welcome Wagon in a fancy font. I’ve personally welcomed Tylor Megill, then Robert Stock, then Rich Hill. One of these things, the Muppets advise, is not like the other. Megill took the ball as the rawest of rookies. Robert Stock’s pre-Met starting experience was limited to playing the below-the-title role of “opposing pitcher” to Jacob deGrom before coming to his senses and joining the good guys.

Hill, on the other hand, has been around. He’s seen some things. He’s thrown some innings, though not often more than five at a time. Rich is 41, a Terrific number to flash in Flushing. Rich also throws about 41, or so it seems relative to those hurlers who light up radar guns from coast to coast. Whatever his velocity and repertoire, the very experienced Rich Hill took care of the Jays for the first five without a run.

I’d love to tell you I applied my grand view of home plate to discerning the movement or command that made Rich so effective. But nah. I spent most of Rich Hill’s first outing as a Met immersed in Rich Hill-adjacent conversation with my old pal the Maestro of Metrics, Mark Simon, who was kind enough to invite me to take the seat next to him in 515 Sunday. Mark didn’t want any payment for the ticket, but requested I bring some trivia. He’d bring the same. This is our version of a pot luck dinner.

Rich Hill’s presence had us asking and answering questions that involved the likes of Damon Buford, Manny Alexander, Miguel Batista and Rajai Davis. Dock Ellis rode in on a surprisingly lofty ERA. Old frenemy T#m Gl@v!ne was one-fifth of an answer, though I didn’t pronounce him the way I spell him. The fact that Rich was facing Toronto allowed us to bring up Jeremy Hefner from early in his rookie campaign and Jason Isringhausen from after he was a phenom. Damion Easley snuck in from somewhere near third base. And, via a roundabout route that isn’t Easley articulated, so did Jeff Keppinger.

Go to a game with Mark and me. I dare you to pay attention to what you came to see. But eventually the novelty of the 41-year-old starting pitcher with more stickers on his figurative suitcase than miles per hour on his fastball wears off and even we are paying attention to what the game in front of us is doing. Hill climbed into but not out of the sixth. He bequeathed loaded bases and a slim lead of 1-0 to Seth Lugo. Hill’s will should have been more specific about what Seth should do with his inheritance. Alas, all three of those runners scored on Lugo’s watch/Rich’s record.

We were down, 3-1, in the middle of the sixth. We could’ve stayed down. We stayed down on Saturday night. Responded to the canned calls of “CHARGE!!!” in one inning, got mired in a maze the other eight. Yet the bottom of the sixth became where Sunday stopped being about trivia and started being about substance.

The first half of what needed to happen on offense happened pretty Easley…uh, easily. Pete Alonso whacked a two-run homer to left. Whoomp, there it was, a 3-3 tie. It was Pete’s 22nd of the year in the Mets’ 96th game. For the first time since it stopped being 2019, Alonso hit a home run that felt like 2019 — his 2019, when he was setting paces and breaking records.

The Mets’ 2021 has taken flight without a lot of Alonso, compared to the outsize space he occupied in our psyche two years ago, but a full complement of Pete will be critical to this first-place club remaining this first-place club. THIS NOT JUST IN BUT FEELS LIKE IT’S NEWS: The Mets are a first-place club. We’re still rubbing our eyes over their status because, as we’ve been over repeatedly, they haven’t really played like a first-place club. But they are a first-place club. The goal now is to continue to be a first-place club.

For that, we shall require not just satisfying game-tying home runs but clutch-as-hell go-ahead hits. We shall require more than a sprinkle of Jeff McNeil, the Polar Bear’s erstwhile tag team partner. Jeff has not been physically available for a few days, and spiritually, mentally or simply Squirrelfully, he hasn’t been a hundred percent present in the way we grew used to in 2018 and 2019. It’s a long career for every player of tenure. Ups and downs are a fact of their flow. We’re as patient as my cat at the sound of a can opener when it comes to the downs.

McNeil got a pinch-hitting opportunity in the sixth. Jacob Barnes (the 1,119th Met overall, for those who have forgotten) came on to pitch for the Blue Jays. J.D. Davis walked. Jonathan Villar singled. McNeil’s turn for an up or a down.

An up. Definitely an up.

McNeil ripped a Barnes ball into the right-center gap scoring both Davis and Villar and pushing the Mets ahead, 5-3. If the Mets didn’t win the NL East right there and then, I had a sense they’d taken a step toward not losing it. That was a big hit. It didn’t go as long as Alonso’s, it didn’t come so late to be routinely termed dramatic, and by no means did it clinch the game, but Mark and I agreed that if there’s ever cause to produce a 2021 reboot of the 1986 home video blockbuster A Year to Remember (likely not on VHS and probably without a music budget adequate for securing rights to Bob Seger, Duran Duran or Emerson, Lake & Palmer), the McNeil pinch-double earned a slot in the “as July turned to August and the Mets’ hold on first place tightened” montage.

Yeah, the vibe was hot. But the inning was indeed only the sixth and the lead was only two. Jeurys Familia was tidy as you please with a clean seventh. The Jays’ eighth was a different story. Trevor May was a different pitcher. Not the Trevor May we’ve trusted intermittently in ’21. More along the lines of the Aaron Heilman we stopped trusting after ’06. The Jays put up a run in what felt like a blink to make it 5-4. They kept coming, too, loading the bases with two out.

Enter Aaron Loup, the anti-Heilman as Aarons go. Enter another moment where the division wasn’t lost again. Alert the editing bay that we need to splice into the montage Loup lining out Cavin Biggio to Dom Smith in left and leaving the bases loaded. Think about it: the Blue Jays, who’d posted ten runs the night before and gave you the notion they could post ten more at will, had a tie and a lead in their grasp. Grasping ties and leads is what good teams do to teams not so good. But the Mets are a good team. We don’t notice because we’re Mets fans.

We also don’t put much faith in relievers to hold slim leads. Except Aaron Loup. Let’s trust him a little. And no kidding about the montage. “The Mets’ momentum extended some more on a summer Sunday, thanks to an easygoing, tough-throwing southpaw from Louisiana.” We’ll update the script as needed.

An awesome team might have poured on some insurance runs. The Mets are good. We’re not claiming they’re awesome. We’re not even claiming Edwin Diaz is dependable. We are genetically incapable of telling our closer, “You got this.” In our heart of hearts, we don’t think you do, but we’re willing to fake enthusiasm if it helps. And tap along a toe or two to the trumpet routine that heralds Edwin’s emergence from the pen — the only loud noise transmitted over the ballpark’s overwrought PA system that qualified as a somewhat welcome sound Sunday. Mark and I agreed that if Diaz comes in to pitch in the playoffs at Citi Field with a one-run edge and his music blasting, it, like our team by then, will be awesome.

We were actually talking playoffs in July, with Edwin Diaz approaching the pitching rubber to face the dangerous Blue Jays. We may have used sunscreen, but you’re welcome to assume we were experiencing heat stroke.

Diaz went about his business in a manner resembling cool, calm and collected. He struck out George Springer, which satisfied the many who howled at the moon (BOOOOOOOO!!!!!) every time the shamed champion Astro showed his face. He walked Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., but a base on balls is the better part of valor when facing a hitter whose slugging percentage of .663 leaps from the scoreboard and knocks your eyes’ socks off while simultaneously taking their breath away. Guerrero is a metaphor-crusher. Don’t let him be a Met-crusher, too. Walk him, just don’t let him get anywhere.

Edwin did, but only ninety feet on a wild pitch. Edwin struck out Marcus Semien on three pitches in the interim. It was while facing Bo Bichette that Vlad the Younger moved to second. It was also while facing Bichette that Diaz worked the count full. At three-and-two, James McCann trotted to the mound for a word with his pitcher. From 515, one could only imagine what the word was. It was probably more family-friendly than the words we in the stands had holstered in case the worst was about to occur.

We’ll save that variant of our vocabulary for another day, maybe another year. Diaz struck out Bichette to end the game, 5-4 in the Mets’ favor. Mark likes to invoke a Kurkjianism for games you look back on as building blocks to a special season. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian will say “circle this game” in reference to a crazy comeback or a stunning turning point. I asked him as we descended the steps from Promenade if a game whose defining characteristic was it didn’t get away when it could have is one that qualifies for a circle. Mark wasn’t sure. Neither was I. But we both agreed that it could have been a loss we would have circled ruefully had it been a loss.

Which it wasn’t. And that, I have a hunch, was pretty substantial.

13 comments to A Day of Trivia and Substance

  • open the gates

    The Mets play like a first place team because they are a first place team and this is how they play. They weren’t so impressive for most of ’73 either, and at this time in ’15 they were still relying on the likes of Darrell Ceciliani and John Mayberry Jr. If they stay one step ahead of a mediocre-to-awful division and then go on to win the World Series, they will have played like a champion, and I would take it in a heartbeat. It can’t always be 1986.

  • Charlie O’Brien

    Yet another piece of Mets trivia.
    Rich Hill at 41 became the second oldest starting
    pitcher to debut with the club behind Warren Spahn who
    at 44 started a game for the Mets in 1965.
    They both wore number 21.

    • History may not repeat but it often rhymes.

      • Bob

        I was at that game (my Father took me and my Uncle Phil-an old Bklyn Dodger fan who screamed at Dodgers & cursed O’Malley at this game) at Shea in 1965 when 41-year old Warren Spahn pitched VS Dodgers & Don Drysdale.
        Dodgers won on a solo HR by Drysdale in 8th inning–if I recall 2-1.
        I do recall watching Spahn’s curve ball keep Dodger off balance.

  • eric1973

    Greg, our trivia talk would be more along the lines of the 3-way number switch in 1974 involving Felix Millan, Teddy Martinez, and Dave Schneck.

  • Eric

    The game checked the boxes. Hill passing his introductory test with a satisfactory Colon-esque performance. An immediate response after losing the 1-0 lead, featuring regulars hitting exactly what they’re supposed to hit — Alonso HR, McNeil double in the gap — in the clutch. A bullpen that bent understandably versus a scary, deep line-up but didn’t break protecting the slim lead. Rojas making satisfying decisions, especially pinch-hitting McNeil for Nido. Hill had a bad 6th inning, but I agreed with the decision to let him bat in the 5th inning and try to squeeze out 1 or 2 more innings. As far as I know, no new injury.

    Lesson learned: maybe a quicker hook next time for Hill when the savvy southpaw’s smoke and mirrors stop working. Lugo allowed all 3 inherited runners to score, yet I didn’t think he pitched badly. May pitched badly and luckily only allowed the 1 run. Diaz finished the 9th that looked to be shaping into a typical blown save after he wild pitched Guerrero into scoring position.

    The Blue Jays have a very good line-up, good defense … And they’re a 4th place team that’s been treading a step above .500 for most of the season. The Mets’ strained pitching staff yet held the powerful Blue Jays in check in 2 of the 3 games, despite that the Blue Jays looked like they were continually on the verge of breaking the game open. So as satisfying as the series win was, I’m reluctant to make more of it than the Mets did what they needed to do to hold onto their division lead for another day.

    Big series versus the Braves starting today. The Braves will be playing like their season is on the line.

    Tough upcoming schedule through August and the Mets are still 1 bad week from losing the division lead. The Padres look to be doing all they can to hold onto the 2nd wild card at minimum. While the disintegrating Mets pitching staff is being patched on the fly, Nola looks like he’s found his 2nd wind alongside Wheeler, and the Phillies upcoming schedule is easier. I expect the Phillies to be aggressive with trades.

  • Gene F

    And we all know know that Spahn took 21 from young Eddie Kranepool, who switched to his more familiar 7.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    ..Enter another moment where the division wasn’t lost again.

    So well put. Thanks.

    There’s been a lot of those moments this year, I’m actually getting confident, a little.

  • Seth

    Good to hear I’m not the only one that doesn’t like to get their umbrella wet. On to the 40th doubleheader of the season!

  • JoeNunz

    The OG “HE! STRUCK! HIM! OUT!” guy is on Twitter here:

    I have been listening to him chant that chant since the mid-70s.

  • […] for your recap: Amazin’ Avenue small and very long, Faith and Concern in Flushing, Day-to-day Information, ESPN, MLB, Newsday, North Jersey, […]

  • Kevin Connell

    Happy to welcome you guys to the party! I have VERY UNCHARACTERISTICALLY been in full ’73 Tug mode since late May. My faith has been tested a few times since then, but it has never broken. We’re winning this division and I am enjoying every moment of this season, rich as it is with AYTR-esque moments.