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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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Speaking of Spurts

Perhaps you’ve read of the unique public perception of Howard Cosell at the peak of his fame. He was simultaneously the most popular sports broadcaster of his time and the most unpopular. People loved him. People hated him. People listened when he spoke.

I thought of Mets PA announcer Colin Cosell’s grandfather as I watched Javy Baez return from the injured list in Los Angeles and administer a shock to the Mets’ moribund system. He ripped doubles in the first and seventh, one that drove in Brandon Nimmo from first with the game’s first run and prefaced two more in the inning, another that set the stage for a critical two-out, two-run homer. The first double may have represented the keynote address of the day, given that it put the Mets on the board almost ASAP, but the second was the more startling in the moment, as Baez turned a single into a double because he could. After lashing his hit to left, Javy zipped around first and pulled yet another of his marvelous now you see my hand, now you don’t slides, this one confounding Trea Turner (and, boy, haven’t we wanted to confound that guy?).

Baez scored from second in the first when J.D. Davis singled him in and scored from second in the seventh when J.D. Davis homered for the first time since just after the All-Star break. Davis was a microcosm of the Mets, looking lifeless for too long, yet springing to life with Baez suddenly on the scene. That’s the sort of impact we were aware Javy had on the Cubs. That’s the sort of impact we saw in isolation before Javy got hurt shortly after coming to the Mets.

We might not remember how Baez helped the Mets in his first ten games in our colors because when he wasn’t sparking us toward a couple of victories, he was weighing us down badly (.171/.216/.343) as we commenced losing chronically. It thus dawned on me Sunday that Javy Baez is something akin to our Howard Cosell. He’s the best player we have on the field when he’s not playing worse than everybody else. He’s Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s little girl with the curl to whom Ralph Kiner was so fond of referring. “When she was good, she was very good,” Ralph liked to say. When she wasn’t, she struck out a lot and threw wide of first.

Javy’s here for the duration of 2021, and maybe he and we will bottle his lightning, especially when it’s paired with that hopefully produced by his pal Francisco Lindor, who looms as the co-best player we have on the field when he’s not pressing or slumping. Let’s not kid ourselves: these are talents. Let’s also not kid ourselves: Lindor excelled in all ways except consistent hitting, which made us less impressed with the rest of his game; and all we’ve had from Baez are flashes overshadowed by flailing — salivating blips at most. It’s been a small sample size from Javy either way. Sunday’s sliver of that sample, however, was the brightest light we’ve seen from any Met hitter for a while.

The runs in the first particularly benefited starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who had some room to breathe for six innings. The Dodgers got two back in the fourth, but they never headed Stroman and made Luis Rojas’s decision to send Marcus to bat for himself in the top of the sixth with two out and the bases loaded a reasonable one. If the Mets are down as they’ve been so often, then it’s a tougher call. But keeping the pitcher who was effectively defending a lead to defend it a little longer seemed like the right move to me. Stroman didn’t drive home an additional run, but he did proceed to put up an additional zero. Davis’s homer and the splendid bullpen work from Familia, May and Diaz that covered the seventh through ninth made it academic, as the Mets posted the 7-2 salvage job they desperately needed, yet regardless of outcome, I really loved seeing Stroman go back to the mound for the bottom of the sixth. I think I loved it almost as much as I would have loved seeing Stroman somehow poke a ball through the infield.

These are the intervals I’m going to miss should the National League take the bat out of pitchers’ and the decision out of managers’ hands. The tactical rubber meets the strategic road here: a pitcher with a one-run lead and relatively low pitch count versus an enhanced opportunity to extend the lead, but with the caveat that you’re removing the guy who’s keeping the opposition down while burdening your bullpen with yet another inning of work and therefore adding another layer of uncertainty to a close game. Of course you don’t know that Stroman’s not going to give up the tying or go-ahead run when he goes back out. You don’t know what a theoretical pinch-hitter (Conforto and Smith were on the bench with a righty on for L.A.) is going to do. You don’t know how the impact of using a pinch-hitter in the sixth shakes out innings later and that bat is no longer available.

A chance to be right. A chance to be wrong. A chance to find out. This is what I hate to think will be absent from half of baseball in the near-immediate future.

The Mets, meanwhile, are almost absent from the division race they once led. From four games ahead on July 31 (Javy’s first night as a Met) to a barely plausible seven games behind three weeks later. The Mets didn’t do it alone, though. The Braves went crazy, winning 16 of their last 18, including a just-completed 9-0 road trip. Can you imagine a team that gave up a longstanding first-place lead and dropped like a rock in the heat of summer recovering both their dignity and their perch?

You don’t have to imagine it. It happened. Why, it happened to the Braves! Granted, it happened 39 years ago, but just because they don’t offer straws at Citi Field anymore, it doesn’t mean we can’t grasp at them. On July 29, 1982, the Cinderella Braves — managed by an on-the-rebound Joe Torre after five seasons muddling along in Flushing — led the NL West by nine games. Then they spent about three weeks blinking. In the span of that veritable blink, on August 18, they trailed the Dodgers by four games. That’s a thirteen-game swing in almost no time at all, roughly equivalent to what’s happened between us and the contemporary Braves.

Those 1982 Braves picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and started all over again, taking back the Western Division lead before August was over…yet falling behind by three games as late as September 22…then picking/dusting/starting once more to rally and clinch the division on the final day of the year.

By the way, the Mets will finish this season in Atlanta. I wouldn’t suggest the scenario described above could repeat itself nearly four decades later. I’m just saying it did happen.

Listen, if the Braves are going to keep up their current pace, well, good night NL East for 2021. But if you subscribe to the theory that what runs hot eventually turns cold, Atlanta is bound to cool off. And maybe we’re bound to warm up. That’s kind of what we’re down to in terms of hope: the law of averages evening out— plus second-place Philadelphia not getting in the way.

Other than we’ve got one occasionally all-world middle infielder back and we’re about to get our other occasionally all-world middle infielder back, there is nothing beyond a one-game winning streak to indicate this is a team on the verge of a hot streak. Simply not being hopeless would be a good first step, and they took that to end their visit to California.

Welcome home, fellas. Try not to be terrible.

12 comments to Speaking of Spurts

  • mikeL

    i see what you did there greg:
    led with ‘barely plausible’,
    then described a scenario that sounds sort of easy if not likely.
    that’s what passes for good news and i’ll take it.

    yes mets: please don’t suck.

  • Iowa Pete

    “….should the National League take the bat out of pitchers’ and the decision out of managers’ hands.”
    C’mon Greg. Unfortunately you know as well as I do where those chips are gonna fall. Pitcher’s hitting for themselves is one of the final traditions which has been left untouched by “today’s game.” Just as hitting behind a runner, running hard, being able to lay down a bunt, hitting it where they ain’t, or pitchers being able to reliably pitch into the eighth or ninth, pitchers hitting will indeed be a thing of the past.
    And, as for us “old guys” who appreciate the strategy involved with making the decision as you allude to, well, the powers that be these days in MLB couldn’t give a rip.
    Besides, doesn’t all of baseball just need highly paid DH’s who will hit right around .200 and whiff over 200 times a year anyways?

    • In which case, I’ll enjoy moments like yesterday’s until I can’t.

      • Guy Kipp

        I’ve never wanted to see the National League adopt the DH, but I will grudgingly accept it next season in exchange for never again having to accept extra-inning ghost runners and seven-inning games as the “new normal.”

  • Seth

    The DH is a reason I never considered the American League “real” baseball. But while I’ll miss the strategy nuances, I’m now realizing that the DH probably makes more sense for today’s game — for the pampered, delicate, highly-paid diva pitchers who come up not knowing how to swing the bat or bunt. The game is too specialized now. It’s a shame — but seems inevitable.

  • Henry J Lenz

    Well said about the inevitable DH creep to our beloved NL. Would like to see a compromise: when the starting pitcher leaves, so does the DH. At least a little strategy will remain. But that is about as likely as a division title now.

  • Lyle H.

    “Try not to be terrible.”

    That was my ask of 2021…Not really working…

  • eric1973

    If we have the great steroid king Cano back next year, and also sign the inevitable bust Baez to go along with current bust Lindor, then geez, I’d rather see the pitchers hit.

  • Eric

    “These are the intervals I’m going to miss”

    Spot on.

    I’m against the DH, too, for the same reasons.

    I have hope. The Braves are in their tough stretch now. If the Mets can hold up their end, they can reasonably make up 4 games, maybe 5 games with luck in the standings.

  • BlackCountryMet

    I’d love it to happen. I’ll watch every game possible. But, IMHO, it aint happening. The majority of players are playing to their true limits. Dom, JD, Squirrel are bench players on a good, contending team. In the off season, the axe needs wielding, with no sympathy for how long the players has been with us etc etc.

  • […] field, with Javy Baez trotting home in front of him after another take-no-prisoners double from our very own Howard Cosell. Gabe Kapler challenged Chelsea to examine the Polar landing spot to make sure what Pete sent […]