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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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About Average

Ten years ago this month, Mets fans hung on the statistic of batting average. Never mind that analytic understanding had taken its toll on the popular utility of what used to be considered the defining standard of hitting excellence. Never mind OPS. Never mind WAR. A Met was competing for the highest batting average in the National League. He could win the Batting Title! He could win the Batting Crown!

And so he did. Jose Reyes edged out Ryan Braun, .337 to .332, with Matt Kemp falling back at .324. Though it ended a little inelegantly, the batting title race was incredibly absorbing in September 2011, especially considering there was really nothing else at stake for the Mets as Terry Collins’s first term at our helm wound down.

I don’t remember batting average much infiltrating the Metsian discourse in the seasons or Septembers since, at least until September of 2021, when, on Wednesday night, every Mets fan grew hyperconscious of the grand old stat. Every Mets fan had to, not because there were a couple of batting averages that were close, but because there were a couple that were distant…very distant.

It was the bottom of the tenth inning in Miami. Sandy Alcantra had kept every Met off the board for nine innings, save for Michael Conforto, who had homered in the seventh. Alcantra, who just turned 26, allowed only four hits and struck out fourteen in the span of a regulation complete game. He dominated the Mets on Wednesday night like the Reds’ Jim Maloney dominated the Mets that night in 1965 when Maloney, then 25, held the Mets to no runs and no hits while striking out fifteen through nine. Because it was 1965, Maloney went back out to the Crosley Field mound for the tenth and struck out two more Mets while continuing his no-hitter.

But just as the Mets had Frank Lary in 1965, they have Rich Hill in 2021, and now as then, the old veteran in New York gray was a match substantively if not stylistically for the younger home team hurler. Lary, 35, went eight and gave up no runs, supported by Larry Bearnarth, who maintained the shutout for those usually futile Mets into extras. These Mets of today, ensconced for an evening in Hill country, were enjoying similar success in the tops of innings. Hill went six and struck out eight, giving up only a single run. Rich Hill is 41. Six innings is pretty much his ceiling. In 2021, six innings is almost every starting pitcher’s ceiling. In 2021, Alcantra going nine amounted to a miracle.

Hill was succeeded to the hill by Jeurys Familia, Aaron Loup and Seth Lugo. None was perfect. Each permitted at least one Marlin to reach scoring position. Lugo loaded the bases. None gave up a run. The Mets arrived in the tenth inning in a 1-1 tie.

While the Mets and Marlins were stuck at 1-1, the Braves and Nationals were dueling at 2-2 and the Phillies and Brewers were deadlocked at 3-3. Everybody in the National League East chase was essentially batting .500 for the night. None had ever been far enough above .500 for the year to put the other two away. The Mets, at 70-69, enjoyed contender’s privileges entering the tenth inning Wednesday night because of favorable league and geographic alignment. You don’t want to take 70-69 to any other division. It wouldn’t get you past the velvet rope. In the NL East, it had the Mets four games out and aspiring to meaningfully reduce that margin.

First, though, they’d have to score on the Marlins in the tenth. Even with a runner plopped onto second base to start the half-inning, that’s easier said than done. Done, as it turned out, proved difficult, then impossible. The Mets, despite no longer facing Sandy Alcantra, pushed their unearned runner, Conforto, no farther than third base against the presumably less imposing Anthony Bender.

Following Familia, Loup and Lugo out of the bullpen for the bottom of the tenth was Edwin Diaz. As the setting wasn’t Washington, perhaps a Mets fan could breathe a sigh of relief. As the situation wasn’t save — and a free runner was granted by Manfredian fiat to the Marlins — a Mets fan could only sigh. Whatever Diaz was dropped into, it was his task to guide us out of it.

He could’ve used some help from the dugout. What was it Al Pacino as supersalesman Ricky Roma said to Kevin Spacey as office manager John Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross?

“What you’re hired for, is to help us — does that seem clear to you? To help us, not to fuck us up. To help those who are going out there to try to earn a living.”

Then Roma calls Williamson an epithet I’m not comfortable repeating, before labeling him a “company man”.

With Jazz Chisolm having materialized out of the imagination of Rob Manfred on second base, Magneuris Sierra bunted the unearned runner to third. It was a sacrifice; one out. Edwin Diaz then K’d Jesus Sanchez; two out, with Chisolm still percolating on third. First base was extraordinarily open in a tie game in which a hypothetical runner at first was of no consequence to the potential final score.

Now what? Now it was a choice for the dugout, for Luis Rojas. And it was where batting averages rose to hyperconsciousness. The next batter up for Miami was Bryan De La Cruz. De La Cruz, though he doesn’t have nearly enough at-bats to qualify for the Batting Title, stood on deck with a batting average of .336. The Marlin in the hole was Lewin Diaz. Lewin’s batting average at that moment was .108. Lewin Diaz was 4-for-37 on the season and 0-for-4 on the night. Bryan De La Cruz was 39-for-116 on the season and 2-for-4 on the night, having doubled in the second, singled in the fourth and looked good each time up. On the other hand — or in terms of hands — De La Cruz bats righthanded, while Lewin Diaz bats lefthanded. Edwin Diaz, you’ll recall from your familiarity with his form, is righthanded.

All things being equal, conventional wisdom suggests you have the righthander pitch to the righthanded batter. That wisdom goes back to the days when America leaned forward with baited breath to learn who was where in the battle for the Batting Crown. Then again, the righthanded batter in question had a very high average and the lefthanded batter was still working on descending into a bathtub with little guarantee that he might hit water. All things were not equal.

Rojas, a respected baseball lifer from the esteemed Alou baseball family and not someone who requires remedial schooling in such matters, could have instructed his Diaz to put De La Cruz and his .336 average on first base and pitch to the other Diaz and his .108 average. Righty-lefty be damned, 228 batting average points separated the manager’s choices. Not that anybody in the majors is incapable of hitting anything with a bat in any hand, but some percentages are too blatant to ignore. You gotta help your reliever here, especially one whose psyche may not be made of the sternest stuff after too many late innings pitched without a net.

Or as Roma said to Williamson, “I don’t care whose nephew you are.”

Luis Rojas, a valued company man within the Mets organization since 2006, had Edwin Diaz pitch to Bryan De La Cruz, he of the .336 batting average. Within three pitches, Bryan De La Cruz owned a .342 batting average, having lined a fly ball far over the head of Albert Almora until it banged off the center field wall. Chisolm crossed the plate quite safely. The Marlins, now twenty-three games below .500, had defeated the Mets, now exactly .500, 2-1. The third-place Mets’ six most recent losses have each been by one run. That will earn nobody looking to move up a set of steak knives, let alone a new Cadillac.

The contests in Atlanta and Milwaukee managed to go the Mets’ way. The Braves lost. The Phillies lost. The 70-70 Mets didn’t lose ground, except to the calendar, on which a day disappeared and the Mets didn’t close ground. They are still four games out of a division lead despite being absolutely average when it comes to wins and losses.

Which isn’t likely to cut ice, even in the glacial NL East of 2021.

(PS: In case you aren’t aware of how the game of June 14, 1965, ended, Johnny Lewis homered in the top of the eleventh to break up Maloney’s no-hitter. Bearnarth proceeded to hold the Reds at bay to preserve the 1-0 lead, saddling Maloney with an eleven-inning, albeit eighteen-strikeout defeat. It’s not recent, but by appearing in the final sentence of this essay, it constitutes the only happy Met ending readily available.)

12 comments to About Average

  • Ken K. in NJ

    …. Johnny Lewis homered in the top of the eleventh to break up Maloney’s no-hitter

    And I believe that set in motion the record, still intact, and now forever, for the most consecutive games in which any Met Home Run has been mentioned by Bob Murphy when that same batter came to bat in subsequent games. As in, All of Them.

  • Seth

    Well, the moral of your story should be that last night’s loss had NOTHING to do with Sandy Alcantara, and everything to do with the Mets. Does it really matter whose batting average was higher in the bottom of the 10th? Diaz was going to cough it up no matter what.

    • I’d take my chances on an 11th inning with E. Diaz versus L. Diaz (.108).

      • Greg Mitchell

        More likely: Diaz then would have walked L. Diaz to load the bases. Who was the next hitter? Maybe then he coughs it up (or walks or hits him). Where have you gone Armando Benitez, a Mets Nation turns its homely eyes to you…

  • Scott N.

    It was even worse than your recounting suggests, Greg. Edwin Diaz has *reverse* platoon splits. There wasn’t even a sliver of a righty-lefty argument to countervail the BA-based case for walking De La Cruz. Rojas, apparently hell bent on dishonoring the Alou family legacy, chose to pitch to a hitter who was, statistically, twice as likely to beat the Mets as the readily available alternative. Then, clearly convinced the he had yet to adequately besmirch the Alou brand, Rojas justified having Diaz pitch to the formidable De La Cruz, rather than a guy who hits roughly as well as Max Scherzer, by insisting that only a manager who did not “trust his closer” would do otherwise — as if the whole scenario were a test of character, not a tactical choice. How much public humiliation can the Alou clan be asked to endure?

  • Bruce From Forest Hills

    Nice analogy about the managers. One of the reasons the analogy works is because as much as Roma yelled at Williamson, Roma was wrong. Williamson understood his job perfectly. As does Rojas. The manager has to do what the people who pay the manager tell him to do.

  • Richard Porricelli

    .. goodnight richie allen wherever you are…

  • Eric

    5 back in the loss column of both races, too … We’ve reached that part of the season.

    It’s a frustrating tease because the Braves and Phillies, as well as the Padres, Reds, and Cardinals, are allowing the Mets to hang around at a distance greater than the thick of it but less than the fringe. While the Mets regained enough lost ground to play meaningful games in September, they’re letting go of opportunities to pull back into the thick of both races. And tonight the relatively easy stretch of games ends.

    Conforto and the pitchers did well yesterday to push the game to extra innings versus Marlins deGrom. I was sure Lugo was going to give it up but he made it through. Bad 10th inning by the manager, hitters, closer, and the 1st base umpire and replay center.

    • I’ve never availed myself of any of those BET DURING THE GAME! services advertised on SNY, but if I did, I’d be down quite a bit because I would’ve wagered real money that Lugo was taking the L.

  • Flynn23

    At the end of the day, this is a courageous group of men who are willing to move forward.

  • Harvey

    Rojas’ decisions are a reason why the Mets have lost 11 of their past 12 1-run games. If they split them, they’d be in first place.

  • eric1973

    Rojas actually thought Mazeika had a better chance of getting a hit than JD Davis.

    Rojas actually thought Diaz had a better chance of getting De La Cruz out than Diaz.

    That summarizes everything you need to know about Rojas.

    And proves the apple CAN fall far from the tree. All the dead Alous are turning over in their graves. And the live ones are most likely ashamed.