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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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Prostrate and Semi-Triumphant

Jeff McNeil lay face down in the Arizona turf, the last out of a 6-5 Mets win safely in his glove. He wasn’t hurt; he just needed a minute.

At that point, we all did.

The Mets moved to 11-4 on the season, which I will use bleeding-edge analytics to categorize as pretty damn good. But it wasn’t exactly a stately march to victory: The game started as a tense affair, became seemingly comfortable, turned a lot less comfortable, descended into debacle territory, and then rose again to end as a triumph. That’s about a week’s worth of emotions packed into the back end of a Friday night and too much of a Saturday morning.

David Peterson was terrific, but Zac Gallen was pretty good himself in facing the Mets for the second time in a week. Pete Alonso was all over the early innings. He ended the first by smothering a ball down the first-base line, followed by a heave to Peterson at first made while lying on his back, but later let in a run with an overaggressive attempt to pursue a ball that should have been McNeil’s. Alonso plays baseball like a Labrador retriever who just lapped up several spilled coffees, and most of the time that’s charming, but on defense our roamin’ first baseman really needs to render unto second basemen those things that are second basemen’s. (Arizona first baseman Christian Walker would later retire Starling Marte on an essentially identical play, which seems weird but actually isn’t because baseball is so reliably weird.) Alonso also chipped in two RBIs in less-than-Olympian fashion: one on a 120-foot pop-up that plopped down in right and the other on a 75-foot chip shot in the direction of first. Not the stuff that inspires odes to Ruthian power, perhaps, but whatever works.

All looked well at stretch time, thanks to a home run by James McCann that traveled about as far as half a week’s worth of McCann groundouts, a redistribution that McCann ought to try more often. But Trevor May gave up a homer to Walker to bring the D’Backs within one, and with two out in the ninth Edwin Diaz did the kind of thing we’d like to believe he no longer does: He left a 1-0 slider in the middle of the plate for Daulton Varsho, who sent it over the right-field fence just beyond Marte’s glove for a tie game.

Like McNeil (sorry, spoilers), I’m going to need a minute here.

The metrics new of fangle and old of school both say Diaz is a pretty effective closer. And no sane fan of any team trusts their closer. Regardless of allegiance, we remember with piercing clarity the saves that get away even as the fuss-free conversions blur into anonymity. Has there ever been a Mets closer I trusted? Off the top of my head, I’d say Jesse Orosco and Randy Myers, but I guarantee if you got into a time machine and quizzed teenage me about either man, I’d fly into a rage about blown saves that older me has mercifully forgotten. I once booed the reliably infuriating Braden Looper so vociferously that I felt something give way in my throat and could only produce a rusty croak for a day and a half. I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about various Armando Benitez misdeeds, John Franco had me braced for impact every time he took the mound, and Jeurys Familia quick-pitched us into what became October oblivion. Hell, even the sainted Tug McGraw‘s legend was created by overcoming a long stretch in which he’d proved thoroughly unreliable.

Closers exist to torment you, so it’s really on the entire fraternity that I distrust Diaz as completely as I do. Still: Diaz could convert his next 200 saves, give me a kidney and perfect the tokamak fusion reactor, thus ushering in a golden age of free and clean energy for humanity, and when he took the mound I’d still cross my fingers and mutter at him to please not fuck it up this time.

Diaz fucked it up this time, and so the Mets played on, under rules that would have been incomprehensible to young Jace muttering about Orosco or Myers.

McNeil was the Manfred man, moved to third on a (productive) groundout by McCann, but didn’t break on contact when Brandon Nimmo grounded to short. That left it up to Marte, who hit a grounder that Matt Davidson fielded on the long hop behind third. Davidson threw accurately to first and just nipped Marte, who immediately exhorted his employers to challenge. Such insistence is often based more on faith than evidence, but Marte was right: His toe had arrived a split-second before Davidson’s throw, and the Mets had new life and a one-run lead, which they entrusted to Seth Lugo.

Lugo is a frustrating commodity: a highly useful pitcher with a balky elbow that makes his appearances even more of a game of reliever roulette than the MLB baseline. Some nights Lugo reports for duty with hiss on his fastball and sharp break on his curve, and some nights those essentials are missing. This, mercifully, was the first kind of night: Lugo fanned the first two Diamondbacks and then induced a popup from Walker that looked harmless at first and then less harmless as it carried into the outfield and McNeil and sundry outfielders pursued. But McNeil secured it, fell on his face, and the Mets were down but the opposite of out.

There are no moral victories in baseball — if you play with valor and gallantry and tally fewer runs than opponents who conducted themselves like they replaced their baseball caps with KFC buckets, all you’ve done is lose. Similarly, though, there are no immoral victories — come out on the long side of the final score and there is no asterisk denoting crummy middle relief, overamped first basemen or closers’ trustworthiness.

Wins are wins — even the ones that call for a little postgame meditation among the blades of ersatz grass.

6 comments to Prostrate and Semi-Triumphant

  • Dave

    I attribute every gray hair I’ve got to Mets closers. That I have (humble brag) fewer gray hairs than lots of, perhaps even most people my age is only thanks to the fact that baseball is not played 12 months out of the year. And those seasons when the Mets aren’t good enough to have lots of leads for the closer to blow.

  • CharlieH

    McNeil’s securing that final out makes him the anti-Luis Castillo.

  • El gringo

    Very well said. I think we’re about the same age and I would add Roger (throw strikes please!) McDowell and Billy (pass the Rolaids) Wagner.

    Like Buck said, it’s a hard job. LFGM!

  • Eric

    Speed and hustle (Marte) are good. Contact (Alonso) is good. Diaz was dominant in the 9th inning other than the home run derby pitch. Lugo’s pitches looked the sharpest they’ve been this season so far. Hopefully it’s not a maybe yes, maybe no for him like you say, and his stuff stays this good the rest of the way. Maybe deGrom should be the closer if the Mets make the play-offs.

  • open the gates

    DeGrom as closer is not a crazy idea, particularly if the starters continue to produce as heretofore and (crosses fingers) don’t get injured. Hey, it worked for Smoltz and Eckersley.

  • […] time around my biggest worry was Diaz, whom I do not trust for reasons fair and un-. In the eighth, I all but pleaded with the Mets to push another run […]