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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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Bottle That Stuff

Well, well, well.

That wasn’t what I thought for most of Thursday night’s game against the Phillies, but then that’s always the case with a classic comeback — you need to trudge through the vale of despond before getting sherpa’ed up Mount Probability to giddily plant the most unexpected of flags.

That mountaineering metaphor’s less random than most of mine — the game’s win expectancy graph looked like this, courtesy of MetsAnalytics on Twitter:

Mets win expectancy graph

That kind of sheer vertical face doesn’t get climbed very often, and certainly not when you’re down 7-1 in the ninth.

But back to the vale of despond part.

I was late reporting for duty because it was a pleasant spring night, Emily needed a cocktail and I almost never don’t need a cocktail, and since we were having cocktails we might as well eat something, and then I remembered it was a weird 6:45 start and looked at my phone and saw a 3 in a place I didn’t want there to be one.

“Ah hell,” I muttered, wondering what had gone wrong and deciding to figure it out a little later.

What had gone wrong, primarily, was a double-play ball that Francisco Lindor had botched, and that wasn’t good, not with Lindor’s hot start having turned lukewarm and even a little chilly. By the time we got home it was 4-0 and the Mets were looking dispirited against Aaron Nola and pretty soon it was 5-0 and I was spending more time with my phone than with the game, because while what was on my phone was making me grouchy, what was happening on my TV was making me grouchier.

I did the Wordle, getting a yellow R and an E at the tail end of my starter word and then a ERM in the middle of my next guess, all yellow. While I was pondering that, Bryce Harper reduced a ball to scraps of flaming yarn and cowhide. I watched the ball cease to exist with a sour expression, looked back down at Wordle, and … oh.

Another ingredient of a classic comeback is you don’t want to be the guy or gal who gives up in disgust and winds up saying “wait, what?” the next morning. Fortunately, I consider my duties as a given night’s Faith and Fear recapper sacred I got lucky. I decided I’d go downstairs in the middle of the sixth, most likely to find a book or a better use of my time, but then Starling Marte golfed a solo homer into the left-field seats — after Phil Cuzzi called a close 3-1 pitch a strike, no less.

While a much-ballyhooed offseason acquisition, Marte hasn’t lit the blue and orange world on fire just yet — particularly not on the bases. But I’ve enjoyed watching him despite that. He plays the game with an air of palpable menace that demands you pay attention, has taken to new outfield duties without complaint, and generally goes about his business in a way I approve of. A little earlier, Marte had hustled to make a play in the outfield in what looked like a lost game; now he’d homered to at least put some lipstick on this pig. If Marte hadn’t given up, surely I could handle the low-impact duty of continuing to be a spectator.

There was also the SNY app, which has definitely improved my quality of life, allowing me to watch games in my study without wrangling a TV-via-Internet feed that’s balky, to put it kindly. The Mets were down there on my sideways cellphone while I dealt with email and sundry digital things, and it didn’t really matter if I had to squint at them because I had Gary Cohen and Ron Darling talking to me, which is pretty good company no matter how small your screen is. And while things weren’t getting any better for the Mets they also weren’t getting any worse — Chasen Shreve and Adonis Medina had shut the barn door, which was good news even though conducting an inventory of horses didn’t seem like a particularly wise idea.

When all was done (sorry, spoilers), the statficionadoes determined that the Mets had been on an 0-for-330 streak when trailing by six in the ninth inning. The game before the one that started that bleak count came on Sept. 13, 1997, and the vale of despond had been even despondier than Thursday night — the Mets had tallied a lone single before the ninth and wound up down to their last strike before they scored a run.

But Roberto Petagine hit a two-run single, Luis Lopez and Matt Franco singled to load the bases, and Carl Everett — who’d had a troubled season for unfortunate reasons beyond the existential ramifications of dinosaurs — hit a grand slam off Ugueth Urbina. Bernard Gilkey then won it with a walkoff homer in the 11th.

That game is remembered as the Carl Everett Game — Greg’s written about it here, and revealed that it was actually Stephanie who led us to victory. But I missed the part that made it a classic. I was at a friend’s wedding and if memory serves (which it probably doesn’t), I left my Motorola SportsTrax in a motel room because the Mets were getting creamed, then peered blearily at it hours later while horrifically drunk and stripping off the battered, grass-stained tuxedo pieces I hadn’t already lost. NYM 9 MON 6 (11). Wait, what?

(If you don’t know what a Motorola SportsTrax is, it was a pager that came with a subscription plan allowing you to dispatch a message to wandering monks, who’d journey to your abode collecting alms and then inform you of the current score of a baseball game, albeit in Latin. What we have is way better now.)

(Oh wait, I’m confused. The Motorola SportsTrax looked like this and bleeped and stuff. The point is, it was a long time ago.)

The sequence of those impossible comebacks should always be preserved for posterity, so here’s what happened in the ninth 25 years later: Marte led off against James Norwood with a grounder to Johan Camargo that he beat out for an infield hit — another play where Marte could have opted for half-speed and no one would have clucked but the Back in My Day crowd. Lindor then clubbed a Harperesque homer into the stands, making the score 7-3 and at least giving the pig some mascara and rouge. Pete Alonso scorched a double down the third-base line over Alec Bohm‘s glove.  Eduardo Escobar lined out, but Jeff McNeil poked a single through the right side of the infield.

A general rule is not to get too excited about ninth-inning scratching and clawing, because most of the time (330 out of 331 times if you’re down by six) that yields at best a moral victory, which is also known as a loss. A more specific rule is to not get too excited unless the tying run is at the plate, because the moment you let yourself get into ankle bone connected to the shin bone and shin bone connected to the thigh bone hypotheticals, someone will line into a double play. And Mark Canha wasn’t the tying run, but one tally shy of it.

Joe Girardi summoned Corey Knebel, which is another one of those moral-victory things. (“They won but we made them use their closer and he was probably extra sweaty so he drove up the water bill in the shower haha Phillies!”) Canha grounded a ball off Knebel, who sprang off the mound, picked it up and threw to first too late as Alonso scampered home.

It was 7-4, and now Dom Smith really was the tying run, and even though this probably wasn’t fated to work out, it had at least become pretty fun. Dom worked the count to 3-2 … and struck out on a disappearing Knebel knuckle-curve.

That brought up pinch hitter J.D. Davis, who ripped another ball past Bohm into the left-field corner, scoring McNeil and advancing Canha (still one shy of being the tying run, because Rob Manfred hasn’t messed around with that part yet) to third, where Joey Cora wisely opted for something short of his usual level of aggression. Now the tying run was at second, and this was definitely fun. Now the Mets didn’t need a whole sequence of good things but just one more good thing.

That’s usually when the supply of good things runs out, but hey, hope’s free. Travis Jankowski replaced J.D. at second and the game would come down to Brandon Nimmo against Knebel and that knuckle-curve. Just the game, I reminded myself — not the season or my eternal happiness or the fate of the cosmos. Knebel threw a curve for strike one, then a fastball high and tight, and then went back to the curve — leaving it right in the middle of the plate. Nimmo slashed it over the infield to chase home Canha and Jankowski and tie the game.

Which, if you’ve watched enough baseball, leaves you simultaneously cackling with glee and worried that your team will now get walked off in the bottom of the ninth to make everyone involved wonder why they bothered. Except Marte smashed Knebel’s first pitch off the fence in left-center — gone on a summer night or with a differently constructed baseball — to bring home Nimmo as the go-ahead run. UNBELIEVABLE! crowed Gary Cohen, while Knebel lurched around on the mound looking like a man trying to wake from a nightmare.

With the Mets improbably and astonishingly up 8-7, on came the suddenly possibly trustworthy Edwin Diaz, a phenomenon I still find stranger than anything I just used a few hundred words to carefully chronicle. With Phillie fans looking on in shock, Diaz struck out Roman Quinn, coaxed a grounder from J.T. Realmuto and then struck out Rhys Hoskins on three pitches, using that deadly slider as the coup de grace.

That’s one you should bottle — a mental vintage you’ll want to savor should the rain wash away the rest of this series, or during the next 330 games in which being down six in the ninth turns out as you’d expect. In a quarter-century you’ll proudly tell fans who take their neural implants for granted that you were at the Brandon Nimmo Game (or the Starling Marte Game, whatever works) or kept the faith and watched the whole thing on TV or at least squinted at it on your cellphone. Or maybe you’ll admit that you did something more sensible with your night and didn’t know until morning, when your reaction was, “wait, what?”

20 comments to Bottle That Stuff

  • BlackCountryMet

    woke up, looked at my phone. Saw a 7 in the 9th and thought “what?” Put me TV on and watched the (highly improbable) comeback on the recap. Got in to work, watched it again. AND, on my lunch break….I’ll watch it AGAIN! I really do think this MIGHT be a very good season :-)

  • Mike Reuther

    Put it in the books.

  • Peter Scarnati

    And Diaz continues to grow his capital with this Mets fan!!
    For now.

  • Seth

    One could be forgiven if one opted not to watch every moment of a 7-0 blowout, as long as one monitored Gameday and one tuned back in when a few Met runs went up in the 9th. Gary’s call was great, too.

  • Eric

    The impressive thing about Cohen and Rose’s 9th inning play-by-play is they called it tonally like they were anticipating a comeback.

    How many sports parents pointed out Marte’s single to their children as an example of why you always hustle down the line even when the game looks out of reach? Yes, Camargo had to run in to field the ball, but neither was it soft as a swinging bunt.

    In the past, Alonso and Davis’s doubles would have been caught by Bohm or just foul.

    Canha grounded into an inning ending double play, until it bounced off Knebel for an RBI single. If the ball had simply gone through it’s at least a force out with Smith’s strikeout looming.

    The next time a team is criticized for tacking on runs in a blowout, cite this game for why.

    I hope it was just a bad outing for Walker, but I expect an injury update soon. Nicely done by the middle relievers to stabilize the game.

    If the ball is deadened, I like it. Baseball should be played on the field. Home runs should be an exciting exception, not basic strategy.

    The Mets winning and good play around him have covered up that Lindor is still not playing up to his contract and reputation. That was a bad error.

    • Eric

      I don’t have a ‘gave up, missed the epic comeback’ story. Rather, I have no memory of the game between the back-to-back home runs by Harper and Castellanos and Marte’s infield single. The game stayed on, but I stopped paying attention. So no memory of Walker coming out, Shreve and Medina stabilizing the game, Marte’s home run, and Familia’s easy 8th inning.

      I dutifully refocused for what I expected to be the last half inning and enjoyed the Mets paying back the Phillies April 11 comeback win over the Mets.

  • Michael in CT

    This is why baseball is still the greatest game and better than clock-determined games. Once a lights-out starter (Nola here) is gone – and these days they always are – anything is possible and hope springs eternal. Because relievers are always the wild card, as the Mets know all too well. I still remember September 2007, so an epic comeback against the Phillies is particularly sweet.

  • open the gates

    So I listened to the first six innings or so in my car (I was going from Brooklyn to Jersey, so I had lots of time to kill). I heard Taijuan getting destroyed (which, out of context, sounds like the beginning of World War III, but in context is just another ballgame). So we’re down 7-0, and Howie is waxing poetic about Bob Murphy’s career and his own, and I reminded myself how it’s always worth keeping the radio on to listen to him and Daz rap, even when we’re being blown out. Then Marte hit that line drive over the fence, and I said, “At least it won’t be a shutout.”

    Then I got home, shut off my Audacy, and got busy with normal life stuff.

    Before I went to sleep, I went on the Mets MLB website to see how bad it turned out. And I saw, “Final: Mets 8, Phillies 7.” And (I’m not making this up) I said, “Wait, what?”

    Dammit. And wild cheering.

    One more observation: a game like that deserved a particularly superlative FAFIF recap. You did not disappoint.

  • Bob

    Well, I’ll admit it–after 60 years of being a Met fan I gave up on this game after making quick check in beginning of top of 9th and I only had Filfthy broadcast on my MLB Extra Innings package–NO Gary, Ron…
    Leave it to my Padre fan pal to call me up and say-“hey it’s
    8-7 Mets bottom of 9th..”
    What I do know, is “ya never know!”-especially with our Mets!
    No doubt Casey Stengel in Baseball Heaven is saying–“Why, it’s just AMAZIN’!”
    Let’s Go Mets!

  • MikeS

    Jason, great writing for a great game!!

  • mikeL

    got home late last nite (and still no mets on the radio where i live – a disgrace for too many years running) and i’d pretty much stopped checking gameday; once home tv was on and unattended until i checked in after lindor’s homer, and with two on base.
    the quick succession of clutch hits could have been an edit of all clutch hits in 2021. really was more like the local news recaps of so many mets games in 1986. so many clutch bats as a well-tuned winning machine.
    not only did the mets force girardi to use his closer, but they F’ed with his head like he was a 2015 National.
    moral victory. victory victory. belief-expanding victory.
    with tonite’s rainout, no worry about not saving runs for the next game.
    just an extra day for the phils to be unable to wash this one out of their system and move on…and for the mets to be able bask in the stuff of legend they pulled off.

    yes, great piece jason, as always.

  • open the gates

    A couple more things –

    Listening to the replays, I realized that I also missed a rare Howie Rose “Holy Shneikees!” call. All that was missing was Bob Murphy informing us that they won the damn thing.

    The game was so bad at one point that Howie mused that the Mets might need to pitch a position player just to get through it. “Great!” I thought. “At last we get to find out if J.D. Davis can really pitch.” As it turned out, J.D. did much better than that. I think he’s finally found his role on this team.

    I haven’t been this excited about a Mets team since the Age of Cespedes. Or maybe since the Age of Piazza.

    Finally, as if the day couldn’t have gotten any better, our kind FAFIF host provides us with an “Oogie” Urbina sighting (citing?). One of my favorite ballplayer names of a non-Met, especially after Everett slammed him.

    Sorry, folks. Just feeling a little giddy today.

  • 9th string catcher

    Fell asleep on the couch, woke up knowing that the Mets had been down five, and started watching just in time for lindor’s home run. For once I actually woke up at the right time to watch an amazing inning of baseball.

    It might be my imagination, but I think that Diaz looks different ever since the no-hitter. He looks like he’s on fire and basically unhittable. He is using his stuff better and more aggressively than I’m used to seeing. I hope he keeps this up and stays aggressive and confident. What a game!

  • eric1973

    And regarding Diaz, lately he has been speaking English to the cameras without an interpreter. He’s got a thick accent, and a nice little voice.

    But the point is, to do this shows he is gaining confidence in himself in communicating with US, his fans, and this is carrying over to the field, making him virtually unhittable, and (gulp!) extremely reliable.

    Keep it up, my amigo.

  • Matt1978

    A classic example of why one of my least favorite words, but one that is constantly used by actual & would be analysts is “flat”. “Boy they sure look flat tonight”. It is meant to imply a lack of energy or effort, that a group is merely going through the motions. Maybe they look flat, but it’s not due to any lack of effort, they’re just getting beaten. In this case Nola was making our offense look flat. I’ve always wanted to ask one of these “flat” theorists after a big comeback what their analysis is now. Did they somehow flip the flat switch off in the 9th inning? Or what if a team partially comes back in the middle innings only to fade away again in the end? They turned off the flat switch for a little while then turned it back on? Anyway, I think it’s safe to say the 2022 Mets don’t know the meaning of the word. #LFGM

  • Matt1978

    A quick note on Lindor. Offense is down across the league. It’s astounding how many big names are off to rough starts. If you’re inclined to take a dim view of what Lindor has done so far, his OPS is higher than Seager’s, Correa’s, Trea Turner’s, Bichette’s, Swanson’s, Crawford’s & many others.

  • greensleeves

    This is beautifully written, Mr. Fry.

  • Mikey

    so I turned it off at 5-0 I think because I had a book I was reading and it was a good one. I kept checking gameday and saw it was 7-1 entering the ninth and then checked a few minutes later expecting to see a 7-1 final. I muttered under my breath at Lindor’s homer something like “nice stat padding, dude”…but saw Pete had doubled and I think there was one out at the time. then the fun started.

    if you follow gameday, you know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when your team is batting and you see “in play, no out” followed by “in play, run(s)”….suddenly it was 7-5 with second and third and Nimmo was up. then gameday froze (mind you, there was no freaking way I was turning on the TV…I bet most Mets fans are superstitious that way). it came back up with Marte batting and said “in play, run(s)” and I thought, wait, what happened to Nimmo but then that the score was 7-7 and holy shit, did Marte hit a home run? no, but he drove in the go ahead run and it was 8-7. then we were all thinking, please baseball gods, do not fuck with us now and fuck with us they did not! Diaz with another 1-2-3 inning to cap off a win against Philly. what a beautiful thing.

    then of course I went to SNY twitter to watch all the highlights. I live out of market so when the game is over, there is no post game show for me. this team is special, this team is different. I’d like to order a bottle of that stuff, please.