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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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New York Retains Its Challenge

So maybe it won’t be a runaway, a rout, a ravaging of the National League East. Maybe things are about to get real. Real challenging. The Mets are in Atlanta for the next three games. The Mets are also on top of Atlanta by a game-and-a-half, which looks precarious from any angle, especially from the perspective of the dawn of June, when the Mets led the division by double-digits. One of those digits was a decent bet to fall away, though I’ll confess I was getting used to the idea of 10½ as a baseline. You don’t get too many summers like that. I was hoping this would be the third of my lifetime. Oh well.

I was also hoping for three out of four from the Marlins this past weekend, Sandy Alcantra notwithstanding. The Mets didn’t lose to Alcantra on Sunday, but they didn’t beat him, either. The same can be said of the Marlins’ relationship to Taijuan Walker, who’s pitched like an All-Star, regardless of National League selection machinations. It was a scoreless duel for seven, for eight, for nine. After that it was a crapshoot, especially with Don Mattingly being able to place his loaded die, Billy Hamilton, on second to start the tenth. Hamilton got to second the best way he knows how — by pinch-running for an unearned runner — and got home the best way he knows how — by running on Tómas Nido. If Hamilton were attempting to steal left field, Nido would’ve had him cold. Instead, Hamilton stole third and scampered in to score as the ball Nido flung wondered what it was doing amid all that green grass.

The Marlins built another run off Tommy Hunter, into whose hands a tenth inning wouldn’t ideally land, and it was 2-0 going to the Mets’ potential last licks. We got the same Manfred man on second but couldn’t do anything useful with him off Tanner Scott. Sometimes the Marlins provide the most generous of gifts (on Keith Hernandez Day, no less), sometimes the Marlins swipe a win when nobody’s looking. They wouldn’t be Marlins if they didn’t poach one now and then.

So much for the Miami Marlins. So much, to a point, for everything and everybody up ’til now. The 53-33 record counts. The lead that’s not as big as it used to be, though it’s still a lead, absolutely counts. The Mets haven’t played badly from June 2 forward (18-16). They just haven’t performed up to their previous standards (35-17 through June 1). But for now, it’s Atlanta Braves time and the beginning of a series in which we, like they, are 0-0. We’ve played ’em four times in 2022, but those games, in early May, are no more than vaguely recalled here in July. The Mets and Braves split at Citi Field that first week of May then diverged for the rest of the month. That’s how we got to June 1 with the enormous advantage that’s slowly if not fully evaporated. As I understand it, the Braves held a clubhouse meeting and more or less haven’t lost since. Who knew it was that simple? I listened to the last couple of innings of their game Sunday versus the hapless Nationals, also extras. Just as I knew the Mets wouldn’t lose to Washington the last series they played, I knew the Braves wouldn’t lose to them, either. And they didn’t. That’s how our lead receded to 1½. I realize tiebreakers will no longer be employed in case playoff spots and postseason seeds are deadlocked, but perhaps in the spirit of the free runner, the Mets and Braves should just settle the division by alternating innings against the Nationals. Whoever leaves the Nats looking more ragged is awarded the crown.

Instead, we get three games this week in Atlanta, five versus the Braves at Citi Field a few weeks later, three more in Atlanta in the middle of August, and the season’s penultimate series at Truist Park as September becomes October. Perhaps that last set will be an afterthought, though the context of how the afterthinking goes is to be determined. Will we have shaken off the Braves? Will the Braves have overcome us? Will the surfeit of Wild Cards — 3 Count ’Em 3!!! — be somebody’s salvation? Whither the not-dead Phillies?

This is why they play the games. This is why winning the games against the Marlins is always a better idea than the alternative.

When the Mets take the field in Cobb County, their All-Star second baseman/third baseman/outfielder Jeff McNeil won’t be taking Brave aim alongside his fellow Met All-Stars first baseman Pete Alonso, right fielder Starling Marte and closer Edwin Diaz (of course Marte is day-to-day and it would be surprising if Diaz is available after pitching and excelling in two consecutive ninths). Jeff will be off on paternity leave, which will happen when families don’t plan around the baseball calendar. Buck Showalter gave the event his blessing on Saturday — not that he needed to. “I’m sure nine months ago they didn’t look at the schedule,” Buck said before Saturday’s game. “I hope not. This is something a lot bigger than baseball.”

When Buck addressed the question about McNeil’s pending absence while Keith Hernandez waited in the wings to address the media before his number was to be retired, it got me contemplating the life-goes-on of it all. Here we were reflecting en masse on the career of an era-defining Met, but there was still a game to play that day; there was a baby about to born to one of the players; and, a few minutes before Keith’s ceremonies were about to begin, I learned of a Met who had very recently passed away.

Ed Bauta pitched for the Mets in 1963 and 1964. You could say he was the quintessential transitional figure in New York baseball history. Only one man pitched in the final game at the Polo Grounds (1911-1963) and the first game at Shea Stadium (1964-2008). That’s Bauta’s claim to Met fame, and it’s a pretty good one. Only Brian Stokes and Pedro Feliciano could have identified with Bauta’s experience of what it was like to pitch consecutive genuine home games for the Mets in New York and do it in two completely different ballparks. Stokes and the late Feliciano helped finish off Shea in 2008 and open up Citi in 2009.

The pitcher who bridged ballparks.

But only Bauta can say that in between his appearances in landmark games, he got a little extra action in one of the venues, for Ed also pitched in the last last game at the Polo Grounds, the cult classic Latino All-Star Game held October 12, 1963, matching National Leaguers and American Leaguers representing eight different nations and raising money for retired Latin players and the purchase of youth baseball equipment. Bauta threw the final pitch in the NL’s 5-2 win. Also participating that day were future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Minnie Miñoso, Juan Marichal and Tony Oliva, with Tito Puente making a non-playing appearance.

Not bad company to keep.

In the years following the Polo Grounds’ demise, Bauta’s bridging was likely forgotten by all but the most hardcore of Mets fans of his day and, as the decades went by, went mostly unknown to future generations. I will admit that before Saturday, my awareness regarding Ed Bauta amounted to his having pitched in Shea’s debut (and knowing that it didn’t go well). I was also pretty sure that he wasn’t a big acolyte of Casey Stengel, but as I began to read up on him, I realized I was thinking of disgruntled first baseman Ed Bouchee.

No, Ed Bauta liked Casey plenty. According to Ed’s SABR biography, “I adored Casey Stengel,” who, by the Cuban-born righty’s reckoning, knew more about the game “than anyone else in baseball”. Ed was grateful for his manager’s attention, particularly on team flights. “Sometimes on the plane,” Bauta recalled for Thomas Van Hyning, “he was drinking vodka and spoke to me.” As cherished a memory as such an encounter might have been, one gets the feeling Bauta would have preferred consistent calls from the dugout to the bullpen. More than fifty years later, the reliever — who persevered despite not having many Spanish-speaking companions on the Mets — maintained he should have been used as a starter by Stengel and, if he was gonna be in the bullpen, he shouldn’t have been warmed up so frequently only to be used so infrequently. In some sense, the relief pitcher’s lot hasn’t changed much.

Bauta’s numbers as a Met may not have won him a ton of work out of the pen, but his seventeen-game tenure across two seasons was only a small part of his baseball story. He made his bones in the Cuban Winter League prior to the Fidel Castro regime, was pitching in the Pirates’ system as early as 1956 and was still plying his craft as late as 1974 in Mexico when he was closing in on 40. Though the ’64 Mets account for the final line of his major league ledger, the former Cardinal kept working to make it back, competing every winter in warmer climes and hurling in Buffalo, Williamsport and Jacksonville between 1964 and 1967. Examine some of those rosters and do a double-take: Gary Gentry, Jim McAndrew, Jon Matlack…and Ed Bauta. His career lasted long enough to cross minor and winter league paths with the likes of Bill Buckner, Mike Schmidt and a teenaged Gary Carter.

Baseball went on for a good, long while with Ed Bauta. Ed Bauta went on for a good, long while without baseball, save for kindly responding to mail from the occasional Mets fan seeking his autograph. Based on the interviews I’ve read with him since learning of his July 6 death, he gave the impression of somebody who lived to 87 happily enough ever after. There is indeed life without looking at the schedule.

10 comments to New York Retains Its Challenge

  • Seth

    The sample size is large enough now — the Mets *as currently configured* are not as good as the Braves. Blame the Nats if you want, but the Braves are beating everyone.

    I am 100% pro-baby. But come on. The Mets have to play the best team in the NL shorthanded, because this guy needs to go on paternity leave? He’s not working for a bank — why do million dollar baseball players need paternity leave? Something is wrong with this picture.

  • Greg Mitchell

    “Tommy Hunter pitching the 10th” is all you need to know about the state of the bullpen and front office determination not to fix it. And after he gave up two hits Buck had no one throwing to bring in to keep crucial 2nd run from scoring.

    And on a day when they lost McCann to injury for week (and catchers’ OPS laughable to begin with), Marte for a few days, and McNeil heading for paternity leave, and with the DHs, thirdsacker and catchers now in 85-game slumps–the front office did make one move. They claimed a reliever with 5.60 ERA year, worse this year, and on his third team in a month. I guess because he’s a lefty and front office has failed to pick up a major league lefty yet this year.

  • Eric

    Cano is an interesting Braves pick-up. Maybe they’ll sprinkle the same magic ex-Met powder on him that they sprinkled on d’Arnaud.

    Marte and McNeil out is bad timing. At least the defense isn’t a problem with Inciarte and Guillorme, 2 gold glove level defenders, in their place. The Mets will need to rely on pitching and defense this series.

    Diaz has pitched 2 straight but only 7 pitches yesterday. Does that mean he’s available tonight? I think the 7 pitches means he’ll sit out tonight’s game only vs the 1st 2 games of the series.

    I’m ambivalent about missing McCann since Nido is as good defensively and McCann hits no better than Mazeika.

    The Braves are intimidating because they’re hot again and they’re the defending champs with a long track record of NL East superiority. No 2-year flare and flame-outs for the Braves.

    Still, despite the slumping offense compounded by key hitters missing and near-.500 baseball for the past month-plus, the Mets are still a step up in competition for the Braves.

    I believe the Mets will renew our belief in them this series. Even if they lose the series, I expect it to be a closely contested 1-2, not a statement of dominance for the world champs.

  • Bob

    Ed Bauta is one name that escapes me for some reason-I only went to Polo Grounds once in 1963 for DH VS Phillies and went to Shea a lot in 1964-
    In 1964, we had Ron Hunt–a REAL baseball player!
    Pitchers Jack Fisher, Al Jackson & Carl Wiley also went from Polo Grounds to Shea, I recall….

    Thanks to you guys again for your daily writing-helps me retain what little sanity I have left with Mets after 60 years!
    That retirement of Keith’s #17 was excellent-well done by Mets!
    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Steve

    Hey Greg – Do you know if Lee Harmon whose Amazing Shea Stadium Autograph Project you linked to is still around? The site hasn’t been updated in 4 years, but he came so close…

    • I don’t know Lee nor the status of the project. I enjoy returning to it on occasion.

      A couple of other Mets fans, on Ultimate Mets Database, also vouched for Mr. Bauta’s graciousness when it came to autograph requests.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    So, if the Unearned run scores on an error, is that an Unearned Unearned run??

    Thanks for the background on Ed Bauta. Sure I remember him, I once wrote a poem about him in a fit of 1963 frustration and we were learning poetry in Junior High School. (somehow I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the search engine is not what I’d call optimal).

  • eric1973

    Thereby making it an Earned Run, double-negative and all that :)