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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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Take the Game, Leave the Cano

The story before Monday night’s game in Atlanta was discerning what the hell Robinson Cano was doing in a Braves uniform, in the Braves lineup, in the Braves infield. Wasn’t Robinson Cano, having washed out with the San Diego Padres, an El Paso Chihuahua literally the day before? Did the surging Atlanta Braves really need Robinson Cano of all people? They may have had a void at second base with the injury to Ozzie Albies, but that wasn’t new. Suddenly they needed Cano?

Would it have anything to do with the presence in Atlanta of the Braves’ rival for first place, the New York Mets? The same New York Mets who released Robinson Cano months ago? The same New York Mets who were paying the bulk of Cano’s massive salary regardless of who he played for, and now it would be the Braves? Was this supposed to be a psyche-out à la Felix Unger donning a second, albeit rubber, head and Oscar Madison draping himself in a Billie Jean King poster when they played Bobby Riggs in table tennis? The meticulously planned ping-pong mind game didn’t work on The Odd Couple, as Riggs was at the peak of his hustling. Would waving erstwhile Met mentor and MLB suspendee Robinson Cano in front of the team they were scheming to catch make a difference in the Met-Brave dynamic?

“And then we’ll bring Robinson Cano in to REALLY psyche them out!”

Well, Cano played second base very well and garnered a couple of hits in his Brave debut. But it couldn’t be said he made much of a difference in the course of Monday night’s game, because the Mets are also paying Max Scherzer’s salary, and Max Scherzer is still a Met.

Boy is he ever. Forgive the surprise. When Scherzer was fit as a future Hall of Fame fiddle in April and the first half of May, he was top of rotation and top of mind. Then he had the oblique issue that eased him out of direct view, and I kind of forgot we had him. Kind of. I knew he was working his way back — devouring his way back, I imagined, because “working” is probably an understatement — but we were focused on the games at hand. Max would understand. When he focuses on the game at hand, he burns a hole through it.

No chance I’m gonna forget Max Scherzer’s a Met for the rest of this season. I’ll pinch myself now and then, but I won’t forget. A game like Monday’s, with the starting pitcher at the heart of the matter, is the kind you plan to remember, especially in the course of a year with which you plan to do the same. Cano? Curious sidebar. Scherzer?

He was the story. He was the reason whatever odds whichever gambling sponsor flashed on the screen had to favor the Mets, regardless that the Braves have been hotter than Georgia in July, regardless that the Mets appeared prepared to support their co-ace like they supported him last week in Cincinnati and like they’ve supported their other co-ace too often in his brilliant career. Ya think Max Scherzer texted Jacob deGrom after the Mets didn’t score for him in his return start (6 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 11 SO, 0 R) and ask how to handle such offensive indifference? Or ya think Scherzer sucked it up and figured out how to will the Mets toward a win as much as he could against the Braves?

Ya know what I think or can least infer it from the tone of awe in this essay. I know the pitcher can only do so much, especially since he can no longer grab a bat and drive in a few runs the way deGrom would. But, oh man, Max Scherzer on the mound for your team in what you’re trying to keep from being a battle for first place…that’s a psyche-out. Not that the Braves didn’t bring a formidable Max of their own to bear. Max Fried ain’t easy pickins. We’ve seen that enough through the years. The Mets did pick at Fried’s offerings. Got a guy on base in the first. No runs. Got two guys on base in the second. No runs. Put a run on the board in the third — then another! Two runs! Oh wow! Bust this thing open, boys!

Nah, the Mets weren’t gonna do that. Even if Fried didn’t have the sharpest command, he wriggled out of the fourth and the fifth before departing with an accelerated pitch count. The Mets, minus Jeff McNeil on paternity leave and Starling Marte in day-to-day groin purgatory, left ten runners on base in all and went only 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. It was better than what they produced in the 1-0 loss to the lowly Reds, but you wouldn’t presume to find it sufficient to beat the defending world champion Braves.

Except once they gave Scherzer the two runs, it was plenty. The only Brave to barely bother Max until the seventh was Cano, with a single Luis Guillorme couldn’t smother (maybe, per Felix Unger’s scheming, he was seeing double). In the seventh, with two out, we were reminded that the Braves are the Braves, as Austin Riley, one of several überBraves, lined a ball high over the left field fence. The only thing that hit harder than Riley’s bat was the disgust on Scherzer’s face. After giving up a two-bagger to the next batter, Marcell Ozuna, I wondered if Max would call timeout, beat the concrete out of the dugout wall, and then come back feeling all better. Maybe in his head. On the mound, he simply struck out Eddie Rosario to end his night at 7 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 9 SO, 1 R.

While Scherzer was dealing, I remembered Buck Showalter spinning Max’s and Jake’s absences through the bright-side prism, predicting that getting each of them back in the vicinity of the All-Star break would be akin to making a couple of really big trades before the deadline. We’ve all heard GMs resort to this last bastion of inactivity when no swaps were on the horizon. We’ve all invoked it sarcastically when we’ve seen nothing cooking on the transactional horizon. Dillon Gee coming off the DL will be like making a trade for another starter. Yet I took Showalter’s remarks in good faith. They occurred to me Monday night as having proven true, mostly because Max had been so off the immediate-concern radar for a month-and-a-half and now suddenly he was pitching for the Mets…Max Scherzer pitching for the Mets. This really was like picking up an ace before the deadline. Knock wood, it will be like picking up an ace every five days for the rest of the year.

DeGrom is still in rehab mode. Not that we’re exactly suffering starting pitching shorts, but you really wouldn’t mind enhancing your rotation with the pitcher we’ve considered the best in the business since 2018. I still consider Jacob the best in the business, even if his store has had a CLOSED sign hanging from the door for a year, though after these last two Max starts, I have to take this co-ace stuff seriously. No way anybody’s been better than Jake as he’s scaled his Apex Mountain, but no way anybody’s better than the Max we’ve had these two sumptuous spoonfuls of. They’re two of a kind, no matter how different in temperament, repertoire, approach, and anything else. Details, details. They’re both the best in the business. Scherzer’s fire sets off smoke alarms. DeGrom is an ice sculpture. Yet I have the sense that if Jacob deGrom were a vintage Warner Bros. cartoon, we’d have a few frames zooming in on his head or heart or guts, and we’d see a miniature Max Scherzer inside him, going wild.

Except around the plate, because neither of them walks many batters.

Say, for all the thrills over what Scherzer did by himself and what Scherzer and deGrom might do in tandem, we’re still talking about a slim 2-1 Met lead heading to the eighth. If Max was done after 93 pitches, getting an extra run would be ideal. And as that thought bubble formed over my head (as if it hasn’t been floating there for days), Luis Guillorme took Darren O’Day over the right field fence. Not O’Day himself, but one of his pitches. Same difference. A Luis Guillorme home run! It certainly made up for not smothering Cano’s single earlier. And it definitely allowed for easier breathing as the evening’s setup man du nuit, Adam Ottavino, came in for the bottom of the eighth. He couldn’t be Scherzer. He just had to not give up two runs. He gave up none.

In the ninth, the Mets cobbled together an extra insurance run and Edwin Diaz — the sidebar to the Robinson Cano story upon the trade of both former Mariners to New York — was more than cushioned. Sugar was pouring for the third straight day. Yet he’d been so efficient in his two previous games, even as he was striking out basically every Marlin in sight, he was fresh to go. In the least surprising development of the game, Edwin Diaz struck out the opposition in order, using all of eleven pitches to seal the 4-1 win. Doesn’t matter that it was the Braves rather than the Marlins. Edwin Diaz in 2022 blows away opposing hitters, not save opportunities.

After Sunday, the sky was palpably descending if not altogether falling. On Monday, we had Max Scherzer for seven innings, reliable relief for the eighth, Edwin Diaz for the ninth and four runs to back up our three pitchers. The sky, like our lead in the East, rose accordingly. I don’t know if it’s the limit. I do know the Braves can have Robinson Cano.

15 comments to Take the Game, Leave the Cano

  • mikeski

    Apex Mountain

    Heh. I like The Rewatchables too.

  • Seth

    I still don’t understand why the Braves, owners of the best record in the league over the past whatever months, would need to psych out the Mets. I’d think they have the confidence to just keep doing what they’re doing. Anyway, it didn’t work, but today’s another game.

    For the love of everything holy, can SNY and GKR please stop salivating over the Braves’ successes? Do they not realize it kind of hurts Mets fans when they gush over Travis d’Arnaud’s success?

  • Stefanie

    Terri Collins on BNNY said that with Cano on the Braves the Mets would have to change up their signs. Maybe that’s why they did it? Seems awful petty. But the Braves, despite being current world champs and perennial post season participants do seem oddly small market and petty at times. Anyway, it didn’t make a difference and I bet they release him soon.

  • Eric

    Cano did well for his 1st game back. Solid hits and defended fine with his designer Mets glove. He would have been the story if the top of the Braves line-up had followed up his 2 hits. The Braves lost the game, but if Cano plays this well the rest of the season — and post-season — he’s going to make an already elite team stronger. I won’t be surprised if he hurts the Mets in the rest of this series and later series.

    Guillorme is hitting again. He more than substituted for McNeil’s bat. Guillorme was making weak contact during his slump, which apparently was due to an injured hand, so the hard-hit extra-base hits are a good sign. I’m surprised he missed fielding the Cano single.

    Was it Soto who found his HR stroke by participating in the HR Derby? Hopefully it does the trick for Alonso.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Luis is a fan favorite. Every game he does something in the field or at the plate that is simply Guillor-mazing.

  • Seth

    One good thing from the win is that this is no longer a series where the Braves can take over 1st place. The Mets just needed to win 1 of the 3 to make that impossible. That’s a little comfort anyway…

  • open the gates

    Funny how when the trade went down we all thought of it as the Robinson Cano deal, and Edwin Diaz was kind of riding shotgun. Now Cano is an afterthought on the Braves, or whatever team he’ll be playing for next week, and Diaz is possibly the best closer on the planet right now, and an All Star, and still a Metropolitan. How ironic would it be if that trade winds up being the best thing Brodie Van Wagenen ever did for this club, despite Cano? Can we all stop obsessing about it now? (…and a shout out to Jerrad Kelenik, wherever he is.)

    As regards Pete Alonso, he is currently on pace to hit 46 home runs this year, which would be more than any Met ever hit, except for a guy named Pete Alonso. If the Home Run Derby can nudge even more home runs out of his bat, then I’m all for it.

  • dmg

    i still have deep concerns that degrom will only make a cameo this season – doing well for two games, then feeling something give in his third – which would be just so sad and unfair. and thus a perfect mets narrative.
    i will be thrilled when jake proves me wrong.
    as far as bvw’s finest moment, unless and until diaz throws his glove into the air (and it never comes down) at the end of the last game of the post-season, it will remain bringing alonso up for the full 2019 season instead of stashing him for 3 weeks in the minors for contract control issues. otherwise, he would not have broken the rookie hr record.

    • Eric

      I’m concerned that deGrom picked right back up in rehab throwing 100+. At least he’s not batting anymore.

  • […] Take the Game, Leave the Cano »    […]

  • eric1973

    When I was a kid, I used to toss cards into a pot, to copy Bobby Riggs, and I also played ping pong with my shoe.

    And that girl at the door who kisses Riggs was his real-life girlfriend at the time.

  • eric1973

    It’s Greg Princeoy!

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