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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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Skin of Our Teeth

On Friday night the Mets played one of those OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR games: They seemed to have the Pittsburgh Pirates well in hand for a second straight night, starting with Taijuan Walker not giving up a hit until the fourth. The Mets repeatedly looked on the verge of knocking the Pirates out, but that decisive blow never landed — the membrane between “hard fought” and “laugher” remained stubbornly impermeable.

Walker pitched ably into the eighth but ran out of gas, giving up a rapid-fire single and then a homer to Oneil Cruz. Cruz is going to be a superstar — he’s an action figure cloaked in human form, with a wonderfully expressive face and lightning in his throwing arm and wrists — but first he needs to go through the struggles many a young player experiences. The Mets have seen the greatness he’s capable of along with the lesser moments he hasn’t yet escaped; with one swing, Cruz brought the Pirates within a single skinny run.

Edwin Diaz — yes, he does still pitch for the Mets — kept the Pirates at bay in the eighth, but the Mets let another chance go by, and when Diaz returned for the ninth, the layoff had clearly not been to his benefit.

Diaz walked leadoff hitter Ben Gamel, who was replaced by speedster Greg Allen — who promptly stole second. Luis Guillorme, who’d taken the throw, immediately called for a review.

Guillorme is often emphatic in such respects, but the Mets had nothing to lose, so they sent their case a little west for Chelsea for review. Said review quickly determined that Guillorme was seeing the world as it was and not as he merely wished it to be — he had dropped his leg in front of the base, allowing Allen to touch that and not his actual goal. (My goodness did we miss Guillorme.) The Pirates’ runner in scoring position ceased to be, Diaz fanned Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Cal Mitchell hit a drive to the fence but only to it, no farther.

The Mets had survived, emerging victorious not by administering a bludgeoning but by making slightly fewer mistakes than the opposition. Which still counts as a win — the most valuable commodity imaginable as September bears us on the way to wherever it is we’re headed.

* * *

Greg noted the death of John Stearns, the speedy and tough catcher who was one of the rare reasons to watch the Mets of the post-Massacre era. Like my blog partner, I was thrilled to see Stearns at Old-Timers Day, tragically reduced by the illness that would claim his life but obviously pleased to be among his peers. I blanched at the idea of what the effort must have cost him, unaware of how right that was — and how few days remained to Stearns.

My first memory of Stearns came not from a ballgame but from a baseball card — Stearns’ ’76 Topps card, in which he’s represented by the Michigan blue and maize that still read to me as semi-official Mets colors.

It’s a posed shot, of course, but an awfully good one: The fingers of Stearns’ bottom hand have come off the bat, as if eager for trouble; his body is coiled, poised for imminent violence; and his expression suggests he’s more than ready for “imminent” to become “here and now.” As a kid and a newcomer to baseball, I was fascinated by that card — and pleased to discover the man pictured was worthy of it.

Stearns played one game for the Phillies before coming to the Mets as the best piece of the Tug McGraw trade and was a four-time All-Star for us, a legendarily tough catcher unafraid to mix it up with Gary Carter, Dave Parker or anyone else who dared challenge his guardianship of home plate. A bad elbow ended his career just as the Mets were returning to relevancy — he appeared briefly at the tail end of ’84, but the team’s mid-80s revival took place without him. But he stayed with the game, serving as third-base coach for the 2000 Mets and famously exulting about Mike Piazza that “the monster’s out of the cage!”

To younger Mets fans of that era, maybe, he was just a coach. But I cherished him as a survivor of a barren era, one who’d missed the first glory period after his career but been rewarded for staying the course and granted a role in the next one. For veteran fans like me, that made him something of a kindred spirit — even if we never played the game and could only watch those who, like Stearns, did so with such skill and ferocity.

13 comments to Skin of Our Teeth

  • Michael in CT

    I met John Stearns at Mets Fantasy Camp in 2014 when I was doing research for a Mets book. He could not have been kinder or more helpful, even though I was a complete stranger to him. He encouraged other former Mets to talk to me. A mensch, I would say. I will always cherish that encounter. RIP John.

  • 9th string catcher

    My favorite ballplayer ever. Good catcher, good hitter, stole bases, tough as nails. Wish he could have stayed healthier and regain his hr swing. RIP.

  • Curt Emanuel

    It seems that every season baseball provides at least one interesting side story. Watching Albert Pujols go for 2 more HRs the last 17 games of the season is a good one. I can’t help wondering if he might go Tom Brady with the shift leaving the game. One day some person with a LOT of time on their hands will go through his last 10 or so years and see how many more hits he’d have likely gotten without it.

    Friggin’ Braves – 6-run 8th. That’s a good team. But so are we.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    (My goodness did we miss Guillorme.)

    Yep. I was thinking the same thing just then. A tag no other Mets 2nd baseman would have made. One split second, one game about to slip away salvaged.

  • eric1973

    In the late 90’s, I worked a couple of blocks from The Grand Hyatt, where the visiting teams stayed during the season, and I would sit in the lobby during lunch, just watching the players and coaches go by.

    As I was going down the escalator to leave, coming up on the other side was Cinn or Balt Manager Davey Johnson and his coach, John Stearns.

    I should have gotten Stearns’ autograph, but I did not want to bother them, and the only one I ever got was Matlack when he was the Detroit Pitching Coach in 1996.

  • Ray

    Howie introduced him fairly early in the cavalcade (here) after a few much older alumni and right after Ed Lynch. He reminded us of John’s four All-Star appearances, which reminded me just how few other Mets of those eras would have even barely qualified for the Every Team Represented slot. The genuine appreciation in his welcome, from the podium and the stands, made it stand out for me, and it just heightened the sadness of hearing this news. You done good, Bad Dude:)

  • Bullpen Tomato

    Been reading this site for years and enjoying Greg and Jason’s superior writing, recaps, and historical perspective. The passing of John Stearns has given me the inspiration to jump into the fray. Much like Jason, Stearns held a special place in my heart as the post-massacre Met who cared the most about the team’s fortunes and felt a sincere obligation to a long-suffering fanbase to give maximum effort regardless of the team’s place in the NL East standings.(Bob Bailor perhaps being a distant second in the effort department in that era). My self-indulgent ramble about John Stearns begins as a kid filling out postcards and mailing them to Shea Stadium as part of an early 80s trivia contest (I think it was sponsored by Drake’s Cakes) where the winners got to take the field with Mets and receive instruction from actual big league ballplayers. I must have sent about 20 postcards in response to the trivia question (which Mets have won the rookie of the year award) because the question lacked clarity…wasn’t sure if they meant the award was won AS a Met, so I had to submit a few responses that included Pat Zachary (who won in 76 as part of the Big Red Machine). Anyhow, I was selected as a contest winner and along with dozens of other giddy youngsters clad in their little league attire, was led onto the actual Shea Stadium field by Frank Howard, perhaps the largest human being I ever encountered, and pitching coach Bill Monbouquette. Greetings us were Mookie Wilson, Brian Giles, Ron Gardenhire, Gary Rajsich and John Stearns. This was during one of John’s lengthy DL stints, so it was surprising to see him in uniform, albeit with his arm or hand in some sort of protective cast. I spent the morning in absolute awe of the experience and the instructional sessions ended with an autograph table where the kids would receive a team signed photograph and a replica helmet. John Stearns headed over to take his seat at the autograph table and Coach Monbouquette quickly intervened, telling him his injury would preclude him from the autograph session. Stearns would have none of it, insisting rather adamantly that all these kids had come out to see the players and he was going to be signing for them. The situation escalated to the point where the one man on the planet who could perhaps impose his will on John Stearns – Frank Howard- had to be summoned to intervene and inform the rehabbing all-star that we would only be allowed to hand out the souvenir helmets as kids exited the field. I still have the photograph my mom took of me as I was handed my helmet from John Stearns and he apologized to every single kid for not being able to provide an autograph. I think this is why his passing resonated with me in such a way. We’ve lost iconic characters from this franchise before (Seaver, Carter, Rusty, Ralph) but they all had some association with championships or at least an acknowledgment of their elite ability in the HOF. John Stearns fought for this franchise regardless of the team’s fortunes. For those of us who suffered through those lean years and the endless derisive sentiment from our Yankee fan neighbors, that effort meant so much. When Stearns finally emerged from his seemingly eternal DL hiatus in 1984, it felt so good to have him in the mix for meaningful baseball- we had all slogged through some lean years together. I had to search the interned for the specifics, but there was a game in September of 1984, a season with the first real taste of playoff contention I ever experienced as a Met fan, where Stearns delivered a pinch hit double to spark a huge comeback rally vs the Padres. That was a highlight of my Mets Fandom. Sitting in the stands and seeing #12 emerge from the dugout, bat in hand, had me over the moon. I blurted out loudly to my dad “Stearns is gonna hit!!” To which some guy, who for whatever reason was not rooting for the home team, a few rows in front of me sarcastically retorted “big deal.” That had me incensed. When Stearns launched that double into the gap I shouted “Yeah!! Big deal!!” And continued to do so for the duration of the ensuing rally and eventual Mets victory until my Dad told me to tone it down a bit. I reckon I was feeling like my own little 98 lb bad dude, ready to take on any Dave Parkers in the stands that day. Thanks for letting me ramble, I’ll hang up and listen and return to lurker status.

  • Eric

    Off the bat, I thought Mitchell’s game-ending fly ball was out, Robles point included. Diaz is making me nervous because he hasn’t been lights-out dominant for a while. He’s still preventing runs, but he’s been working out of trouble to do it. Maybe Diaz’s diminished qualify is due to not enough work of late and he’ll be dominant again by the Braves series and thereafter. Or maybe this is the Diaz we’ll watch the rest of the way.

    Still tied in the loss column. The Phillies’ slim chance at moving up took a hit with Dominguez’s meltdown. They need to run the table on the Braves to have a chance at the 1st wildcard. The Phillies can still help out the Mets like the Mariners and Giants did, though. The Brewers are close enough for the Phillies to feel pressure to beat the Braves to protect their wildcard.

    The Cardinals are hanging around to grab at the 2nd bye, but it’s hard to imagine the Mets and Braves both losing enough for it to drop to the Cardinals.

    Still too many RISP LOB. The 4th run was a gift from Cruz and it was barely enough to beat the Pirates. Coupled with Guillorme’s slick block and tag in the 9th, the wasted scoring chances, for which Guillorme shared the guilt, reminded that the Mets’ championship hope rests on dominant pitching and defense, not a scary offense like the Braves. As solid as McNeil is at 2B, Guillorme is a top 2B.

    2 wins over the Pirates aren’t enough to convince me yet the Mets bottomed out with the sweep by the Cubs and are back to their 100-win-trend form. Just keep winning.

  • Eric

    91 wins, most since 2006, are an achievement worth noting if not with fanfare. Surpassing the 97 wins of the 2006 Mets is a reasonable expectation. 100 wins are not as likely as they seemed at the start of the month but still realistic if the Mets don’t fall back down.

  • open the gates

    So sad to hear about John Stearns. He, Mazz and Mookie were my favorite players of the Dark Ages. What I loved about Stearns was that he left it all on the field every single day. He was the one guy who really seemed to take the losing personally. And as much as I loved Gary Carter (another Met catcher gone much too soon), part of me was sad that John Stearns wasn’t the one to catch Jesse Orosco’s final pitch of 1986. And I’m really glad that he got to participate in the Old Timers game, and that he had a chance to hear the fans’ appreciation of him one last time. Godspeed, Bad Dude.