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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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When the Mets Toughen Champs

Growing up in the 1970s in New York, where college football showed up in the papers just enough to provide context for gambling lines, I maintained scant awareness of the sport, save for maybe the bowl games played on New Year’s Day. It was therefore a culture shock to me when I arrived at my then non-football college in Tampa and discovered I was living in a state where every Saturday was treated as if it was New Year’s Day (while every Friday night’s high school slate was New Year’s Eve). With limited column inches devoted to baseball in those pre-Sunshine State expansion days, I became hyperaware of college football, whether I intended to or not. You can only read the same wire capsules about last night’s Twins-Royals tilt so many times before your eye wanders to what else is going on.

More or less unconsciously, I chose a team to follow lightly: the University of Miami Hurricanes. This was in the fall of 1981, before they’d won much. They’d been in the Peach Bowl the January prior, I somehow knew. I liked that behind quarterback Jim Kelly they passed the ball by choice rather than out of desperation. They were an “independent,” which seemed less clannish than belonging to a conference. I mostly liked that they weren’t the state’s institutional favorite, the Florida Gators. Gainesville was relatively close to where I was on the West Coast of the peninsula. UF was an overbearing presence in the sports pages, meaning their primary in-state rival the FSU Seminoles also got too much play. Everything was Florida and Florida State, Gators and Noles, pick a side. Miami was tucked away on C-6, 250 or so miles south and east of Tampa on the map, practically off the grid, except in-state and too big to completely ignore. They were covered by the local media but mostly as an afterthought, like the New Jersey Devils are east of the Hudson. Worked for me. I could have a Cane in the fight, so to speak, without getting too caught up in this strange other world where people actually cared to excess about who was going to win on Saturday and what it meant in the almighty polls that determined a national champion.

Funny thing happened in the fall of 1983. “My” Miami Hurricanes lost their first game — by a lot, to Florida — then won their second. And their third. And so on. Baseball season ended. The playoffs and World Series came and went. The Giants under first-year head coach Bill Parcells were a disaster. The Jets, favored to finally make it to the Super Bowl, relentlessly disappointed. I could keep up with either of them only so much from a distance, anyway. The Canes, with Bernie Kosar having taken over for the USFL-bound Kelly, kept winning. I actually paid attention to the previews every Saturday and the game stories every Sunday. I monitored the AP and UPI polls of writers and coaches when they emerged early each week. When Miami finished its schedule with a win over Florida State to wind up 10-1, they were ranked No. 5. Because of the way bowl commitments locked certain conference champions into certain matchups, it would be impossible to have No. 1 Nebraska face No. 2 Texas (Cotton Bowl), No. 3 Auburn (Sugar Bowl) or No. 4 Illinois (Rose Bowl). Thus, the Orange Bowl, to which the Big Eight champion Cornhuskers were committed, would have to invite the next-best option: the Hurricanes.

Everything would have to break right for this to amount to anything more than a formality. Not only was Nebraska considered one of those college football teams for the ages, but there was a pecking order to consider. Three teams had a claim on the national championship should the Huskers stumble…not that that was gonna happen. Miami was a double-digit underdog, a sacrificial ibis. At least they wouldn’t have to travel far to their slaughter. The Orange Bowl — current site of whatever Marlins Park is known as now — doubled as their home stadium.

On January 2, 1984 (New Year’s Day was a Sunday and the NCAA ceded Sundays to the NFL), everything that had to break right for the Hurricanes broke right. Illinois was run out of the Rose Bowl by UCLA, 45-9. Georgia edged Texas, 10-9. Auburn beat Michigan but in a dull, unimpressive fashion (9-7) that wasn’t going to wow the judges. There was no playoff. You had to be voted No. 1. No. 3 Auburn didn’t do itself any favors in the swimsuit portion of this beauty pageant.

The field was wide open for Miami if it could pull an upset. The Canes played wide open and it paid off for most of the game. UM led 17-0 after one quarter and 31-17 after three. Yet this was Nebraska, which meant it wouldn’t be easy, even in Miami. Sure enough, those Huskers closed the gap to 31-30 with less than a minute left. They’d been undefeated and could stay that way by simply kicking the extra point. If Nebraska finished the season 12-0-1, there’d be no reasonable taking the No. 1 ranking away from them. But coach Tom Osborne, to his everlasting, sportsmanlike credit, decided in this pre-OT era that a tie was no way to secure the title. He called for a two-point conversion attempt. Miami stopped it. The Hurricanes won, 31-30, and were voted national champions.

All of which I bring up because while the college football-loving nation caught its breath (it’s still one of the greatest games the sport has ever known) and South Florida (where I was ensconced over the holidays) celebrated, a few sourpusses from the University of Florida poked their heads into a watering hole on Miami’s Coral Gables campus and blurted, according to an item I read a couple of days later, “GATOR BAIT! GATOR BAIT!” They remembered Miami had lost to Florida way back in September, before anybody saw any of this coming. As much as college football rankings hinged on “this one beat that one” in pre-BCS calculations, determining a season’s supremacy didn’t stem from a Week One showdown that was otherwise forgotten. Florida finished 9-2-1 and wound up ranked No. 6 when all was said and done. Miami beat No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and ascended to No. 1 itself.

Gator bait, my ass.

But, y’know, the New York Mets took fourteen of nineteen from the Philadelphia Phillies in 2022, and the Phillies are National League champions. Hence…

Nah, hence nothing. It didn’t work that way in a sport that actually sort of factored vibes into its championship reckoning, and it surely doesn’t work that way in baseball with its playoff structure neatly in place. The fact that the Phillies played six series against the Mets and won none of them is not a factor this weekend or next week. The fact that the Mets no-hit the Phillies one night in April or overcame a six-run deficit in a single ninth inning or unleashed Nick Plummer to stun them in another ninth inning or Nate Fisher stymied them or Mark Canha ate them alive doesn’t impact anything where the remaining events on the 2022 baseball calendar are concerned.

Nevertheless, should the Philadelphia Phillies prevail in their upcoming (it still hasn’t started?) World Series versus the Houston Astros, they can send a thank you bouquet to 41 Seaver Way. I’ll even draft an accompanying card for them now in case they plan on being too celebratory to write straight once they obtain victory.

Dear Mets,

We appreciate how you toughened us up by beating the bejeesus out of us all season. Fourteen lumps led to one trophy — thanks!



Since no preceding National League pennant winner who’s gone on to capture the World Series has, to the best of my knowledge, sent its gratitude to Flushing when appropriate, I doubt this courtesy will be followed through on. Nor might it be appreciated. Yet it might be appropriate.

In the 60 seasons of Mets baseball prior to 2022, 59 National League champions have been crowned. One time, amid the ongoing 1994 strike, nobody was crowned anything. Five times the Mets crowned themselves, the most ideal of coronations. One other time, in 2020, when the condensed regular season was played exclusively geographically, the Mets didn’t cross paths with the eventual NL champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers. This leaves us a sample size of 53 non-Mets National League champions to consider in the realm of Mets Versus Champs To Be.

When a team that isn’t the Mets wins the National League pennant, it might figure that the non-Mets team is going to outdo the Mets in head-to-head competition. That other team, after all, is on its way to the pennant, while the Mets, unfortunately, aren’t. This helps explain why in 36 of those 53 seasons when the NL champions weren’t the Mets, those NL champions to be won the season series from the Mets.

Ouch, I know. But it happened. It used to happen without fail. You might be aware that the Mets won a World Series before they ever won on Opening Day. You will learn right here that the 1969 Mets won the last game of their baseball year, and the 1970 Mets won the first game of their baseball year, yet it wasn’t until 1971 that a Mets team took a season series from a National League pennant winner in progress. The 1971 Pirates (8-10 vs. the Mets) didn’t really start a trend. The 1974 Dodgers lost their season series to the Mets (5-7) and the 1976 Reds tied theirs (6-6), but through 1983, one of the most dependable routes to the NL flag was by stomping on the Mets.

The 1962 Giants took the measure of the 1962 Mets 14 of 18 times. The 1963 Dodgers, who fell in a tacked-on playoff to the Giants a year earlier, learned their lesson and took 16 of 18 from the 1963 Mets. On it would go like that for most of the 1960s and 1970s and into the early 1980s. Maybe not so dramatically, but fairly dependably.

Then, in 1984, the Mets got very good and stayed very good for a while. Not good enough to win more than one pennant, but good enough to occasionally ward off or at least match the clubs that would outlast them into October. The Mets tied the season series with the NL champion 1984 Padres (6-6), the 1987 Cardinals (9-9) and 1990 Reds (6-6). There was also a 10-1 slate run up by the 1988 Mets over the 1988 Dodgers, but, um…

When the Mets fell apart for the bulk of the 1990s, their ability to thorn the sides of eventual NL champs went missing, save for 1995, when they took eight of thirteen from the Atlanta Braves, a result clinched by a final-weekend sweep at Shea that sure felt more meaningful to us than to them. Two years later, the Mets debuted as a Wild Card contender, and the 1997 Mets couldn’t blame their shortfall to the Florida Marlins on not sticking it to the eventual NL champs, as the Metsies won eight of twelve in head-to-head competition from the future Orange Bowl site denizens.

The Bobby V Mets’ generally winning ways didn’t necessarily extend to the cream of a given year’s NL crop — though they did tie the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks 3-3 in that season series. Art Howe’s troops’ performance against the ’03 Marlins (7-12) and ’04 Cardinals (1-5) were apparently part of what Philip Seymour Hoffman studied to create his portrayal of the bumbling Oakland manager in Moneyball. Under Willie Randolph, the Mets held their own against 2005 NL champs Houston (5-5 when you could depend on what league the Astros called home) and outdid 2006 NL champs St. Louis (4-2, and don’t ask about how the Cardinals reached the World Series). The 2007 Mets did lose four of six to the 2007 Rockies, but that was months before anybody took the Rockies seriously as pennant timber or anybody would have dreamed the Mets wouldn’t play in October.

It only seems like the 2008 Phillies stampeded their way to the Series on the Mets’ heads, but the Mets took 11 of 18 from those eventual NL champs. Not so in 2009, when the Phillies helped inaugurate Citi Field and the enveloping aura of ennui by winning twelve of eighteen from the Mets home and away. The quasi-dynasty of the 2010-2014 Giants, with its pennant every even year, was boosted to an extent by their handling of the Mets, winning the season series from New York in 2010 and 2014 while splitting it in 2012. The Cardinals roared from the rear to nab the 2011 Wild Card that allowed them to transfer to the World Series express, thanks not so much to their having split six with the Mets during the season. The 2013 NL champ Cardinals, on the other hand, won five of seven from the Mets.

Since the Mets were last in the World Series, two aspiring National League champions put their lackluster Met season sets out of their mind to focus on the task at hand. The 2016 Cubs went 2-5 against the Mets (we swept them at Citi Field) and the 2019 Nats went 7-12 (despite the sense that Kurt Suzuki took Edwin Diaz over the wall every night for a month). The 2017 Dodgers unfortunately echoed their 1963 predecessors, going a perfect 7-0 against the Mets (it felt worse than that), while the 2018 Dodgers weren’t impaired by dropping two of six to the 2018 Mets. One wonders how L.A. made the 2020 World Series without our help.

The last example we have in this realm before this year comes from the 2021 Braves, who took ten of nineteen from the 2021 Mets, same as in 2022, if not at all the same as in 2022.

Here’s the thing, though. Among the nine National League champions, prior to the current Phillies, who lost season series to the Mets, eight went on to win the World Series.

The 1971 Pirates
The 1988 Dodgers
The 1995 Braves
The 1997 Marlins
The 2006 Cardinals
The 2008 Phillies
The 2016 Cubs
The 2019 Nationals

Only the 1974 Dodgers lost both a season series to the Mets and the World Series.

By comparison, among the eight eventual National League champions who split season series with the Mets, five won their World Series.

The 1976 Reds
The 1990 Reds
The 2001 Diamondbacks
The 2011 Cardinals
The 2012 Giants

No such luck for fellow .500ers the 1984 Padres, the 1987 Cardinals and the 2005 Astros.

What about those greedy bastards who won both their season series versus the Mets and the National League pennant? They’ve gotten what they’ve deserved, going 13-23 in terms of winning World Series. Since 1983 — a period that stretches back even further than the time spanning the present and 1986 — only four National League champions have run the gauntlet of beating the Mets and the American League champions: the ’03 Marlins, the Giants of ’10 and ’14 and last year’s Braves.

Otherwise, karma has looked kindly upon National League champions who demonstrated the good graces to not grind their bootheels into the Mets’ necks. Or, perhaps, getting beaten by the Mets stiffened the spines of NL champs-in-waiting once they got to the big stage.

Does losing 14 times to the Mets in the regular season, more than any National League champion has ever lost to the Mets, bode well for the Phillies against the Astros? Whatever happens, it’s not going to help us in this year’s championship rankings, but they’ve got their thank you note written in case they need it.

You’re welcome, Philadelphia.

17 comments to When the Mets Toughen Champs

  • Dave

    Lose the college football stuff. This is the Northeast, nobody cares – Ed.

    • “The Northeast” — the Times ran acres of CFB schedules in tiny type, incorporating all the schools that were never on TV, so I’d ask my Dad, “Where’s Bucknell? Where’s Colgate?” so at least it made for a good geography lesson.

      Related in my stream of consciousness is the origin story of Monday Night Football and how CBS and NBC passed because executives there believed their target audience (men of their ilk) weren’t as interested in the NFL as they were in their alma mater’s results on a given weekend. Yet those schools were never on TV.

  • eric1973

    I LOVE College Football and any crumbs you can supply is always welcome. It may be heresy around here, but I had my eyeballs on the CFA last nite more than the WS.

    My guy was, and always will be, Barry Switzer and the Oklahoma Sooners, along with Thomas Lott, Billy Sims, Elvis Peacock, and the late David Overstreet.

    Oh, and Go Houston!

    Nice to see cutie-pie Altuve join the parade.

    Love the Pre and Post on FS1 rather than the clowns on FOX.

  • Joey G

    There is a tangential and tenuous Mets connection to the 1984 Orange Bowl Nebraska-Miami tilt. Although it was known for the famous “Fumblerooski” play in which Nebraska All-American center Dean Steinkuhler picked up a designed fumble and rambled about 20 yards for a touchdown, I got into a cab late in the game (remember them) and the cabbie had the radio broadcast on and none other than our very own Bob Murphy was describing the action. It was a moment of pure glee to hear his voice in the Winter months, and a pleasant reminder of only 6 weeks to spring training.

  • eric1973

    And back then, it was great watching Lindsey Nelson do the NFL on CBS, as well as the Notre Dame football games that they packaged into a 1 hour game that they showed on Channel 11 in the middle of the night on Saturday nights.

  • College football in the 70s. Bookie slips 4 out 4 right was worth 10 bucks. $1 a sheet. Rutgers always covered. Oklahoma beating Rice 73-0. The Dunkel Index. How could you not love this stuff?



  • Blair Schirmer

    Odd to see the Phillies up 7-0 in the top of the 8th and feel they have no better option than to run Nelson out there, a reliever who walks almost 4.7 per 9.

    Of course, every Phillie reliever of note walks the park, so what do I know? Robertson walked 6.2/9 and he’s made five postseason appearances.

    They’re a near certainty to go up 2 games to 1 as I write, largely indifferent to the Series, a slomo HR Derby, and its endless hype, the dull invented stories, the ads on the back of the mound and crawling omnipresent behind the plate, that only remind me how ad swine refer to any and every space not including an advertisement as “dead space,” and finally the mass hypnosis causing fans of every stripe to forget Harper went limp in the 2014 postseason, the 2016 postseason, and the 2017 postseason. Apparently memory must now surrender to hype lest the narrative falter, of heroes and their (your!) ability to will victory if it’s only wanted enough. That reminds me of something from Mussolini’s “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Winning becomes primarily a spiritual matter, and losing therefore a spiritual failing. The frantic identification with teams seems a little more desperate than it did last year or the year before, and my interest less and less.

  • Seth

    The Team That Shall Remain Nameless (let’s call them the “PP’s”) are getting every break the baseball gods can bestow. For some reason, literally everything is going their way. Why can’t that ever happen to the Mets other than in 1986?

  • Blair Schirmer

    Four pitchers throwing a no-hitter has little of the vitality and fascination of one pitcher pulling it off.

    Yup, there’s another 98 mph fastball w/ late movement in the ninth. And another. And another. Next season let’s try pitching from second base. ~127 feet? Why not. Your average 3bman can probably start snapping off curveballs with a little practice.

    More seriously, has anyone done a study on the effect on velocity of having to pitch from half that distance, with the rubber placed equidistant between home and second? I get that it’s horribly transgressive, on the order of reshaping the Christian cross, but something needs to be done.

  • eric1973

    Fun to watch, but in reality, Big Deal.

    You put more and more shitty teams in the playoffs, and it’s bound to happen.

  • Seth

    A combined no-hitter is still a no-hitter, the same way a combined shutout is still a shutout.

  • Curt Emanuel

    A team I hate playing a team I despise. My level of disinterest in this series could not be more intense. I tried last night and made it through 2 innings. Even seeing Noah and realizing that yes, occasionally our management does make the right call on personnel, wasn’t enough to keep me going.

    I’d rather devote the energy to deciding if I think we should pay monster bucks for Jake. I know if we do his arm will fall off, if we don’t wherever he goes he’ll pitch 300 innings, strike out 500 with a 0.32 ERA.

    For the important stuff, and thank you for going there with this post, hoping the Syracuse start doesn’t turn out to be just an early-season fluke. No big deal losing to Clemson but Notre Dame just isn’t good this year.

    • DAK442

      I’m enjoying the series and rooting hard for the Astros. Partly distaste for Philly fans, and partly because it vexes Yankee fans so when Houston does well.

      The lack of self-awareness of Yankee fans railing against the Houston cheaters, while ignoring their turn-of-the-century steroid dynasty, is hilarious.

  • eric1973

    Hey, Anyone who beats the Yankees like a Garbage Can (Try the veal) is A-OK in my book.

  • Eric

    I wouldn’t mind the Mets taking a Taijuan Walker-type buy-low flyer on Syndergaard next season, his 2nd year back from Tommy John surgery. The Mets starting pitching depth can use him. Syndergaard chose to leave the Mets last year, but I appreciate that whether he knew it or not at the time, he wouldn’t have been a difference maker for a Mets contender in his rehab year.

    At this point, I don’t expect his old ace ceiling, but a 4 starter with 3 potential is reasonable.