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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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It’s the Time of the Season

Baseball’s nothing without poetic license, whether or not Rob Manfred wishes to notarize said document. The Commissioner is intent on engineering a game built for speed. Get it over with already yet seemed the Manfred mandate for Opening Day. Start the pitch timer, throw the ball, quit yer lollygagging. It sounds reasonable in concept. It felt forced in practice. So I don’t know if the elapsed time of the Opening Day contest in Miami between the Mets and Marlins of 2:42 would meet with the heartiest of official approval, considering Time of Game in various other venues Thursday measured 2:38, 2:33, 2:32, 2:30, 2:21 and 2:14, but when you step back and realize 2:42 adds up to 162 minutes accumulated in service to the resolution of the first of 162 games, well, how can you not get a numerical chill?

It helps when your team wins. Our team won: 5-3 to be exact. And, at the risk of having my poetic license revoked, what’s the diff how long a Mets win takes as long as it’s a Mets win? As long as it’s a Mets Opening Day win? The Mets, you might reflexively note, ALWAYS win on Opening Day regardless of length or site. Having soaked in a fourteen-inning Opening Day triumph on this very date 25 years ago, I’m tempted to believe the former, but my fealty to accuracy at the expense of burnishing Metropolitan mythology compels me to report that until 2023, the Mets were more futile than not when beginning a year in Florida. The Mets thrice previously visited the Marlins to lead off their campaign, in 1999, 2008 and 2011, and won only the middle game, Johan Santana’s debut. One-hundred sixty-two minutes devoted to defeating these Fish in their own pond to go 1-0 should be treasured…as if we’d take anything about beating the Marlins in any facility on any day for granted.

If you listened closely to the ambient noise on Thursday, you could hear the pitch clock tick. Things moved so swiftly for the first five innings that I was convinced the entire aim of a baseball game is to complete it as quickly as possible. You’d think a matchup pitting Max Scherzer and Sandy Alcantara would be ripe for savoring, yet you can’t gripe when two such polished pitchers are brisk in their approach, no matter that their pace is nudged along by an obtrusive digital countdown. It only felt like the goal of the game was to end it so people who find baseball a drag will be less bothered that it lasts as long as it does. Over those five innings, though, despite the dual mound presence of reigning Cy Young awardee Alcantara and three-time recipient Scherzer, the personages were overshadowed by the pace. Wasn’t it great how fast the thing for which waited all winter to finally get here was escaping into the ether with uncommon alacrity?

Yeah, we guess.

The only run registered across those first five frames was generated by foot. In the best tradition of the Reyes Run and the Rickey Run, we were treated to the Vogelrun. Daniel Vogelbach turned a walk into a score by darting from first to third on Omar Narvaez’s single to right, and third to home on Brandon Nimmo’s sufficiently deep fly to left. I don’t know if the slightly large bases abetted Vogey’s deceptive nimble nature. Perhaps every little inch helps.

Alcantara vs. Scherzer would have loomed as fascinating without somebody constantly resetting a counter and demanding something happen in 20 seconds or not happen at all. The last time before 2023 that the Mets faced a starter on the Opening Day directly after that starter collected a Cy was forty years before, at Shea Stadium in 1983. The opponent on that occasion was Steve Carlton, bested by a Met team led by prodigal immortal Tom Seaver. Plenty of Cys and sighs in evidence that afternoon.

Scherzer had an intriguing precedent going for him as well. Max was the “enemy” on Opening Day 2015, and now he was our guy. Had that ever happened before? Why, yes, once. In 2001, the Mets played their first game of the year at Atlanta. The starter for the Braves was T#m Gl@v!ne. In two years’ time, said lefty would switch sides for a fee and be the Mets’ Opening Day starter, an assignment he’d assume three of the next four Openers.

Excuse me while I wash my fingers out with soap for typing up any link between the mostly revered Scherzer and the mostly reviled Gl@v!ne. Then again, I have to confess that when I first saw Scherzer loosening up in St. Lucie following the lockout the Spring before this one, I involuntarily formulated an unpleasant thought:

“I hope this guy isn’t another Gl@v!ne.”

I wasn’t thinking a surefire Hall of Famer who will help the Mets to a postseason and polish his lifetime totals in the process, or, for that matter, someone who might implode at the absolute worst moment after gaining our trust, but a professional who, for all his credentials and maturity, emits the impression that his affiliation with this thing we love is strictly business.

Say, it appears I’m violating the spirit of the pitch clock by stepping off and pursuing a tangent. If that’s the case I might as well use my one timeout and backtrack to an admittedly ancient grudge…

At first I couldn’t stand T#m Gl@v!ne being on my team because he had been such a goddamn Brave for so long, and nobody who was a Brave a little before or a little after the turn of the millennium was someone a Mets fan was prepared to embrace unconditionally. In retrospect, what I really couldn’t stand about Gl@v!ne being on my team was the way he deigned to be a Met. Never just was a Met. Wore the uniform for five seasons, threw the ball for a thousand innings, took a hike the second it was contractually permissible, didn’t let the door hit him in the ass on the way out. It’s been twenty years since his arrival, more than fifteen since his departure. In between, once I got over my aversion to his innate Atlantaness but before the whole “disappointed, not devastated” debacle, I decided to accept him as one of ours. He wore the uniform. He threw the ball. That’s usually all it takes.

I still regret disregarding my Bravedar.

Scherzer, as ’22 progressed, did not put me in mind of Gl@v!ne whatsoever. Scherzer’s Nationals were never the blood rival Gl@v!ne’s Braves were; Max even had the decency to wait until after we clinched a division title to no-hit us in 2015. He came over to our side after a detour to Los Angeles and provided no reason for regret. Yet as ’23 commenced, I looked at Scherzer anew and still didn’t see “a Met” by instinct. Wears the uniform. Throws the ball. But in the sense of being “ours,” I just don’t feel it. You might dismiss this emphasis on feelings versus data, but I’ve already renewed my poetic license where baseball is concerned. I can only care about what I feel. On Thursday, I began my 55th season as a Mets fan. You don’t last 55 seasons without of lot of caring and a lot of feeling.

My feeling on Scherzer isn’t that he’s a mercenary in the Gl@v!nian mode but something more akin to a visiting scholar. Has his tenure. Opted for a change of scenery (and more than a little pocket change). Likes our campus well enough. Visited the school book store. Bought a couple of sweatshirts. Figures to someday look back on his years in Flushing with a degree of fondness. But we’ll never be his alma mater. As best as I can frame it, Max Scherzer is the Professor Kingsfield of our pennant chase. Our younger and less-accomplished hurlers teach themselves the strike zone, but Scherzer, à la John Houseman’s indelible crusty mentor, trains their minds. They join the staff with a skull full of mush, they enter the rotation thinking like a pitcher.

That’s pretty valuable if not wholly warm and fuzzy. Max is great to have on the Mets. I’m just not convinced he is a Met. Or maybe he’s going to help redefine what it means to be a Met despite me never shaking the notion that he’s almost an alien presence in our midst. I should add that I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’m dealing with abandonment issues where the previous Met ace is concerned, thus I imagine I’m a little wary about getting attached to any Met ace.

Oh, the last guy. I was convinced the last guy was a Met in the Seaver mold, except unlike Tom, the last guy was never going to wear anything but a Mets uniform. That ship sailed for absolute certain on Thursday while Scherzer and Alcantara were busy zipping along for five innings. That ship docked deep in the heart of Texas in December. Its passenger disembarked and put on his Rangers uniform for competitive purposes. I tried not to pay mind to who was pitching against the Phillies in Arlington, for the first time not pitching for the Mets after never pitching for anybody but the Mets.

But I noticed.

Let the record show I now live in a world where Alec Bohm takes Jacob deGrom deep and I greet the news with the sort of fiendish snicker that canine sidekick Muttley would generate when ill fate overtook the most aptly named of drivers on Wacky Races, Dick Dastardly. I also live in a world where if microwaving something for approximately 45 or 50 seconds doesn’t require exactitude, I still set the timer to :48 because the last nine seasons made me adore the sight of that number. There are a lot of unresolved pitching feelings I’m sorting these days, and we’ve played only one game.

The game! That’s right! I’m supposed to be writing about the game. So where was I?

Right, Scherzer vs. Alcantara in the accelerated present, Major League Baseball ushering in the pitch clock era as if we’ve been doing it wrong for the prior 54 or however many seasons we’ve been caring and feeling. We wanted a less schleppy game. Less stepping off. Less stepping out. Fewer commercials (cue Muttley). We hoped it would occur organically, just as we hoped more clever hitters might confound stultifying shifts.

Preaching the taking of the season one game at a time has been a personal mission for a majority of my now 55 seasons on the beat. So maybe I need to take my own advice and take this 55th season one game at a time. The clocked pitching hasn’t had three Mets game’s worth of hours to settle in. Give it, you know, time. If Manfred’s OK with that.

The sixth inning was Opening Day’s artistic salvation, which is to say I tuned into a pitch clock and a baseball game broke out. The bats were broken out just enough to get things percolating. I love a pitchers’ duel. I also love when the hitters duel back. In the top of the sixth, action found its footing. With one out, Alcantara walked Nimmo (the third of four bases on balls Sandy would issue). Starling Marte singled to converted center fielder Jazz Chisholm. Nimmo took a cue from Vogelbach and headed for third. Chisholm’s throw to third was unsuccessful enough to allow Marte to take second. The runners’ placement came in very handy when Francisco Lindor’s fly to Chisholm drove in Brandon and moved up Starling.

One more not exactly intentional walk, to Pete Alonso, followed. The corners were occupied for champion of batting Jeff McNeil. On a foul ball, Pete ran to second, then didn’t exactly hustle back to first in advance of Alcantara’s next pitch. A little game within the game tactic, the runner giving the batter an extra instant to hone his edge. Nothing unusual there.

Until 2023, that is. This year, what Alonso did elicits a penalty, because if Pete gets in the way of the clock being the star of the game, then the game isn’t moving fast enough to be over with so it can be over with, an ethos that would have fried the brain and shattered the zen of former Mets manager Lawrence Peter Berra; it’s not like William Nathaniel Showalter accepted the ruling in good humor. A strike was assessed on McNeil. Buck demanded a cogent explanation. Yogi, a classic bad ball hitter in his playing days, never had to take a strike because the runner on first’s less than zesty motion in the wake of a foul ball dissatisfied a home plate umpire probably just trying to keep up with the sport’s prevailing zeitgeist.

“Most of the strikes I had called on me,” Berra never said but probably would have, “were pitched.”

What a mess…is what one might have said had Squirrel not harnessed the bad vibes and turned them glorious with a single to the first base side of the middle that even a 2022-style shift might not have corralled. Marte trotted home rapidly enough to not irk Larry Vanover, and it was 3-0. Sandy the Cy was done for the day and Max the Sage had a cushion.

Funny thing about some cushions, especially the ones stuffed with down. They can lose their fluff in a hurry, and all you’re left with is a bunch of feathers on the floor. Scherzer, fairly untouchable for five innings, felt the slimy gills of the Marlins all over his stuff in the bottom of the sixth. Jacob Stallings doubled — you’d figure a player with “STALL” stitched on his back would be banned from an enterprise that fancies itself souped up. One out later, Luis Arraez doubled him home to cut Max’s advantage to 3-1. One out after that, a fastball to Garrett Cooper became a home run for Garrett Cooper. The battle of hardware holders morphed into a draw, with Scherzer and Alcantara each having given up three runs.

The combined storylines of the Cy corps and the clock cops faded in the seventh as the relatively familiar mechanics of bullpen vs. bullpen took shape. The Marlins brought out Tanner Scott. Scott’s appearance was to the liking of the following fellows:

• Eduardo Escobar, who singled with one out.

• Narvaez, who walked.

• Nimmo, who sloughed off barely playing during Spring Training, by connecting for a double past miscast center fielder Chisholm.

Jazz used to be a second baseman. Every Marlin used to be a second baseman, yet for all the rule-tinkering, you can still use only one Marlin at second base. While Chisholm chased Brandon’s ball toward the outer reaches of whatever Marlins Park insists on calling itself now, Escobar had no problem scoring and Narvaez modeled no hesitation despite personifying the slow-footed catcher archetype. Omar brought home Brandon’s third RBI all the way from first, and the Mets were up, 5-3.

The bottoms of the seventh, eighth and ninth belonged to, respectively, Drew Smith, Brooks Raley and David Robertson. I don’t mean they pitched those innings for the Mets. I mean they owned those innings and the Marlin batters who attempted to rally. The trio with brio gave up among them one hit while striking out six. The save went to Robertson. The doubts allayed were a credit to all of them. Drew was strong early last year, then injured, then not quite reliable. Raley’s a newcomer, but in emerging as the pen’s resident lefty, indicated he’s a worthy heir to a role previously inhabited by the likes of Feliciano, Byrdak and Loup. The southpaw didn’t pitch in a single exhibition game and couldn’t have looked sharper when the real thing rolled around; remind me of that next Spring when I’m tempted to put stock in a single slice of Grapefruit League scouting. As for Robertson, it was a save situation and his name wasn’t Edwin Diaz, yet that didn’t stop the veteran from doing what he’s done plenty in his own past.

The game didn’t get away toward or at the end.
Some game will.
But we’ll take it one game at a time.

The game moved along agreeably enough.
Some game won’t.
But we’ll take it one game at a time.

The game saw nobody get hurt
Alas, somebody was already hurt before the game started.
Still, we’ll take it one game at a time.

Justin Verlander, speaking of visiting scholar types whose ultimate Metsiness is TBD, pivoted from probable pitcher for both Saturday and next week’s Home Opener (there’s a reason they’re termed “probable”) to a spot on the injured list alongside Diaz, Jose Quintana and four other Met pitchers nobody was necessarily counting on in advance of the season and I won’t list them because, damn, seven pitchers on the injured list? That’ll teach us to count on anybody in advance of anything. Verlander’s situation is, we’re told, less serious than those that have beset Edwin and Jose, pitchers — like Justin — we were definitely counting on. Verlander’s issue is a teres major strain.

“Teres” means “what makes you think I have a degree in anatomy?” “Major” shouldn’t be construed as literal, given that Justin insists he could pitch with it if the playoffs were at hand. “Strain” is never good, but this one is apparently not the worst. Tylor Megill will sub in for Verlander as he subbed in for deGrom last year on Opening Night, pending any further body parts crossing our lips.

13 comments to It’s the Time of the Season

  • BlackCountryMet

    Spot on with the analogy on Max and his “feelings” for us. I’m certain he would have signed for whoever paid him the most, particularly in view of his union standings. Nothing wrong with that. I’m equally sure he’ll give 100% towards the aim of winning with the World Series. But it will be Nimmo and Pete who i’ll look at celebrating (when it happens) and think “yeah, you represent US”

  • Daniel

    Thanks, as always, for being our accompaniment every step of the way again this year! A brief, happy statistical note: The Mets had in fact pulled out an Opening Day win in the southern part of the Sunshine State once before, in 2008. (Nets legend Mark Hendrickson started that game for the then-teal-adorned Florida squad.)

  • Jacobs27

    Thanks for the happy recap, Greg!

    I’ve been tuned out of Metdom over the last few months, so I missed the fact that Wayne Randazzo is no longer with us. Heard his voice on an Ohtani highlight yesterday, so there he is. Happy for him that he’s got a TV gig, but he’ll be missed. No reason to describe the uniforms now.

  • The language, notably the phraseology and vocabulary here, is ubiquitously sparkling with gems. A fine way to start the season off, both for the Mets and for you, Greg!

    The citation of Wacky Races is a welcome surprise. That was one of my favorite cartoons.

    The pitch clock is not one of my favorite ideas. We’ll see how it affects things down the road. Maybe it’ll be an overall help to the Mets. With Buck’s wisdom, perhaps he’ll work every advantage out of it. That strike on McNeil shouldn’t have been called, though. Pete’s a massive guy with a lot of momentum. It’s not easy to slow, reverse direction, and get back to first in a few seconds.

  • Seth

    I can’t do anything about the pitch clock so I have to ignore it. I like that fact that it isn’t in our faces every minute, at least on TV. My interest in the game is what’s happening on the field and between pitcher/batter. The pace they decide to settle on is up to them. Otherwise, it is way too much of a distraction.

  • Rupert Holmes

    Wonderful to have baseball back and to revisit my favorite blog. The new rules do still feel a bit forced but I’m hoping we’ll (players, umpires & fans) adjust to them in time & it will all feel more natural. The intent is mostly good (I think). Incidentally, Nimmo’s sac fly was to LF. ☮️

  • Good start to the season and your blog. Maybe we could we have 30 seconds of clock instead? Pretty please? Especially when you bought 4 tickets for $500 and you’re in line at the Shake Shack or the bathroom and miss 3 innings. The pressure is up on the field, in the booth & the stands too. No more lazy summer days and nights. The Polar Bear strike was ridiculous. Oh, and I just smiled at my microwave.

  • Seth

    “Ours” went to Texas and Philadelphia. But since Max has won before, presumably he knows how to celebrate without injuring himself, so I count that as a net positive. Hopefully Maxwell’s Silver Hammer comes down upon a few opposing batters.

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