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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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Sky Has Fallen

What Joey Lucchesi did on Friday night was, in the pitching-short present, necessary and appreciated. Off the radar for nearly two years while he underwent and rehabbed from Tommy John surgery, Joey the Churve stormed back from obscurity and Syracuse to do more for the Mets in one outing than he had done the whole time he was healthy in 2021 — and do more than any starting pitcher has done for them in 2023. There was a period when a starter going seven innings was a pretty good day at the office, but nothing that stopped the presses. That period hasn’t existed since people knew what stopping the presses meant.

Although I saw Lucchesi’s feat in San Francisco compared to Matt Harvey coming back from a year of inactivity in 2015 and shutting down the first opponent he’d seen since 2013, it reminded me more of a game from 1975, when Mets were Mets, and Tom Seaver went at least seven innings in 27 of his 35 starts, completing 15 of them. I don’t need much of a nudge to be reminded of games from 1975, of course, even if they weren’t started by Seaver. The one I was moved to think of was from the middle of August of that year. It was pitched by Craig Swan, who was making his season debut. Swan was judged a disappointment in 1974, with nobody realizing he was pitching with a stress fracture in his right elbow. Next time you hear about precautionary imaging at the drop of a hangnail, remember that promising young pitchers used to be encouraged to rub dirt on whatever hurt. My, how far we’ve come as a species.

After being diagnosed correctly and having his cast removed, Swan spent all of 1975 regaining his strength and velocity at Tidewater, leading to his recall on August 16, against the Giants at Shea Stadium. His return set a promising precedent for the likes of Lucchesi generations later: eight-and-a-third innings, two earned runs (one let in by closer Bob Apodaca) and his first win in what felt like forever. It had been about 14 months. Swan was 24 and had been absent from the Mets plans until injuries forced their hand. It might as well have been forever.

These days, at Mets World Headquarters and its mobile locations across the continent, seven innings is almost unheard of. Hell, we hadn’t heard of it all year. But through Lucchesi-enabled ears, we heard an outing that lasted longer than anybody else’s: not just seven bullpen-preserving innings and nine strikeouts, but no runs allowed. None! Who does that in these parts anymore? Not the suspended Max Scherzer. Not the mending Justin Verlander. Not anybody else who’s taken the ball to date. They’ve all handed the ball back to the manager no later than the end of the sixth inning. Joey sorted his pitches (he’s not just for churves anymore) and befuddled the Giants. It bears repeating that they didn’t score in any of the seven innings Lucchesi was on the mound being “sick, man,” as the lefty hurler put it, availing himself of one of those phrases that means the opposite of what you might infer.

You’d think a pitcher who had to battle injury to pitch again in the majors might want to avoid any hint that he’s not feeling his best.

Nevertheless, all was well with Joey and his pitching in the Mets’ 7-0 win. Take it from his first baseman, who affirmed Lucchesi was “straight carving,” bringing “funk” and “uniqueness” to his delivery. Pete Alonso ought to know. He’s been carving up pitching himself of late, even more than when he began to bring both the funk and the noise to the Met record book four seasons ago.

The uniqueness of Pete’s achievements seem to speak for themselves. Following his wallop to dead center off Anthony DeScalafani in the fifth, Alonso is at 10 home runs after 21 games, reaching double-digits nine days before the 30th of April. Few sluggers do that. Met sluggers, rare birds and Bears that they are, have never done that. In the long view, Pete is up to 156 home runs in a career that by conventional standards isn’t much removed from its early stages. (Or maybe it just seems that way to me.)

When Pete homered the evening before, for No. 155, it rearranged a Met list that’s had one constant since approximately forever, even longer than Swan had to wait between wins from 1974 to 1975. Alonso’s second-most recent dinger placed him alone in fifth place on the all-time Mets home run list. Keep Pete a Met long enough, he’ll be alone in first, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s enough to note who Pete is ahead of right now.

On September 4, 1976, it was a big deal that Craig Swan’s teammate Dave Kingman had homered. Not an unusual deal in the vast sweep of Kingman’s career, which would go on to encompass 442 home runs, but this one was big for a singular reason at the moment it was hit. Kingman had been out with torn ligaments in his left thumb between July 19 and August 27. When he went on the DL, Sky King (the nickname Dave preferred over Kong) led the world in home runs with 32. The National League title was in the bag, just waiting for a twist-tie. The National League mark for one season, 56 — Hack Wilson’s total in 1930 — was legitimately in sight. The Mets weren’t going anywhere in 1976, but there appeared to be no limit for Sky.

Then Dave dives for a fly ball, and the thumb gets hurt, and you can kiss Hack Wilson goodbye. More disturbing is the twist-tie is no longer firmly in our grasp, either. While Kingman is sidelined for the back end of July and the bulk of August, Mike Schmidt makes up an eight-tater deficit and ties Dave, 32-32. Our first National League home run crown, out of the bag and rolling around on the table, is truly up for grabs.

On Saturday, September 4, a game with such powerful implications that a distracted Bar Mitzvah guest slips away to a pay phone for updates via 976-1313 (I had to let the Bar Mitzvah boy, a fellow Mets fan, know what was going on at Shea), sees Schmidt grab the lead, 33-32, when he homers off Nino Espinosa in the sixth inning. But then, in the seventh, Kingman evens the score in the only race that matters, belting his 33rd home run, off Ron Schueler. The Mets win the game, which is swell, but more importantly, considering the 14½ lengths the first-place Phils have on the third-place Mets, Dave is tied for the top in his category.

Little remarked upon if mentioned at all that afternoon was who else Dave Kingman tied when he homered. No. 33 on the year was also No. 69 since he’d been a Met. It had been seven years since 69 embedded itself in our consciousness as the nicest number in the Mets’ numerical lexicon, but there was more to it than world championship echoes. Ron Swoboda, you see, had hit 69 home runs in his Met career. That tidy sum, through September 3, 1976, amounted to the fifth-most in Mets history. The Mets were in their fifteenth season, having spent most of their time copiously avoiding the other side of the fence when at bat. Ed Kranepool had only a month earlier become the first player to hit 100 home runs as a Met. Ed Kranepool was in his fifteenth season, too.

So you had Krane, you had Cleon Jones (93), you had Tommie Agee (82), you had John Milner (80), and you had Swoboda. That was the Top Five Mets Home Run chart.

Then, on September 4, 1976, you had Kingman politely asking Swoboda to scooch over and share fifth place. Two days after that, at Wrigley Field, Dave decided he wasn’t crazy about sharing and took fifth for himself, launching his 34th homer of the season and the 70th of his Met career. This was your up-to-the-minute franchise home run ranking:

Ed Kranepool 100
Cleon Jones 93
Tommie Agee 82
John Milner 80
Dave Kingman 70

Dave was fifth all by himself, and would remain one of the Top Five Mets sluggers of all time in perpetuity.

Perpetuity covered his departure amid the Midnight Massacre, by which time Kingman — who was edged out by Schmidt for the 1976 crown, 38-37 — had totaled 82 Met home runs; his boom-and-bust exploits as a Padre, an Angel, a Yankee and a Cub following the transactions of June 15, 1977; the return of Sky King in 1981 and the 22 home runs he clouted that strike-shortened season; 1982, when Dave not only tied his own single-season club record of 37, but finally became the first Met to lead the league in a triple-crown category; the 13 he hit in 1983 before Keith Hernandez’s presence made first baseman Dave totally superfluous at Shea; his next act as the A’s DH; the rise of Darryl Strawberry; the emergence of Howard Johnson; the acquisition of Mike Piazza; the sustained if truncated excellence of David Wright; and everything until this current Met trip to California.

Because during this current Met trip to California, Dave Kingman stopped being, statistically speaking, one of the Top Five Mets sluggers of all time and stopped owning one of the five highest Mets career home run totals. When the trip started, that list looked this:

Darryl Strawberry 252
David Wright 242
Mike Piazza 220
Howard Johnson 192
Dave Kingman 154

Perpetuity expired on the West Coast in April of 2023. Pete Alonso pushed it toward extinction in Oakland, where Dave Kingman had revived his power stroke once the Mets ate his contract and let him go to whoever wanted him. The 1984 A’s, somewhere between Billy Ball and the Bash Brothers, picked him up, and Kingman commenced to do the only thing anybody ever really expected of him. In three seasons almost exclusively designated hitting, Dave bashed exactly a hundred homers, or as many as Kranepool collected to lead the Mets as a franchise over an approximate fourteen-year span. I thought it would be appropriate if Pete could pass him in L.A., where Dave enjoyed his most legendary night as a Met, socking three homers and driving in eight runs on a Friday night in 1976, but the Polar Bear settled for several hits of the non-homer variety against the Dodgers (unlike Dave, Pete often reaches base without circling them). Instead, Alonso waited for the series in San Francisco, facing the team with whom Kingman got his start in 1971, the team that sold him to the Mets in 1975. No. 155 came in the series opener. No. 156 came the next night, Lucchesi’s big one. No. 157 and beyond are welcome to arrive with whatever haste Pete Alonso can arrange. Whoever’s pitching will definitely appreciate the support.

Now, for the first time in nearly 47 years, when you list the five leading home run hitters in Mets history…

Darryl Strawberry 252
David Wright 242
Mike Piazza 220
Howard Johnson 192
Pete Alonso 156 and blessedly counting

…you don’t see Dave Kingman’s name. But Mets fans who saw him go deep still see that swing. When it connected, the ball soared roughly as high as those United Airlines planes whose roominess the 6-foot-6 Dave smilingly extolled in commercials when he began gaining fame for scaling the heights of the Met home run chart. Kingman didn’t always present a persona one would describe as advertiser-friendly or media-friendly or, at infamous intervals of his professional life, minimally friendly in general, but the way he piled up home runs won fans and influenced little leaguers. You swung for the fences as a kid in and around New York in the latter half of the 1970s, you were accused of trying to be Dave Kingman. When you succeeded, you took it as a compliment.

Few succeeded at what Kingman was best at like Kingman, which is to say the Mets got him to hit home runs and he hit home runs. Boy, did he hit home runs. The number went unmatched until Darryl eclipsed 154 in 1988, and it went unsurpassed by fewer than a literal handful until Alonso came along and became unstoppable. Yet giving way on the all-time home run list and not being among the Top Five any longer doesn’t detract from what Dave did, or could do, or had you sure he would do as a Met. I watched the Mets play games at or from Shea Stadium from 1969 through 2008. Dave Kingman was definitely the first Met who didn’t shock me by hitting a home run there, maybe the only Met who didn’t intrinsically surprise me by hitting a home run there.

There’d be some gifted hitters who I understood were capable of homering at Shea, and a select group who did it relatively often, but Kingman was the only one who I expected, all things being equal, to hit one out. Maybe Straw or Piazza with a game on the line, given their proclivity for meshing power with drama, but in terms of simply “he’s gonna hit a home run here” captivating my thought process in a random inning on a random night, that was Dave Kingman above everybody else. I’d look at him through that prism on the road, too, but Shea was such a not home run hitters’ park. Every clip I see of a Met homering at Shea, I’m still amazed that ball gets out of there. Except when Kingman swings and makes contact.

Pete Alonso plays his home games in a ballpark and in an era where home runs don’t seem that surprising. I don’t take the frequency with which he hits them for granted by any means, although I suppose at this point, you could be forgiven for almost counting on a long ball now and then. It’s not all Pete brings to the plate. Alonso is more of an all-around hitter than Kingman ever was as a Met, and now he has more home runs than Kingman ever had as a Met. Knock wood, he’ll have more home runs than anybody ever had as a Met, and we won’t have to wait forever for them to take off, no matter how long it takes them to land.

But I swear: there was only one Dave Kingman. I mean that as a compliment.

4 comments to Sky Has Fallen

  • Flynn23

    The Joey Lucchesi Game! Oh, wow! That was a special moment. And a joy to watch. #LFGM

  • NostraDennis

    “Get all your sports news instantly – dial 976-1313”
    Why is that phrase still lodged in my brain indelibly, all these years later?

  • Bob

    If I recall Kingman did this as a Cub and I was at my 1st Mets games in LA game at Dodger Stadium when he hit HRs 3 for Mets VS Dodgers–was 1976–I think?

    On June 4, 1976 — Mets right fielder Dave Kingman, in the team’s 11-0 victory at Dodger Stadium, hits three home runs. Kingman hit a two-run dinger and two three-run round-trippers drive in eight runs, a new club record. Tom Seaver held the

    Dodgers to three hits while pitching a shutout.

    Alos saw LaSorda at Pt. St. Lucie years later at Spring Training Game VS Dodgers and I yelled “Hey, Tommy, What did you think of Kingman’s performance?”
    Many fans chuckled and LaSorda smiled and walked away.

  • Seth

    Unfortunately the Joey Lucchesi game was followed by the David Peterson game…