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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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Old Mets Throwing Strikes

The New York Mets currently have on their roster five pitchers who were born before their last world championship, which speaks to both the age of the pitchers and the last world championship. One, Max Scherzer, hasn’t been able to make his most recent scheduled start because of neck spasms. One, Tommy Hunter, missed time in the bullpen because of back spasms. The team, not quite treading water to date, has chalked up its successes spasmodically at best. At one point, the Mets won 11 of 14 this very year. You might not remember that, given that they followed up that stretch by immediately losing 12 of 15.

Good thing, then, that they had the pitching Wednesday night in Cincinnati to pull them closer to sea level. All three arms on which they relied were attached to babies born prior to October 27, 1986. The babies grew up to become major league hurlers with uncommon amounts of experience, at least as measured in places other than the 2023 New York Mets clubhouse. On these Mets, you don’t flinch when told the pitchers in action were born in 1983, 1985 and later in 1985.

You’re just glad they’ve been around long enough to know what they’re doing.

When Justin Verlander was born, on February 20, 1983, Tom Seaver hadn’t pitched for the Mets since before the Wednesday Night Massacre. Darryl Strawberry had not yet played a single major league game. Keith Hernandez was ensconced as the first baseman of the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Everything we’d come to associate with 1983 and the Mets — Seaver’s triumphant Opening Day return; Strawberry’s hotly anticipated promotion; Hernandez’s sudden arrival by midseason trade — was in the future. Baby Verlander came first, forty-plus years ago.

Then Old Man Verlander waited a while to make his Met debut, not only by spending his first 18 seasons in Detroit and Houston, but then shaking off a teres major strain for a month. We didn’t know from teres when Verlander went on the IL a couple of hours before the first pitch of the new season. We could have guessed missing him would be major. So it was. When you have a righty who’s won not only two World Series and three Cy Youngs and made those totals current within the last twelve months, you want to see what he can do for you.

In his first start, he endured one inning that had us scanning the fine print to see if his megacontract came with a refund clause, then settled down to remind us what a fully developed, reasonably healthy starting pitcher looked like. Had the Mets hit for him at all in Detroit, his two runs over five frames would have looked mighty good. They seemed fairly satisfying even in a loss.

Six days later, Justin faced another opponent he seemed readily capable of steamrolling, but we’ve been just as susceptible of rolling over for alleged bottom-feeders, middle-dwellers that we’ve become. The Reds hit plenty the night before, but that was off David Peterson, a.k.a. pitching depth. Verlander’s the front line, or was going to be had not teres major ordered him to the sidelines. Wednesday night, his entire body was back in form. Another shaky first inning, but maybe that’s his m.o. at the moment. When Seaver would encounter danger, then limit damage in a first inning, you nodded that things would probably be OK. Get to the great ones early or not at all.

The Reds got to Verlander in the first inning, for one run, then not at all. Somewhere along the way at Great American Ball Park, the 40-year-old locked in and made calendar pages irrelevant. On this occasion, Justin went seven innings in a Mets uniform, which is something only Joey Lucchesi had done among starting pitchers in 2023. Of all the new sensations Justin Verlander looked forward to as a New York Met, aspiring to match Joey Lucchesi for length probably didn’t top the list.

Thank goodness he did, though. Verlander gave the Mets the best start they’d had this season, two hits over seven innings, just that one run in the first, hardly a baserunner from the second inning on. Thus inspired, the Mets offense supported him…barely. Pete Alonso, who seems to take to steamboat architecture and the siren song of the mighty Ohio, hit a solo shot to tie the game in the second. The Mets otherwise mostly left runners here and there, but in the fourth, they accidentally strung together a double from Luis Guillorme, a walk to Francisco Alvarez and a single by Brandon Nimmo — all with two out — to take the lead. The Mets would leave eleven runners on base in all. Consider the two that crossed the plate manna from heaven.

Consider Verlander’s successors, the similarly venerable Adam Ottavino (37) and David Robertson (38), sentries worthy to stand watch over the manna. Holding an edge of 2-1 after seven, in the wake of losing 12 of 15, didn’t make one think, “This would be a great game to win!” No, this would have been a terrible game to lose, because to lose it would be to tell Verlander he really shouldn’t have stopped by on his way to Cooperstown, while hinting to the rest of us that we shouldn’t expect much to get better soon.

Fortunately, good old Adam and slightly better, slightly older David were both very much on. Plus the Reds are pretty crummy. Sooner or later we were bound to meet the enemy and it wouldn’t be us. Ottavino’s eighth was clean. Robertson’s ninth was spotless. Having tethered their lines to Verlander’s effective seven, we were treated to a rare three-man two-hit victory. How rare? Dismissing rain-shortened or pandemic-truncated doubleheader versions, Baseball-Reference’s Stathead tool tells us the Mets have now won two-hitters via three pitchers thirteen times in their history. It happened only once prior to 1998, because it used to be (when Verlander, Ottavino and Robertson were kids) that if you had a starting pitcher working on a two-hitter, he kept working on a two-hitter. The only pre-modern iteration of the three-to-give-up-two combo occurred in 1968 when Jim McAndrew went eight-and-a-third before Gil Hodges turned to Bill Short and Cal Koonce to retire one batter each to top the Cubs, 1-0.

Such specific combining wouldn’t happen again for thirty years, when the starter was Masato Yoshii and the relievers, for an inning apiece, were Greg McMichael and John Franco. The Mets beat the Cardinals that night, 4-1, on a two-hitter. What the 1968 game didn’t have; and the 1998 game didn’t have; and what none of the ten three-man two-hit victories that followed between 2001 and 2022 had that Wednesday night’s in Cincinnati featured was this much experience. The Mets had never before won a three-pitcher two-hitter in which each pitcher was a member of the 37 & Up Club. The life experience was implicit. The baseball experience was off the charts. Verlander’s been in the majors since 2005, Robertson since 2008 (he made his big league debut at Shea), Ottavino since 2010. From the vantage point of 2023, that’s a lot of years and a lot of innings, starting in one case, relieving in two others. That, as we’ve already seen this year, tends to place the risk in front on the risk/reward scale. Older pitchers had to do a lot to last as long as they have and still be trusted at this stage of their career. To ask them to defy chronological gravity as a group is trusting them even more. For a night, it absolutely worked.

On this night, it really had to.

Two Mets pitchers who may have been an even bigger deal than Justin Verlander are in the spotlight on the latest episode of National League Town. One retired last week. One made a comeback the week before. One you heard about everywhere. One you had to be watching a particular cable network to know from. Come and listen to the story of two aces too good to be true.

2 comments to Old Mets Throwing Strikes

  • John Farrell

    Why was Guillorme’s run accidental. Seems to me exactly the kind of sequence the Mets need.

  • Seth

    I assumed that was a reference to Guillorme’s ineptitude the other 99% of the times he comes to bat.

    Ground control to Major Teres – this was a good win.