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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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The Boys of No Longer Summer

Oh, how quickly things can change.

Who’d even heard of Phil Bickford 10 days ago? And yet tonight there I was cheering energetically for Bickford to get out of a straitjacket against the Cubs and give the Mets a win — in a rubber game, no less.

I could say I was on the edge of my seat, but honestly I wasn’t — these games are too low-stakes for that level of emotional commitment. Still, I certainly wanted the Mets to win, and there was a pleasure in watching the various machinations aimed at ensuring they would.

Like Adam Ottavino getting excused on a night he clearly didn’t have it, which surprised Ottavino more than anyone else keeping track of events. Though shame on the Citi Field faithful for booing. I’ve never been against booing, but what’s the point of it now? The next game that matters will be in fucking April, so why do that? Ottavino’s struggled for some time when asked to appear in back-to-back games, and he actually wants to be part of the solution, so give the man a pass.

With Ottavino gone and Brooks Raley apparently unavailable, the game was in the hands of Bickford, a shaggy ex-Dodger about whom I confess I know very little. It was quickly apparent that Bickford didn’t have a reliable breaking pitch or the ability to work low in the strike zone, which was a bit worrisome: Changing eye levels only goes so far when you’re throwing nothing but high fastballs.

But Bickford got Christopher Morel on a pitch right in the middle of the plate, one I guarantee Morel will still be thinking about long after you’ve closed your browser window. He then went to work on Ian Happ, with a key assist from Francisco Alvarez, who kept the pitch clock from running down by throwing up his hands and racing out to the mound before time expired. That kept the count a pitcher’s 1-2 instead of a neutral 2-2.

Alvarez reminds me of Rene Rivera, which is an enormous compliment. I loved Rivera for his skill as a pitcher whisperer, coaxing and sometimes bullying balky hurlers across the finish line. Alvarez has a lot of that in him, except Rivera was a veteran nearing his mid-30s, and Alvarez is barely old enough for a legal drink. I’ll be happy when this season has ended, but in the meantime getting to watch Alvarez continue to grow will be a nice fringe benefit.

David Peterson, Abraham Almonte, Grant Hartwig, Josh Walker, Phil Bickford. Maybe it’s not the cast we imagined cheering for when Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer stood atop the rotation, but it’s the cast we have. And for one night, the outcome was worthy of applause.

13 comments to The Boys of No Longer Summer

  • eric1973

    Where’s Bickford been all my life?!

    Beware, Bickford, for as soon as a guy pitches great for us, he’s either sent down or DFA’d, like that guy who worked in the bank, and that other guy who was the only guy in the past 2 years to retaliate and buzz the other team, and then there was that other guy who came on to get that miracle save in LA as the last man out of the bullpen.

    So Adios I guess, Bickford, as we hardly knew ye.

  • Pat

    Mets batting order these days: Nimmo, Alvarez, Lindor, Alonso, McNeil, somebody, somebody, somebody, somebody. And in the late innings, Buck sometimes swaps in somebody for somebody else.

    • Eric

      Vientos is a ‘baby Met’ like Baty and Alvarez, and Mauricio when he’s finally called up. I wouldn’t lump him in with the “somebody, somebody, somebody, somebody” journeymen Almonte, Mendick, Arauz, and Ortega.

  • Eric

    The Mets have gone 4-8 since trading Robertson to the Marlins, yet they’re still only 7 games out of the 3rd wildcard, the same as the day Robertson was traded.

    I accept sacrificing this year’s hope for the 3rd wildcard to move along the big-picture goal of strengthening the farm system. Cohen wants the Mets to be a perennial frontrunner, which is what he paid a historical amount for, not a team scrumming for the 3rd wildcard. Still, I can’t ignore that even now the Mets are a good week away from closing in on arm’s reach of the 3rd wildcard. If the core of the team that’s here can manage a run, even if it falls just short, maybe that would convince Cohen they’re worth another splurge this off-season.

    • David

      Before the deadline, most all the teams ahead of the Mets were spiraling. With a 14-9 July and Quintana working his way back in, a run did not seem out of the question–and this was before Pete found his swing again. I’ve gone through the five stages of grief over 2023 and finally come to acceptance. But I’m glad Cohen didn’t own the team in 2019, because I wouldn’t trade any number of prospects for the last month of that season. It took Milwaukee playing better in September than the 73 Mets (which is saying a lot) to keep them from the postseason. Even after they were eliminated, Dom Smith’s walkoff against Atlanta in the final game is one of my favorite Met memories.
      Maybe I haven’t quite made it to acceptance over 2023. Heck, maybe they’ll make a run with what they’ve got.

      • Guy K

        “But I’m glad Cohen didn’t own the team in 2019, because I wouldn’t trade any number of prospects for the last month of that season.”

        But did they win anything in 2019? Did they make the post-season? Not only didn’t they, but there was certainly no carryover from the 2019 fools-gold feel-goodisms to the aborted 2020 season.

        Perhaps a Cohen ownership would have made some bold moves at the 2019 deadline and the 2021 Mets could have finished the job instead of meekly tip-toeing across the finish line.

        • David

          Logically, you are absolutely correct. But there’s no logic in being a fan–especially a Mets fan. And since I’m not a member of the front office, this is my only perspective.
          Don’t get me wrong, I think the team’s in better hands than it’s ever been. But Cohen kept saying “Hope is not a strategy.” I believe the rest of that saying is “and faith is not a business model.” He’s right, of course–he is running a business. But let’s acknowledge first that hope is a fan’s only strategy and second that prospects are all about hope. The Mets had a 13% chance of making the postseason this year. This is a figure based on statistics and simulations that we take on faith (what were the Phillies’ odds at this point last year?). What are the odds of any one prospect becoming a solid major leaguer–even a top prospect? Probably less than 13%. (Granted, it gets better when you add 5 or 6 top prospects.)
          So let’s say the Mets did sell in 2019. First, who’s to say any of the prospects they picked up would have helped last year? Also, who might they have sold? I’d bet Jeff McNeil would have been gone–and he was the only guy hitting last September/October. Maybe it would have worked, maybe it wouldn’t have.
          And about the fool’s gold of 2019: 14-8 in July, 17-10 in August, 17-11 in September. It took an insane 20-7 month from the Brewers to beat them. It was insanely fun. Maybe it was fool’s gold, but for a fan isn’t it all fool’s gold? I value my memories of 2019 right up there with those from 1986 (and 69, 73, 97, 99, 2000).

      • Eric

        “Cohen didn’t own the team in 2019”

        That’s part of it–Cohen did own the team in 2021 and 2022 when the Mets bought in help that was paid for with top prospects and/or relatively young, controllable big leaguers, yet the team fell out of first place.

        Given the Mets’ flawed play, hurt players (besides Diaz, Marte’s degraded production has been a big blow), and low standing at the trade deadline, a sincere decision to keep up the chase for the 3rd wildcard meant buying help, not just standing pat. And Cohen, with the big-picture goal of building up the farm system in mind, has all but said he didn’t want to give up anymore Crow-Armstrong (Baez), Davis (Ruf), and Holderman (Vogelbach) type assets to plug holes on the team just to chase the 3rd wildcard from behind. Imagine our frustration if the team had stood pat or did a partial sell-off (eg, traded Canha, Pham, and Leone but held onto Robertson, Scherzer, and Verlander), no big help added, and did play better, but not quite well enough to catch the 3rd wildcard. Once Cohen decided to not buy the help needed to patch up this year’s team, that really meant a deep sell-off.

  • LeClerc

    “Somebody” (Arauz) drove in what proved to be the winning run last night.

  • Jon

    Sorry I disagree with the statement that there is no point in fans booing, because the games don’t matter for the rest of the year. Apart from the crazy nonsense that the Mets are still 7 games out of a WC, the players still are playing and fans going to the games. You still have to try to win.

  • eric1973

    I think we should have stood pat, because in order to go anywhere, our core hitters would have had to have hit better anyway.

    Then they would not have needed, say, a Soto, if that would have happened, as we already had the talent and did not need to bring in or trade anybody.

    And then if we happened to fall short this year, we get Diaz back next year and can make a run of it next year with 4 decent pitchers. Surely Cohen could have bought a #5.

    Now, instead, all we HAVE is hope for next year, or to be more precise, no hope. That should satisfy Cohen since ‘hope is not a strategy.’

    Wonder how he views ‘No Hope.’

    • Eric

      “make a run of it next year with 4 decent pitchers”

      This is the bigger risk than giving up on the 3rd wildcard chase with the other teams in the chase struggling. Quality starting pitching is hard to come by, which is why the Mets overpaid for Scherzer and Verlander in the first place. Even if diminishing Scherzer and Verlander degraded to 3, 4, or even 5 caliber starters, we could at least be confident about penciling them into the 2024 rotation. Old as Scherzer and Verlander means more injury risk, but these days, it seems like younger pitchers get a hurt a lot, too. And it’s not like younger pitchers have a higher pitch count in games than the older pitchers.

      Building next year’s basic 5-man around Senga and Quintana will be a challenge, let alone the vital 7-10 man depth. Is Cohen willing to pay for free agents like Snell and Urias while still paying a big part of Scherzer and Verlander’s salaries? The bullpen needs a lot of work, too, even assuming Diaz comes back the same. Maybe the Mets’ top pitching prospects like Vasil and Tidwell are better and closer than we think.

  • eric1973

    What the heck was Buck talking about last nite, after the game.

    Somebody brought up how great it was that Alvy ran out to the mound in the 9th, just before Bickford would have been charged with a time violation.

    Buck threw cold water on that, saying that what Alvy did is not necessary and that with runners on base the pitcher can just step off.

    Even if this is true, why throw cold water on an enthusiastic play by an enthusiastic player?

    And if Buck thinks Bickford had the calmness to step off in that pressure situation, he knows less about baseball than I thought. Never would have happened.