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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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Pick Up Another One

Perhaps the most charming scene in a movie loaded with them is when a nervous Mark “Rat” Ratner first approaches Stacy Hamilton at the counter of Perry’s Pizza in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Armed with Mike Damone’s never-fail “send out this vibe” dating advice, Rat smoothly starts his come-on.

“What do you do with the jackets people leave here?”
Stacy tells him, “We keep ’em.”
“You keep ’em?”
“In case they come back.”

With that, Stacy pulls from beneath the counter a box full of high school students’ jackets and offers Rat the chance to look through it if he wants.

“No, that’s cool,” Rat says in a manner that is anything but. “It would take too long to look through all that. I’ll pick up a new one.”

In reality, Rat hasn’t lost his jacket (Damone is holding it for him off camera), and in reality, the Mets on Wednesday night didn’t lose a game they already had won, because you can’t consider a game in the bag — or box — until it’s officially in the win column. Which this wasn’t.

It felt like it though. The Mets took a lead in the top of the first (Brandon Nimmo doubled, Francisco Lindor singled him in), built upon their lead in the top of the fifth (Lindor doubled, Mark Vientos singled him in) and held that lead going to the bottom of the seventh, thanks to the capable right arm of Jose Butto, a right arm recently judged capable after watching it befuddle the Washington Nationals for six scoreless innings. Following Tuesday night’s triumph in our nation’s capital, the two out of three yoinked from the Seattle Mariners over the weekend, and the way we didn’t keep the suddenly wayward Texas Rangers from stumbling over themselves exactly a week before, you were getting the sense that winning games is now what the New York Mets do almost as a rule. We’d won four of five! Who was gonna stop us?

Well, the New York Mets for one. Even as Butto was mowing down Nats; and even as we could enjoy Lindor having what I’m comfortable referring to as a Lindor game (his 26th stolen base put him 4-4 away from 30-30); and even as a representative delegation of Citi Kids continued to introduce themselves to the present (Alvarez didn’t play, but there was that Vientos ribbie as well as a sleek 5-4-3 DP that was two-thirds Baty and Mauricio); and even as the Mets finally had a team to look down at from their lofty fourth-place perch, there was that nagging feeling one gets from believing your team is ahead by more runs than it is. The first five innings produced those two runs, but they also saw the Mets leave at least one runner on base in every inning, eight in all before the sixth. In the sixth, young Mauricio got as far as third — single, error, bunt — but no further. How, a person asked himself, are the Mets ahead ONLY two-nothing?

The brief sense of pervading presumptuousness that the Mets ahead means the Mets will win, shattered in the seventh. Shattered? Does anything shatter when the fourth-place team is playing the fifth-place team? How about crumbled? Or sagged? That sounds better, given the heat wave. Yeah, let’s just say the Mets wilted. Perhaps Butto did, for after those six essentially spotless innings, Jose gave up two singles around an out, leading Buck Showalter out of the visitors’ dugout at Nationals Park. That was reasonable. He signaled to the bullpen. Also reasonable. He wanted Trevor Gott to pitch.

For what reason, one is not sure.

Two more hits surrounded another out, and there went the lead. Tied at two in the eighth, the Mets threatened once more, as Omar Narváez singled with one out. When catching, Omar looks like a bona fide catcher behind all that gear — whereas some catchers look like hitters biding their time until they get to hit again — yet standing at the plate, Narváez has one of those lumpy frames that makes me think he is asked by ballpark security wherever he goes to flash his ID, because without a uniform on, he could very well be mistaken in street clothes for an overly ambitious fan. “Sorry, buddy, this is the players’ entrance.” (As if I wouldn’t be told the same thing.) But, per Brad Pitt dressing down Oakland’s scouting department, we’re not selling jeans here. I really dig the way Narváez goes about his at-bats. The numbers (.198/.279/.260) don’t back it up, but he seems to put balls in play or at least foul them off in a meaningful way. I’m almost always convinced he’s about to get a base hit, never mind that he doesn’t do so as much as 20% of the time. That’s some faint praise, but I’m willing to dispense it on behalf of a veteran catcher just trying to do his job.

Yet apparently Omar Narváez isn’t on base enough to have finely honed his baserunning instincts, because when Ronny Mauricio lined out hard to second, Omar was about twenty feet off first and the easiest of pickin’s for doubling-off purposes. So much for veteran savvy. So much for that eighth-inning threat.

Trevor Gott was no longer pitching in the bottom of the eighth, so the Nationals didn’t score the go-ahead run. In the ninth, the Mets limited their wasted opportunity to a Rafael Ortega leadoff walk that was erased when Nimmo grounded into a double play. The bottom of the ninth beckoned, and because it was tied, Buck beckoned Bickord… Phil Bickford. Perhaps from warming up alongside Adam Ottavino and then being called on, Bickford took Showalter’s selection as less a vote of confidence than a saveless sigh. If a lead was to be preserved, Otto would be signaled in. The implicit message to Phil: just don’t blow it here, OK pal?

Phil just blew it here. He hasn’t blown so many that we have to borrow some Gott-brand vitriol and direct it toward Bickford. I mean, two months ago, how high was your Phil Bickford Awareness Quotient? I kind of knew he’d been a Dodger, but before we traded for him, I was as likely to think “Phil Bickford” was SNY’s State Farm Agent of the Day. Either way, Phil walked Carter Kieboom on as few pitches as possible without simply waving him toward first; hit Jake Alu on an oh-two pitch, with the first strike having been the gift of clock violation; allowed a seamless sac bunt from Ildemaro Vargas (when did bunting become in vogue again?); and, inevitably, gave up the winning infield-in hit to Jacob Young. This projects as last time this season I plan to list a plethora of Washington Nationals in one paragraph.

The Nats won, 3-2, after the Mets didn’t have it won, 2-0. The Mets saw their lead for not finishing last reduced to a game-and-a-half, though they do maintain the tiebreaker, having taken the season series from their de facto archrivals, 7-6. Should we and they finish with the same record, I want the same consideration the defending NL East champion Braves got for finishing with the same record as the Mets but edging us in the season series, 10-9.

This matters how? Not at all (unless we and Washington both dip enough over the final three weeks to get in on that sweet Bottom Six draft lottery action). But it’s September 2023, a whole lot different from September 2022. One searches for scraps of stakes where there are none in evidence. Still, I’m a lot more ease this September than I was last September, and this is a welcome aspect to the denouement of this otherwise discouraging campaign. A game of this nature gets away a year ago, oh the agita. No disturbing of acids this September. The Mets played a game they came close to winning and didn’t win it. I’m willing to pick it apart some for recapitulation purposes, as I just have, but I come away with no regrets to place amid a pile of Pendletons, a jamboree of Jordans and a surfeit of Suzukis for eternity. Last September, the pre-Atlanta losses warned us of imminent danger, and even the wins somehow felt suspect. We all suspected something was off, despite the win total soaring through the 90s and topping 100.

At this moment, in this September, we’re 64-75. The vibe is very relaxing. Blow a game? Cool. Just pick up a new one, if it’s not too much trouble.

Pick up a new episode of National League Town right here.

7 comments to Pick Up Another One

  • Seth

    “…a pile of Pendletons,”

    Was that a Terry Pendleton reference? Look out!

    This team knows how to kill a rally, that’s for sure. They’re like serial rally killers…

  • Dave

    Those runs the Mets should have scored were like Damone’s Led Zeppelin tickets…just talked about, not actually happening.

  • eric1973

    Damone? Vic Damone?
    I actually saw Jerry Seinfeld open for Vic Damone at a free concert in the early 1980’s either at Wingate High or somewhere else.

  • Joe D

    Buck beckoned Bickford
    Buck beckoned Bickford
    Buck beckoned Bickford

    Not easy to say fast 3x, nor was it easy to view the results of the aforementioned beckoning in the visitor’s box score.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    In 1965 the late great Otis Redding sang “Gott-a Gott-a Nah Nah Nah”. Words for Buck to live by, 2023.

  • Eric

    Speaking of the angst of last September leading up to the Braves, Scherzer’s performance in a big September game for the slipping Rangers brought me back to last year. The Astros are like the Braves of the AL West.