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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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An Exclusive Enough Club

Large portions of Friday night’s telecast from Target Field that I didn’t sleep through — I nodded off for most of the seventh inning, meaning the three runs the Mets’ bullpen gave up that determined the 5-2 loss to Carlos Correa and the Twins could have remained an eternal mystery to me had I not been curious enough to rewind and see whatever became of that tie I remembered from being awake — were devoted to celebrating Kodai Senga’s passing Jerry Koosman for second-highest rookie strikeout total in Mets history, a feat accomplished with the fanning of Minnesota center fielder Willi Castro to end the fourth.

Yeah! He’s No. 2!

I experienced a bit of déjà vu all over again, having been in the ballpark of record the first time a Met rookie pitcher surpassed Koosman’s 1968 total of 178 Ks. The frosh in question was, of course, Dwight Gooden. I say “of course” because Doc’s name topped the graphic SNY posted multiple times before, during and after the game. Dr. K was so synonymous with rookie strikeout milestones that his nickname implied those were what he was destined to set in a franchise and sportwide context. On August 11, 1984, Gooden’s 179th strikeout of the year, registered as he set down the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Lee Mazzilli in the sixth inning, elicited a roar from those of us in attendance at Shea that Saturday night (no offense, itinerant Mazz). According to his manager, Doc was the last to process the hullabaloo.

“He walked in the dugout and said, ‘What’s all the fuss about?’” Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, a 3-1 Met win. “He’s not worried about records. He’s worried about getting the other team out.”

Doc had many more strikeouts ahead of him in 1984. He’d finish with a mind-boggling 276, the major league mark for rookies by a figurative mile; it hasn’t been neared since. Senga, now with 181, will not come close to 276. He has maybe a few starts left. If he’s not handled with kid gloves, 200 is within reach. One infers Kodai preferred to have won without a note of strikeout fanfare on Friday night rather than be no-decisioned in a loss for his team. Pitchers are like that.

Not all pitchers are like Senga, successfully pushing through innings when his best stuff isn’t available to him. “Just because I don’t feel good or I’m not feeling my best doesn’t mean I just fold and give up the game,” the righty said postgame. “I’m given four or five days to prepare for this game, and I think it’s my job to stay out there and make the game winnable. And I take pride in that.”

We regularly watch David Peterson and Tylor Megill not solve situations whose walls are closing in on them. By MLB’s reckoning, they’re relatively experienced pitchers, while Senga is a mere rookie. Yet Kodai brings savvy and gumption to the mound every single start as if he’s been pitching at the highest possible level for more than a decade. Oh, that’s right: Senga’s only in a rookie in the North American sense. He was pitching at the highest possible level for about a decade in Japan. It’s kind of strange that established players who bring their business across the Pacific are classified as veritable neophytes, but Kodai has been new to all of us in 2023. And he’s been bad news for opposing hitters.

His line across six innings Friday night was two runs and four hits. In young Doc’s heyday, an H of 4 would be par for the course in the line score, the R of 2 might be seem a bit high, and we’d be asking what the hell was wrong with either Gooden or Johnson that Dwight’s IP stopped at 6. That was nearly forty years ago. Six effective innings without great command or control — Senga walked four — is today’s moral equivalent of a 1984 complete game.

There are also more strikeouts today in general. Hitters, having been taught to pursue launch angle first and foremost, do like to swing, contact be damned. In his last two starts, Kodai struck out ten Angels in six-and-two-thirds and a dozen Mariners across seven. For his trouble, the starter received a loss and a no-decision, despite allowing two earned runs to L.A. of Anaheim and one to Seattle. In his last win, on August 19, Senga struck out only five Cardinals while giving up just two hits in seven innings. The Mets presumably held a team meeting beforehand and voted to score 13 runs that night, then never more than two for Kodai ever again.

It was a huge deal to watch a 19-year-old rookie strike out more than any Met rookie before him in 1984, especially when you were realizing he was doing it before August was half-over. The next Met rookie to come along and strike out at least as many as Gooden had when he took care of Mazzilli is eleven years older and worlds more experienced. What Senga did in passing Koosman doesn’t really feel of a piece with the story Gooden penned. Still, Kodai Senga surpassed Jerry Koosman’s rookie total of 178 on Friday night. Jerry Koosman, for goodness sake. He passed the Minnesota native in Minnesota, poetic progress that made this Interleague date almost worth the surfeit of American League scheduling we’ve been obliged to endure of late.

If we can factor out that Gooden’s 276 is the record, — thus why was attaining the second-most of anything any kind of angle? — this is Jerry Koosman we’re talking about. I wasn’t watching during the Year of the Pitcher, but 25-year-old Kooz (a little closer to Senga’s 2023 age than Gooden’s 1984 age) was certainly a worthy banner-carrier for the Mets that season. We know what Jerry turned into across a nineteen-year career, with 222 Ws, 2,556 Ks and a universal reputation as give-no-ground competitor for the ages. We know about how 1969 followed 1968, and much of that was about Koosman defining and devouring crunch time for the champion Mets. We know 36 hangs in the same row that will welcome 16 next year.

We also know that, as of this moment, the top five rookie strikeout seasons in Met history belong to Dwight Gooden, Kodai Senga, Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack. If one is to be known by the company one keeps, Kodai’s earned his way into quite a club.

4 comments to An Exclusive Enough Club

  • Eric

    DeGrom-like bulldog, deGrom-like ND.

  • Seth

    A nice thing about being out of market is that I can watch the game on and substitute the SNY audio for Howie and CBS 880, and not have to listen to the awful play by play of Steve Gelbs.

  • Joe D

    Kudos to Drew Smith, he finally made the necessary adjustment and avoided the dreaded longball in today’s outing…

    …only a 3-run triple off the very tippety-top of the right field wall.

    Incremental improvement, I suppose.

  • Michael in CT

    So we have two MLB rookie records, one for strikeouts and one for homers (Pete, of course). Not bad.