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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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Interleague Kvetching Like It Oughta Be

During Saturday afternoon’s telecast, Ron Darling recalled a moment of frustration from early in his career when he was so fed up with receiving no-decisions for his pitching efforts that he said he’d rather take a loss than another ND. Older and wiser (and by way of slapping the Mariners’ George Kirby on the wrist for expressing dismay that his manager kept him in Seattle’s game longer than he would have preferred Friday night), Darling in 2023 couldn’t believe the Darling of way-back-when could articulate a thought so half-baked.

In the vein of the less old, less wise Ron Darling, as happy as I am that the Mets beat the Twins on Sunday afternoon, I just as soon this wasn’t a game that was theirs to win. On the other hand, I just as soon it wasn’t a game that was theirs to lose. I’ve felt that way about all 46 games the Mets played against American League teams this season.

If I could, I’d subtract the Mets’ 19 wins from the likes of Oakland and Cleveland and the Mets’ 27 losses from their brethren in Detroit and Baltimore and all the Interleague results in between. This is not for competitive gain, although if you subtract that 19-27 from the Mets’ overall record of 65-77, you’d have 46-50, which implies that with 46 better-placed and better-played games, perhaps These Mets could have…

Nope, this has nothing to do with weaving fantasy Third Wild Card scenarios in which These Mets could have knocked a little harder on the door to the foyer to the entryway to the barrier to the race for the sixth-best record in the National League had the schedule been calibrated differently. The 2023 Mets could have played the 2023 Mets 162 times and not won as many games as they lost. This is about 46 games against American League teams where there used to be no more than 16, maybe 18 in a given year, and before those were splattered onto our calendar, there used to be none.

As a National League entity, the Mets played other National League entities for 162 games. Should they have been as successful as they could have possibly been, they would play one more extended National League series, then, if they prevailed in that setting, they played an American League team. It was called the World Series. Also, anywhere from one Met to five might be selected to dress up in their uniforms in the same clubhouse with a member or few of the Reds and Astros and Pirates and Expos and so forth to form a National League All-Star team, and that ad hoc unit would play a similar outfit from the American League in the middle of July. Throw in Spring Training and the odd in-season exhibition, and that was that. The National League played the National League, and the American League played the American League, meaning the leagues determined their champions wholly internally before dispatching their respective champion to uphold the honor of the league against the other league’s champion.

For starters, 162 games against your own league.

It worked great for nearly a hundred years. It still works great in the mind of a person who knew this as the norm. Norms that weren’t troubling anybody are hard to dislodge in perception. Interleague play was something that would come up in the occasional fantastical article describing how in the future we’d all be parking our hovercrafts at the EnormoDome en route to seats where we’d wave down our robot vendor for hot dog protein pills, but, yeah, right, the National League would play the American League in the regular season someday.

Then came the June night in 1997 when the San Francisco Giants visited the Texas Rangers, followed by the next night, when the New York Mets hosted the Boston Red Sox, and the novelty was on. The following week started with a Mets road trip to the Bronx, not for a one-off Mayor’s Trophy showdown but for three games that actually counted in the standings for each team, same as the Mets-Red Sox series over the weekend at Shea, same as would happen when the Mets took on the Tigers in Detroit, the Blue Jays in Flushing and the Orioles at Camden Yards. It was a little fascinating, a little offputting. Games were games, even if your hovercraft was in the shop.

The norm was disturbed, but ya got to play where Ty Cobb played, and ya got to see Cal Ripken for yourself. The novelty wore off as novelties will. The setup was rejiggered here and there. For the first five years, it was East versus East, confined to particular weeks before playoff chases truly kicked in. Then, once it was determined the market would bear only so many Mets-Devil Rays contests, there was some NL East vs. AL Central or NL East vs. AL West (plus Mets vs. Yankees, always Mets vs. Yankees, lest the golden goose go untapped). A couple of years the pattern unspooled and you’d have the Mets playing the Orioles and Indians, or the A’s and Twins, rhyme and reason taking those weeks off. When Houston fans, for the purposes of flattening out the circuits at fifteen franchises apiece, were alerted that they were no longer rooting for a National League team, it was Interleague O’Clock somewhere everyday.

At last, we arrived in 2023, with almost every distinction between the leagues blurred until you couldn’t make any out. The DH is there and here. The Twins are on the Mets’ schedule in September not as an aberration but because who haven’t we played yet? No biggie, just as it wasn’t out of the ordinary that we recently spent nine days welcoming to Queens the Angels, the Rangers and the Mariners, just as our post-trade deadline agenda was three in KC, three in Baltimore. Next week we’ll see the Marlins for the first time since early April. That’s the gist of the tradeoff. Less intradivisional action. We played the Marlins what seemed about a hundred times a year most years, nineteen times a year in reality. Same for the Nationals, Braves and Phillies. Now we see them thirteen times each. Determining a division champion (an exercise Atlanta admittedly made academic ages ago) has become incidental. Win enough games against the Red Sox and White Sox and perhaps you’ll forget you didn’t get an additional crack at the team directly in front of you.

Twenty Twenty-Three might not make the best case for Met opportunities lost. The Mets’ most nettlesome opponent in 2023 was themselves. They met the enemy, and it was them. Sunday they accounted for themselves all right. They had DJ Stewart, which made the difference. If we did have that hypothetical 2023 Mets vs. 2023 Mets season alluded to above, whichever version had the good sense to promote and retain DJ Stewart would have to be favored. He drove in the only two runs in the Mets’ 2-0 win in Minneapolis. Met starting pitching, in the person of Tylor Megill for five innings, yielded zeroes. They weren’t as pretty as the eight ex-Marlin Pablo Lopez posted (featuring 14 Ks), but keeping an opponent off the board is keeping an opponent off the board. The relievers who followed Megill — Messrs. Bickford, Gott, Raley and Ottavino — maintained scorelessness. Stewart’s two-RBI double in the ninth broke the longstanding 0-0 tie and averted the sweep.

So we took one out of three from the first-place team in the American League Central, which was theoretically one-third good news for the Cleveland Guardians, though that’s not really a race at this point. The Mets’ hovercraft is parked just above Washington’s, so we’re not quite positioned to scoop up one of those six lottery slots for the absolute worst finishers in baseball (nobody cc’d DJ on the benefits of avoiding any trace of success). Now, at last, we are done with the American League for this year. The final twenty games will be Diamondbacks, Reds, Marlins and Phillies. Lots of Marlins and lots of Phillies down what would be the stretch if we were stretching for anything. It will serve as a reminder of scheduling like it oughta be.

5 comments to Interleague Kvetching Like It Oughta Be

  • Seth

    Slight correction: did we not lose 2 out of 3 from the first-place team in the American League Central?

    “Everyone plays everyone” is a dumb idea.

  • Eric

    It’s good that the Mets will be playing teams in the thick of the wildcard race down the stretch. Better reps for the baby Mets, and for us, either the fun of the Mets playing spoiler, especially fun if the Mets trip up a division rival, or the contenders shove the Mets into the protected pick field.

  • eric1973

    Baseball does not care about fans like US. They already got US.

    So they promote their interleague skeds to attract some new know-nothings to the game. And since the abacus probably says the fans love it, stay tuned, more to come!

    On the bright side, less games for Gary Cohen, as he’s usually not caught dead doing the boring interleague games, which is most of them.