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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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Your October is Open

Anyway, it’s turned cold and rainy here lately, but I like winter.
—Maya, in her answering machine message to Miles, at the end of Sideways

Pending iffy weather, the Mets are positioned to carve a statistical triptych of despair this afternoon in Philadelphia. Thursday night, they clinched a losing record for the season. Friday night, they were mathematically eliminated from their last remaining fraction of postseason contention. Their next milestone looms as the setting of the franchise record for most precipitous plunge from one year’s won-lost record to the next. Right now, at 71-83, they have a tie locked up, assured of being 22 games worse in 2023 than they were in 2022, when, for all our complaints about them through September and into October, they accumulated a mere 61 defeats. Our loss total at the moment relative to 101-61 in ’22 matches the decline from 1976 to 1977, the long-established standard for season-to-season Met falloff, one of those internal worsts it never occurred to me to look up until a season like this came along on the heels of a season like last season.

The Mets were nothing special in 1976, finishing 86-76 (though today that absolutely gets you into the National League playoffs). In 1977, the Mets avoided special like the plague, going 64-98, accelerating their ongoing descent into the abyss by trading Tom Seaver at the deadline. Forty-six years later, perhaps some analytically inclined junior executive in Flushing posited, If we sent away one Hall of Fame pitcher in the middle of the season and we went to hell, imagine what would happen if we send away two…

Gonna guess hardly a Mets fan alive decades from now will identify the days Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were instructed to pack as the moment that signaled the end of childhood, and I don’t truly believe a 1978-style 2024 is on deck. Different times, different contexts. But 22+ losses worse is 22+ losses worse, although as much as I do remember about 1977, I don’t remember when exactly the 1977 Mets were mathematically eliminated. Being mired in last place in a pre-Wild Card world will take the edge off such details.

I almost forgot mathematical elimination had just happened to the 2023 Mets when the game that did them in, their 154th of a planned 162, went final. Watching a game on a streaming service on a tablet, some strange app’s pictures synced to familiar radio sound, will knock a person off-kilter, even a person who’s spent most of his waking hours monitoring an off-kilter team for 154 games for nearly six months. When the Mets didn’t take advantage of Brett Baty’s revival from imploded prospect to rising star — game-tying homer in the top of the ninth; game-saving defense in the bottom of the ninth — by not driving home their speediest ghost runner possible, Tim Locastro, in the top of the tenth, you figured the Phillies would find a way to end the whole affair quickly if not painlessly. How much one feels the sting of another 5-4 loss, this one on Alec Bohm plopping a single into short right, ensuring Philly apparition Trea Turner would motor in with the winning run, depends on how much feeling you have left in your Met epidermis with just over a week remaining in 2023.

I suppose it always hurts to lose in extra innings. I suppose it always hurts to lose in Philadelphia. I suppose it always hurts to see gumption like Baty’s go unrewarded in the course of an evening. I suppose Tylor Megill’s almost six innings of shutout ball flying over the left field fence, courtesy of one mighty blow off the bat of J.T. Realmuto, converting a 2-0 Mets lead over Old Friend™ Taijuan Walker into a 3-2 deficit, hurt from the standpoint of rooting a young pitcher along, but I honestly don’t know about the last one. Postgame chatter about the shame of Megill putting in almost six innings of spotless ball, only to have his valiant night besmirched by Realmuto, put me in mind of the night in 2013 when Dillon Gee carried a 1-0 shutout into the ninth in Atlanta, only to have Justin Upton single with one out and Freddie Freeman launch the game-winner/game-loser one batter later. Except Gee was trying to go nine, and it’s a national holiday when Megill can go six.

You’re lucky if you can feel anything from this team after 154 games and 83 losses, but the numbness was pierced when I realized, after clicking off the Friday night stream that, oh yeah, we were eliminated, weren’t we? This September’s Met discourse wasn’t infiltrated by one of those tragic numbers a fan tracks as a quixotic lunge for a postseason berth inevitably sputters. Rob Manfred would be disappointed to learn the 2023 Mets didn’t make as much as a ghost run at the playoffs.

Yet the finality suddenly hit me. We were done with eight games to go. We were done when there were seventy, eighty, ninety games to go, really, but math has a way of sealing the deal. To the televised postgame show, I said boo. I mean actually booed the TV. I booed Gary Apple. I booed Todd Zeile. I booed whatever inanimate object I could find. The Mets were pretty inanimate most of the year.

Stephanie stuck her head out of the upstairs bathroom where she was getting ready for bed. She inadvertently had the postgame show on the radio, me having helpfully tuned it to 880 for everybody’s listening convenience. I reported, with dark irony (as if it was worthy of a bulletin from an all-news station), that we wouldn’t be going to any playoff games this October. She is aware of the state of the Mets on a conceptual level — whether they’re good or not so good — but doesn’t check the standings multiple times a day. I wanted to confirm their current status aloud for somebody who wasn’t inanimate.

“I’m sorry, baby,” my wife replied from the top of the stairs. She really meant it, too. After all these years and all these mathematical eliminations, she understands. No need to calibrate for inevitability versus devastation.

The weekend we got engaged, which was exactly 34 years ago, I decided the best way to burnish our rite of coupling passage was by going to the Mets-Phillies game that Monday night. About 18,000 people joined us at Shea Stadium. The game story in one of the papers the next day referred to the lot of us as “entertainment-deprived”. Bobby Ojeda pitched against Pat Combs, nursing a 1-0 lead into the eighth. Tommy Herr played the role of J.T. Realmuto/Freddie Freeman on that occasion, belting the two-run homer that ensured a 2-1 ending and the ouster of the Mets from what was left of their semi-serious pursuit of the 1989 NL East title. It was Game 156 that night. There was no realistic chance the Mets were going to catch the first-place Cubs by then, but still. Mathematical elimination is mathematical elimination. Last out came and I just sat, which meant we both sat, which meant we had to put on speed to make our train, which isn’t something I make my wife of now nearly 32 years do if I can help it (the lady doesn’t like to be rushed). But Stephanie respected my Shea mourning ritual for the 1989 Mets that Monday night and did the same for the version I unfurled in our living room on a Friday night in 2023.

It felt really sad to realize definitively that the defending 1988 National League East champions would not be playing beyond their 162nd game. I can’t say it feels anything like that anymore vis-à-vis what the Mets accomplished in 2022. For a while in 2023, even as realization came early that These Mets weren’t likely going anywhere, a good inning or a good game would awaken the echoes of the year before, as if this team was still, in its soul, that team. The 1989 Mets were no longer the 1988 Mets, certainly not by September 25, yet, I decided, those Mets who remained from one year to the next couldn’t have possibly forgotten altogether how to be good.

C’mon, that’s Bobby Ojeda out there! He started both Game Sixes!

But, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, the Mets of “this” year are never the Mets of “last” year. Nevertheless, that year-after sense has carried me, sometimes to my own emotional detriment, through portions of 1970 and 1974 and 1987 and 1989 and 2001 and 2007 and 2017 and 2023 (the years directly after 1999 and 2015 are excused from this recounting as they actually kind of worked out). Then whatever was mathematically obvious about the present would overtake pleasing recent precedent, and I could no longer convince myself that whatever made 1969 or 1973 or 1986 or 1988 or 2000 or 2006 or 2016 or 2022 its own brand of special automatically renewed. That’s still a playoff team, no matter that their record says otherwise was how I thought for as long as I could.

Until the next time their record says something much different from what it says now, I won’t be thinking anything like that about the Mets at all.

8 comments to Your October is Open

  • Nick D

    I saw a stat that showed only three other times had teams gone from 100 wins to sub-.500. Two of those rebounded to reach the World Series (the 71 Reds became the 72 Reds, I forget the other), and the third became the 1934 Cardinals just one year later, and won the whole thing. So there is a kind of ‘mulligan’ feeling we can cling to about this year if we are so inclined. I am.

  • Seth

    It feels like most of this season has been a steaming pile of elimination, so the math didn’t really register with me. I guess the worst part is being the laughing stock of the league, as other teams’ fans revel in our misery.

  • Michael in CT

    This year was about sacrificing the present for the future based on the notion that the present was not going to lead to a championship (though it may well have led to the playoffs had we kept our players). The future therefore needs to justify that decision or this season will have truly been misguided and for naught.

  • Eric

    As a small consolation from a bad season, I wanted the Mets to singlehandedly yank the Phillies from the 1st wildcard down into the wildcard scrum. Instead the Mets have sped up the Phillies clinch of a playoff berth, which can happen with tomorrow’s game. So that’s disappointing. The Mets can still hurt the Marlins, which I’ll still enjoy if they do, but pulling the Phillies down would have been more satisfying.

    “Their next milestone looms as the setting of the franchise record for most precipitous plunge from one year’s won-lost record to the next.”

    Achievement unlocked with more padding of that record likely to come. Besides the 3rd wildcard elimination, 83 losses (now 84 losses) guaranteed a win total in the 70s. Not the biggest indignity compared to the rest, but still another indignity.

    “me having helpfully tuned it to 880 for everybody’s listening convenience”

    Does anyone know why occasionally doesn’t broadcast a game because “due to league restrictions, you’re not in an area where this game is available”? I live in NYC. I can still hear the game on the radio, but I’d rather listen on-line, 2 minute delay and all, because the CBS 880 AM radio reception sucks.

    “For a while in 2023, even as realization came early that These Mets weren’t likely going anywhere, a good inning or a good game would awaken the echoes of the year before, as if this team was still, in its soul, that team…2022, when, for all our complaints about them through September and into October, they accumulated a mere 61 defeats”

    That’s the problem. The 2023 team has been, in its soul, the September-October 2022 Mets. Beyond the record win drop, is there another Mets team that won with essentially the same core of players, who weren’t debilitated by age or injury (unless Marte’s injury really has made that big of a difference), yet suffered a similarly sharp Jekyll-and-Hyde change of competitive character or “soul” as the pre-September 2022 contender to since-September 2022 loser?

  • eric1973

    Eric, I would submit the 1973-1974 Mets.

    The 1973 team had an 82-79 team, and burned up the league from SEP01-OCT01, going 21-8.

    The 1974 team finished at 71-91, an 11.5 game difference. We had the same EXACT roster, except for Mays, Beauchamp, Capra, and McAndrew, essentially 4 spare parts.

    And then after that season, wholesale changes were made, as every bench player was traded. As was Tug McGraw, because the team thought he had cancer. Actually, it was just some growth in his shoulder that was removed.

    And actually, the bench players and McGraw got us starters Clines, Torre, Unser, Stearns, Mike Phillips, Vail, and then we also signed Kingman. Not a bad haul for a bunch of bench players.

  • Guy K

    “I don’t truly believe a 1978-style 2024 is on deck.”

    But, you know what, I wouldn’t rule it out. Not at all.