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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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Second to Last Licks

It finally didn’t rain and the Mets finally got to play, and so for your recapper’s final go-round of the season our heroes presented one game that turned into a nail-biter, one Calvinball farce that was pretty entertaining for all its sloppy meaninglessness, a doubleheader sweep that didn’t matter, a depressing thought, and a happy memory for winter.

Which is a lot for an afternoon and evening!

First the nail-biter. It started out with Tylor Megill looking effective against a vaguely serious lineup of playoff-bound Phillies, showing off a forkball he learned from Kodai Senga and dubbed “the American Spork,” cheerfully deriding it as an off-brand Ghost Fork. The new pitch’s effectiveness seemed to vary, as did Megill’s early on, but he persevered and wound up capping a run of pretty good pitching with his ninth victory of the year, which is probably more than you figured he had.

Megill, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi and Jose Butto have pitched pretty well as members of the Then Again, Maybe We Won’t Mets, sparking endless debates about whether garbage time is any different in an era of multiple wild-card teams and smaller September rosters. I don’t know the answer to that one and neither do you and neither do most front offices — we’re all waiting for another generation’s worth of data. But I do know that those pitchers’ collective competence has gone from surprising to heartening, which isn’t a bad thing to take into winter no matter how much of a mental discount you affix to it.

The game nearly got out of hand once Megill exited, with Adam Ottavino having another shaky outing as closer du jour — the Phillies were poised to tie it but Jake Cave had a strangely tentative at-bat, looking at Ottavino’s only perfectly executed pitch of the inning for a called strike three with a runner on third and one out. Ottavino then got the light-hitting Cristian Pache and the Mets had escaped.

Escaped into the nightcap, which was madness — a fusillade of homers and hit batsmen and other lampshade-on-the-headery. No one got particularly exercised about the HBPs, which was a relief but not particularly a surprise, as both teams seemed to be in a bit of a Let’s Not Play Two fog with the exception of Francisco Alvarez, who sent two homers to nearly the same spot — the facing of the second deck a very long way away. Which led to … nope, I’m saving that one.

In the middle of the game Steve Gelbs came up to the booth for a report grappling with velocity and pitcher injuries, which was diligently researched and well-intended even if I didn’t think it particularly broke any new ground. (Honestly, read Jeff Passan’s The Arm, likely to remain The Book on this subject for quite some time.) The best thing that came from Gelbs’ endeavors (which I really did like, lest you think I’m damning with faint praise) was that he got Ron Darling talking about how he would have been a different young pitcher in an era where everybody from teams and front offices to agents and potential draftees are chasing velocity — Darling talking pitching in general and his own missteps and regrets specifically is always worth a listen.

Listening to the booth hash things out, though, I had a depressing thought, one I kept waiting to see if one of the SNY principals would echo. (OK, the PIX principals at that point, but never mind.) My thought was that there’s no solution to the vicious circle of velocity/lack of control/injuries because baseball already has a ruthless one that works perfectly well: When a pitcher breaks, you just get another one.

Think of the parade of hard-throwing right-handed relievers who’ve trudged up and down the Citi Field mound in recent years, from Jacob Rhame and Jamie Callahan to Drew Smith and Phil Bickford — who, as if on cue, hit a Phillie during the earnest conversation about velocity and the ability to pitch. All those guys are in The Holy Books but in my brain they’re a blur of radar guns and never finding reliable secondary pitches and getting DFA’ed, because they’re all essentially the same guy.

And this ruthless strategy isn’t anything new. Decades ago, when young pitchers came down with a “sore arm,” the lucky ones turned into junkballers and the unlucky ones turned into truck drivers. Tommy John surgery has essentially let baseball double the pool: Now you can stick your broken pitcher on a shelf for a year and try him again, or let someone else take him home. Combine that with more international talent than in previous generations, with Asia now supplying a new influx, and you’ve got an effectively endless supply of interchangeable, disposable arms. And if you’ve got that, what’s the incentive for the people who control how those arms are used to do anything differently?

Maybe that point was a little too Marxist for SNY, or a little too depressing. Certainly it’s too depressing for me to end with, which is why I’m going back to the memory I hope will sustain me through the winter.

I love the way Francisco Alvarez devours baseball whether he’s got a bat in his hands or is encased in the tools of ignorance — he approaches the game like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet and he was just delivered from a month on a bamboo raft in the Pacific. But my favorite sight of all is the Alvarez home-run trot. Alvarez has given us epic bat flips and gun-flexing and million-watt celebrations, but what really makes me laugh is the way he picks up his knees when rounding the bases, like one of those carefully coiffed and trained show ponies.

The season’s ending with three meaningless games against a team headed for the brighter lights. (With, perhaps, a farcical 15-minute coda that no one wants.) It’s not what any of us had in mind. But the first two of those games had their pleasures, and I can already guarantee you when I look out through blowing snow I’m going to be thinking of Alvarez high-stepping along between second and third, beaming and gesticulating like a leading man playing to the back of the house, and I’ll sigh and think about how happy it made me the last time I saw it and how eager I am for the next time to come around.

6 comments to Second to Last Licks

  • Eric

    Megill’s and Peterson’s strong finishes don’t make up for their struggles this season, but a strong finish is better than the alternative. I don’t like that Quintana struggled in his last 2 starts. He’s a veteran, though, so I’m not worried about him. He’s a 3 or a 4 on a strong staff, more or less what Carrasco was supposed to be.

    The baby Mets seem like the same hitter so far: low BA, low BB, high K, high exit velocities. They’ll have a season, maybe less, to prove themselves before the next generation of prospects starts pushing them. Of the four of them, I’m rooting for Alvarez the most. The young man has star talent and a star’s personality. He seems hungry to be great. In a year or two, he could be the team leader that veterans like Lindor, Nimmo, McNeil, and Alonso don’t seem to be. Alvarez just hasn’t flipped the switch yet. None of the baby Mets have yet.

    Did the discussion about velocity and pitcher injuries cover breaking pitches? Which is to say, what does more damage to a pitcher? A 100 MPH fastball? Or a 90-plus MPH slider?

    I discussed the MLB rules for “perhaps, a farcical 15-minute coda” at Strictly going by the letter of the rules in light of Saturday’s results, the suspended game will be called as an 8-inning, 1-0 Mets win. However, it makes sense that if the Marlins lose and the Diamondbacks win on Sunday, then the suspended Mets-Marlins game will resume Monday because the game might affect home-field advantage if the Marlins and Diamondbacks play each other in the NLCS. It makes sense, but it’s not obvious since the letter of Rule 7.02(b)(5) refers to “home-field advantage for any Wild Card or Division Series game” and does not refer to the LCS.

    Verlander was clutch again. On the other hand, he only pitched 5 innings. He’s keeping the schadenfreude away. Let’s see how he does in the playoffs. Of course, it’s really his performance next season that will fuel the debate whether the Mets maybe should have kept him.

    It’s interesting that the AL and NL playoff seeds mirror each other. 1st seeds from the East. 2nd seeds from the West. 3rd seeds from the Central. 4th seeds from the East. 5th and 6th seeds from the West and East with their order still undecided.

    I’m sad we’ve arrived at game 162 with nothing beyond (not counting suspended game 159).

    • Eric

      Oh well. It looks like the Marlins lose, Diamondbacks win scenario won’t happen. Astros up 5-0 in the top of the 2nd inning already. The Diamondbacks are obviously punting game 162 and looking ahead to their wildcard series by resting regulars and starting an opener, while the Astros are playing their regulars and a rotation starter. The Astros are apparently aiming to catch the Rangers for the AL West title, a 1st round bye, and home-field advantage if the eliminated, hopefully vengeful Mariners permit.

      So it looks like the Mets-Marlins game 159 will be called as an 8-inning, 1-0 win for the Mets per MLB Rule 7.02(b)(4) and the Marlins will be the 2nd wildcard regardless.

  • eric1973

    “…what really makes me laugh is the way he picks up his knees when rounding the bases, like one of those carefully coiffed and trained show ponies.”

    Yeah, that is very funny and very noticeable. Also noticeable is how the next guy up got hit by a pitch after that act. Also Also noticeable is that the pitcher didn’t have a clue so perhaps no retaliation in mind.

    Agreed that of all the Baby Busts, “Young Blue Eyes” is my favorite, Alvy, because of his great defense, enthusiasm, and intermittent clutch powerhitting.

    Terrible seeing Alonso get HBP in the head again, but as Buck said a few months ago, the situation “has been discussed” within the organization, and the analytics folks have told Buck and the team to do nothing about it. So if they are not upset, neither am I. And if Alonso is so happy to accept the “my bads” from Taijuan on the field, shame on Pete. Granted, I think it hurts the team, but whatever.

    And as Buck also famously said a few months ago, “You do what they tell you.”

  • Seth

    Well the good news is that it’s now less than 6 months until opening day!

  • eric1973

    So glad Stroman is going home, maybe this will shut his big stupid mouth.

    “The Cubs — FanGraphs gave a 92 percent chance of making the playoffs as recently as Sept. 6”

    To this, Steve Cohen became confused and irate, and decided to commit more crimes to add to the 1.8 billion in fines he already was assessed.

    • Eric

      There’s an idea for Greg and Jason: An ‘old friends’ tracker for the playoffs.

      McCann (Orioles) in. DeGrom out but Scherzer (Rangers) possibly in. Almost friend Correa (Twins) possibly in. Verlander (Astros) in. Bassitt (Blue Jays) in. Leone and Kelenic (Mariners) out. Loup and Escobar (Angels) out. Canha (Brewers) in. Wheeler and Walker (Phillies) in. Robertson (Marlins) in. Pham (Diamondbacks) in. Crow-Armstrong and Stroman (Cubs) out. Lugo (Padres) out. Flores, Davis, and Conforto (Giants) out. Did I miss anyone?

      Mariners and Cubs fans must be disappointed today, like we were last year, though the 2022 Mets at least staggered, choking, into the playoffs before they were put down by the Padres.