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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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Rainbow Shades Taken Off

For the second World Series in a row, the Mets can take satisfaction in knowing they dominated their season series with the National League champions, and that if baseball ran along the lines of college football, that might be worth a few points in the coaches’ or writers’ poll.

Baseball running as baseball does, this provincially sourced footnote is worth whatever you wish it to mean. It didn’t count for much in 2022 when the Phillies’ 5-14 record versus the Mets didn’t prevent them from their appointment in the Fall Classic, and going 1-6 in their Mets games presented no obstacle to the 2023 Diamondbacks arriving where they have landed. Still, we did have our Whacking Days, and they were fun, I vaguely recall.

The Snakes, however, are the ones who whacked the Phillies decisively in the NLCS to earn the honor of representing the senior circuit beginning Friday night. We who choose to not change the channel are about to witness a Diamondbacks-Rangers tilt you could have pulled out of a hat had you had a big enough hat from which to pull and were sanctioned to continue pulling potential World Series matchups until you got this one.

To be not just fair but accurate, at any given instant in the course of the long regular season, you would have found Arizona and Texas ensconced in playoff position. There were also moments when you would have found them on the outside scratching to get back in. The six-per-league format is very forgiving of stumbles from on high. We saw each eventual pennant-winner come to Citi Field in the closing weeks of the season and produce nights that indicated they’d be as destined for spectating in late October as we’d be. Yet they each bounced back and took advantage of the shortcomings of whoever couldn’t grab a Wild Card in the NL or AL, and here they are, your respective league champs.

Sizing them up in more recent samplings whisks away reflexive paeans to randomness and righteous grievances about the best teams slipping through autumn’s cracks, because, honestly, the Diamondbacks played like the best team in the National League for several weeks when it mattered most, and same for the Rangers where they competed. Maybe it’s effective Men in Black-style erasure at work here that makes the postseason viewer forget, or at least shove to the back of the mind amid each LCS going seven, who actually finished first in various divisions. The clean-slate baseball aficionado instead winds up impressed with what’s been playing out in the championship tournament and has no complaints. To this fan, who was just somebody peering in the window at the action where they were still peddling cotton candy and bubble gum to emotionally engaged crowds, Texas looked neither lucky nor fluky in outlasting Houston, and if Philadelphia was intent on painting October red in a shade other than Sedona, they had their chances.

For a spell that carried over from their welcome demolition of Atlanta, the Phillies appeared inevitable. At first, I figured I could live with it. But by late in Game Two of the NLCS, I decided I’d had enough of them. The turning point in my patience came at a specific moment. TBS was coming back from a commercial, and its booth was going on and on about how unstoppable these Phillies were and how untoppable this atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park was. I don’t believe networks actively “root” for one team over the other the way you and I might, but the more accessible the storyline, the easier the sell. And, boy, were they selling the Phillies.

Like the Eagles, but baseball!
Like Red Sox Nation, but louder!
Like Murderers Row, but in living color!

The Phillies and their burgeoning brand had won Game One and were winning Game Two by a lot, and they’d go on to win it by a lot, but it was all becoming a bit too much for me to keep sticking my head in without solidly picking a side. The TBS camera godded up Kyle Schwarber coming to bat in such a way to make him glow, at the same time casting Arizona’s catcher Gabriel Moreno into veritable darkness, almost to the role of prop. I didn’t know much about Gabriel Moreno, but I sensed he and his team deserved better.

I flashed back more than forty years to my disdain of another successful Phillies unit, the Phillies who came close to winning it all in the late 1970s and would win it all in 1980. The Mike Schmidt Phillies, in other words. Those Phillies won division titles when there were no Wild Cards. Those Phillies won season series from the Mets without sweat. Schmidt was a big enough deal to co-star in a commercial for a carbonated soft drink (back when commercials featured active baseball players more than they did retired ones), positively glowing at home plate like Schwarber in 2023, also overshadowing the ineffectual catcher in his midst. Schmidt, resplendent in red pinstripes, informed the public he was Turning 7 Up by tapping home plate and having a bottle of the sponsor’s product pop up from the ground, with the forlorn visiting-team catcher crouching haplessly as he realized not only was his pitcher probably not gonna get Schmitty out, but this bastard in the box was gonna be refreshed as he rounded the bases.

That blue-capped catcher was, to the trained eye, wearing not just any gray jersey, but a gray Mets jersey, as if the commercial’s creators thought, “What would represent the most easily overcome object in Mike Schmidt’s world?” The blue-orange-blue trimming around the sleeves, the motif by which the Mets modeled their flourishes on the road pre-racing stripe, was the tell. Part of me was insulted; part of me was flattered to be included. That unnamed backstop was the only Met c. 1980 appearing in a national campaign for a product you’d heard of then.

Not that there weren’t possibilities, if only Madison Avenue had been more creative.

“Hey, kid, give me a handful of those Blue Diamond Almons.”
“Don’t you mean Almonds?”
“I’m universally recognized New York Mets utility infielder Bill Almon, so no, you heard me right the first time.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Almond…I mean Almon.”
“Don’t worry about it, kid. But seriously, give me some nuts, or I’ll be blue on the diamond.”
“Sure thing! Say, are you going to share them with your equally recognizable New York Mets teammates Doug Flynn and Frank Taveras?”
“As soon as they share some of their playing time with me.”
“Hey, both those guys just went down with injuries! Looks like YOU’RE playing today, Mr. Almon!”
“Don’t you mean Almonds?”
“Blue Diamond sure does!”

But, no. The only Met to merit ad space back then was nameless and incidental, just as TBS seemed to be treating the defensively excellent Moreno now. As soon as all this sunk in, I was a dyed-in-the-temporary-wool D’Backs fan for the duration, and Gabriel — or Gabby, as we drop-of-the-hat loyalists call him — was my guy.

Gabby had a heckuva series, as did the rest of the Snakes, a team that came to remind me of another NLCS combatant from the era when Schmidt and the Phillies were usually riding high, the 1981 Montreal Expos. Within the same stream of consciousness that instinctively called up a 43-year-old soft drink commercial to illustrate something going on 43 years later, I found myself remembering watching the Expos take on the Dodgers for the National League pennant after Les ’Spos had taken down the Phils in the contingency division series that followed the split season of ’81. I was in my first semester of college, watching the series in my dorm’s TV lounge without company, learning that despite 7 Up having recently enlisted Schmidt, Dave Parker and Bruce Sutter to endorse its beverage, the pull of baseball might not have been as pervasive as I assumed among my own demographic. Sitting alone, I was rooting hard for the Expos because I knew the Yankees awaited the NL champs in the World Series, and I’d already experienced the Dodgers losing twice, in ’77 and ’78, to the one team I did not want to see collect another ring. That I was far from New York didn’t make that possible outcome any more palatable.

One guy who lived on my floor wandered by to watch the game with me. He admitted he wasn’t much of a baseball fan (he was a fan of starting up conversations about whatever happened to be in front of him, I would learn in the months ahead), so he confessed he didn’t really know anything about the teams playing. I offered my two-cent tutorial that the Expos would be preferable to the Dodgers from my perspective, because as someone who didn’t want to watch the Yankees celebrate again, the Expos would be hard for them to beat. “They’re that good, the Expos?” he asked. It’s not that they’re so good, I elaborated, but they run a lot and they play on Astroturf, and that’s something that stands to flummox the Yankees. The Yankees had just swept Rickey Henderson’s A’s in three straight, so I was probably overselling Expo speed’s efficacy as Yankee Kryptonite, but I believed what I was saying, however much I knew what I was talking about.

I looked it up the other night. The Expos attempted three stolen bases in their best-of-five versus the Dodges and were successful stealing twice. The Dodgers were 6-for-6 in that department, though what’s mostly remembered is Rick Monday homering off Steve Rogers in the top of the ninth inning at Olympic Stadium to decide the series for L.A. in the fifth game. Fortunately, the Dodgers went on to beat the Yankees in six in the World Series, simultaneously quenching my thirst for Sheadenfreude and dampening my enthusiasm for always being certain I’ve got things figured out in advance.

The 2023 Diamondbacks weren’t necessarily packing modern-day analogs to Gary Carter, Andre Dawson or Tim Raines, but they were emerging as a formidable bunch as they won Game Three and Game Four in dramatic fashion. They lost Game Five to this generation’s greatest postseason pitcher, Zack Wheeler, but they let neither that result nor their impending trip back east to the “madhouse” of CBP deter them. Somewhere over America, the Phillies’ inevitability fizzled like unsealed Uncola left to sit out too long. The running that reminded me of the Expos of yore came to the forefront (Snakes were 9-for-9 in stolen bases in the series); almost everybody Arizona threw at the Phillies confounded them; and, in the end, the ball was in the hands of one of the best postseason closers of this generation — the bullpen version of Wheeler, you might say — Paul Sewald.

And everybody knows there’s no hitting Paul Sewald with a big game on the line.

In the Old Friend™ derby, Sewald has outdone for impact every ex-Met left standing, and good for him. Quite clearly, Paul had some excellent karma coming to him after the black cloud said to hover above him in Flushing during his Met stay, and now he’s a World Series pitcher. So will be Max Scherzer, who, by getting in with the right bunch of Texans, won the de facto arm wrestling match with Justin Verlander to see which future Hall of Famer gets to have absolutely everything he could possibly want in this life. Scherzer, through no doing of his own pitching, gets to be part of a World Series team three months after that association seemed highly, highly unlikely. Verlander’s consolation prize, besides still getting paid an astronomical amount by a franchise for whom he did very little while briefly in their employ, is an extra week at his estate with Kate Upton, unless Kate’s on a shoot, and even then, no tears to be shed for either ex-Met.

The Rangers! The Diamondbacks! The World Series! Here’s to the enduring appeal of anything that can happen actually happening.

The Mets! Forgot about them, didn’t ya? Yet National League Town remembers some good-ish days of theirs from 2023.

10 comments to Rainbow Shades Taken Off

  • eric1973

    The umpire in that Mike Schmidt commercial is the great Hank Robinson, famous (to me and Greg, at least) for playing the Chief of Police in the flashback episode of The Odd Couple with Blinky Madison, where Oscar’s grandfather almost killed Felix’s grandfather. Robinson is in the speakeasy, nodding on the phone, and has no lines.

    He also played umpires in other roles, and was in many shows as a background actor with no lines.

    As for the WS, Go Arizona!, as I do not want deGrom to get that WS ring. And I do not dislike Scherzer, I liked his bulldog attitude.

    • mikeski

      Or is it “better” for the Rangers to win in a year when deGrom had nothing to do with it?

      “Here’s your ring, Jake” and he has to look at it for the rest of his life, knowing that.

      My wife and I were arguing about this. Her attitude, like yours, is, “nah, f**k that guy.”

  • Curt Emanuel

    Marlins, Braves and Phillies all out before the WS. I guess the world doesn’t completely suck. I suppose better to have at least gotten in than what we did but I’ll take whatever dregs I can get.

    Paul Sewald was never one I was afraid would be great after we traded him. Just wasn’t on my radar that he’d be the next Justin Turner. I’m sure we have but for some reason it seems we never get the “blossoms with new team” guy. Maybe DJ Stewart – hey, it could happen. At least Wilmer hasn’t turned into a 30/100 guy after he left. Yet.

    • Eric

      Dickey. Reed and Olerud (my all-time favorite Met) had done well on their previous team but were flyers as damaged goods when they joined the Mets.

      Otherwise, it sure seems like we have more Jeff Kents, Justin Turners, and Paul Sewalds going rather than coming. Murphy didn’t last long after leaving the Mets, but it would have been nice to have had his 2 top seasons as a Met.

  • Seth

    Mike Schmidt was a nemesis, but I remember the Mets handled him pretty well.

    I’ll be rooting for the D-bags too, but Texas certainly seems like the favorite.

  • Joey G

    The most egregious example of regular season mastery over the eventual Champions was back in 1988, when the Mets were 11 up, and 1 down (as Marv would say), during the regulars, and we all know what happened in the Playoffs (btw, is getting “Scioscia-ed” or “Hershis-ed” an active verb?).

  • Eric

    5th seed vs 6th seed for the championship. Well, it’s not a roll of the dice. They each won 9 games to reach the mountain top.

    The Mets payroll this year was just about 3 times that of the Diamondbacks payroll. Not that the Diamondbacks won many more games than the Mets in the regular season, besides the Mets winning the season series.

    I’d rather root for old friends’ Pham and Sewald than Scherzer.

    Verlander didn’t pitch on 2 days rest in game 7 like Wheeler did. I assume if Verlander were younger, he would have come out of the bullpen for game 7. Also, small sample size, but Verlander’s starts worsened over the playoffs. So far so good on the decision to trade him with the expectation he’ll keep declining. Scherzer will have at least one more chance at redemption this year, but so far, the decision to trade him looks good, too.

    Sewald has been nearly unhittable throwing mostly 92 MPH 4-seam fastballs in the strike zone. It’s like peak Addison Reed but Sewald is doing it longer than Reed did. In the next-up group of Mets pitching prospects, there has to be someone who can do what Sewald does, right? We’d be thrilled to get Sewald’s production out of Diaz in the playoffs.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    I too had my bullshit detector sounding the alarm when the media kept reminding us that the crowd at CBP was unlike any other hot crowd in MLB history. I was rooting for the Phillies to lose from the jump, but more so once they became media darlings.

    I’m enjoying watching the DBacks, despite my heart hurting that the National League has only thought to send its 6 seeds under the current playoff format.