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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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Paralleled Joy

John Olerud was at Citi Field for the Mets game on the fourth Sunday in May, just as he was at Shea Stadium for the Mets game on the fourth Sunday in May a quarter-century before…though “just as” might be a stretch. In 2024, Olerud was a visitor, sitting in the stands, brought to the home viewer’s attention via a mid-game interview with Steve Gelbs. Whatever John said on air was drowned out by my shrieking with delight at the sight of the classy first baseman of yore and the memories he evoked from 1999. It was on more or less the same spot on the calendar — and adjacent to the same spot in Flushing — that Olerud came up in the bottom of the ninth in a game the Mets had been losing all day and turned it around for good.

“The pitch to Olerud…line drive…BASE HIT INTO LEFT FIELD!” was the call on the radio via the detailed description of Gary Cohen, then on radio. “In comes Lopez! Here comes Cedeño! Here’s comes Gant’s throw from left field…the slide…SAFE, THE METS WIN IT! THE METS WIN IT! Cedeño slides home under the tag of Mike Lieberthal, a two-run GAME-WINNING single for John Olerud, the Mets score FIVE RUNS off Curt Schilling in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Mets win it in a REMARKABLE finish!”

I probably didn’t hear every word Gary said live, as it was drowned out by my shrieking with delight. That half-inning, played out on May 23, 1999, began with the Mets down, 4-0, to the Curt Schilling and the Phillies, on one of those days when a bona fide ace was making scoring not only impossible but unimaginable. Fortunately, these were the Mets of Mike Piazza (leadoff single), Robin Ventura (seemingly harmless home run) and Matt Franco (one-out single) to start with. Every 1999 Met could be a force doing some reckoning. Luis Lopez got himself hit, Bobby Valentine pinch-hit for his pitcher with Jermaine Allensworth, and Allensworth singled Franco home from second. It was 4-3, two were on, only one was out and, in a last gasp of how baseball was managed throughout the 20th century, Terry Francona left Schilling in. Francona’s pen wasn’t in great shape, and he decided Schilling was better than anything he had out there. This wouldn’t happen today because Schilling wouldn’t have still been around in the ninth. He probably wouldn’t have been granted the chance to throw an eighth suffocating inning.

Roger Cedeño grounded into a 1-6 fielder’s choice, forcing Allensworth, Schilling fittingly in the center of the action. Cedeño took second on defensive indifference. Edgardo Alfonzo took first on Schilling’s second HBP of the inning. The impossible was becoming imaginable. The next batter was Olerud. Probability was very much on the Mets’ side. As Gary already explained a quarter-century and three days ago, Mets 5 Phillies 4 was the final. The quiet fellow who drove in the tying and winning runs likely wouldn’t protest if naming rights were ceded to the pitcher on the losing side. It can’t help but live on as The Curt Schilling Game.

John Olerud brought so much to the Mets in the final three years of last millennium. The conclusion to The Curt Schilling Game was as big as anything he gave us. His presence at Citi Field this Sunday perhaps transmitted the good vibes necessary to get us through what appeared to be a sixth consecutive loss in the making. The Mets might not win (per usual), but look — it’s Oly! SQUEE! While Gelbs was chatting up the unexpected guest, the Mets were doing more or less versus Logan Webb of the Giants what their predecessors were doing versus Schilling in 1999: nothing much. San Fran was up, 2-1. Sean Manaea was doing OK for himself, but Webb was wired in, per usual. If only Oly could excuse himself, slip on a uniform and, if he had their numbers handy, summon Mike, Robin and the rest of his teammates.

Instead, we settled for the 2024 Mets, which included Manaea hanging in there through five without giving up a whole lot; unlikely long man Adrian Houser going four, touched for only one run; Harrison Bader, reeling back into the field of play a sure home run off the bat of Matt Chapman; and Brett Baty continuing to look intermittently Venturaesque at third. There were some good signs dotted around the diamond at Citi Field for the blue-clad Mets. There are always a few good signs. They are usually overwhelmed by the plethora of bad ones. The worst one of all for the Mets was Logan Webb standing on the mound continuing to deal.

Fortunately, it’s the 21st century, and Logan Webb, who left little to the imagination in terms of imagining the Mets could get to him, was removed after seven innings. Giant skipper Bob Melvin goes back a ways, but he manages in the here and now. He turned the ball over to Ryan Walker in the eighth, which didn’t improve the Mets’ chances whatsoever.

The bottom of the ninth would have been the province of closer Camilo Doval had not the Mets been so (ahem) fiercely competitive Friday night and Saturday afternoon, forcing Melvin to use his main save guy twice. The Mets’ close-shave defeats were not for naught in that regard. I mean they were overall, but at least the Giants relief corps wasn’t lined up to quash them Sunday. Pitching for San Francisco was submariner Tyler Rogers. He’s not their closer and he’s not their No. 1 starter. Rogers was a tough assignment, but he wasn’t impossible.

Imagine away. Imagine that on the day John Olerud swung by to say hi, Brandon Nimmo led off the bottom of the ninth by chopping a bouncer that Rogers leapt for and laid only a fraction of his glove on, and Nimmo landed on first as a result. Then came J.D. Martinez, suddenly mired in a slump that detracts from his professional-hitter reputation. Yet a pro is a pro, and Martinez singled to right. The Mets, down two, had first and second and nobody out. For any team, this qualified as a genuine threat. For the Mets, this loomed as a nightmare. We’d seen versions of their can’t-missery all weekend, golden scoring chances that ultimately missed. The whole week was like that. First and second and nobody out, with the opposition closer unavailable? Stop doing this to us.

I thought of my friend James Schapiro while trying to decide whether this was a rally worth getting invested in the way I threw myself into the one Olerud capped 25 years before. Those 1999 Mets blended magic and magnificence. They could be a little frustrating in real time, but memory recalls them as capable and inspiring. James, born roughly around the moment in February 1997 that Oly reported to St. Lucie as a Blue Jay expat, recently released a book called Only in Queens: Stories from Life as a New York Mets Fan. I’m in the midst of reading and savoring it, so I can’t yet officially tell you it’s terrific, go buy it for yourself (off the record, it is and you should). James became a Mets fan in 2004 at roughly the same impressionable stage of life I became a Mets fan in 1969. He not only missed 1969, he missed 1999. The launching pad for his fandom was a little different from mine. By the time he reaches 2011, a season he documents in a chapter entitled “Valentino Pascucci and Other Heroes,” he’s 14. James hadn’t been blessed with a miracle world championship out of the gate as I was, nor had the specialness of his Mets experience cemented with a miracle pennant a quadrennium later. The peak for the kid to that point was staying up as late as he could when he was nine to hear the Mets not win the NL flag in 2006. It was all downhill from there to 2011.

Yet there James is, wrapping his arms around Pascucci and Pedro Beato and every other 2011 Met, because, as he puts it in Only in Queens, “there’s a joy in wins during mediocre seasons. I would know. I’m a Mets fan. My experience with enjoying mediocrity is almost unparalleled.”

We should all be able to derive such pleasures from out-of-the-money campaigns, one of which is almost surely going to be 2024. Discerning there would be joy against the Giants required a surge of Olerud-level momentum amid the Mets’ growing assault on Rogers, but on a fourth Sunday in May in the borough the ballclub has called home for six decades, joy can absolutely be built on one exquisite half-inning.

James is in his twenties. I’m confident his instinctive appreciation for a nascent Met uprising hasn’t been ground down by too many trips through the wringer. I’d venture to guess that even those of us who wear t-shirts approximately as old as him could steer ourselves toward elation for what our current crop of mediocrities was in the process of cultivating with Nimmo on second and Martinez on first and nobody out.

Carlos Mendoza replaced Martinez on the basepaths with speedy Starling Marte, a savvy Bobby V-style move.

DJ Stewart lined out, but even Brian McRae had an unhelpful at-bat between Ventura’s homer and Franco’s single.

Jeff McNeil, harnessing the spirit of Lopez and Fonzie, accepted Rogers delivery upon his elbow pad in exchange for a trip to first. Nimmo advances a base. Marte, too. Sacks full.

Bader! Author of the Mets’ previous RBI and the center fielder who made that catch! He doubles! Nimmo scores easily! Marte, faster than Martinez, scores easily, too!

I wasn’t sure my keyboard still had exclamation points.

Bader’s on second, McNeil is on third. Baty is up, but he gets four fingers for his troubles. Bases reloaded. Omar Narváez, who didn’t start Sunday, approaches the plate. The “O” in Omar is literal. He hasn’t had a hit in 27 at-bats thus far this year at Citi Field. Then again, he hasn’t batted in the ninth inning of a game attended by John Olerud, either. He does here.

Gary Cohen is still behind a microphone and still has the right words for an occasion worthy of an Olerud sighting.

“And Narváez PUNCHES one, BASE HIT! AND THE METS WIN IT!! Omar Narváez with his first home hit of the year and it’s a game-WINNER!!!”

Gary does TV now. He doesn’t have to be as detailed as he was in 1999.

It would have been too cruel or too mathematically unfathomable to not think the Mets would manage to pull a 4-3 walkoff win out of everything that was coalescing in their favor once Bader came through to tie the score. Narváez batting while ostentatiously overdue for a simple single within the 718 area code made it only more obvious that the Mets couldn’t lose on Sunday. Yet the 2024 Mets can lose any day, and usually do. Not this time though. The mediocre sometimes rise to remind you they don’t always disintegrate. And sometimes we find ourselves enjoying it happening right before our eyes and our ears, no matter how little fun we’ve been having as this season has curdled, shriveled, and continually bummed us out. Shrieking with delight may be beyond the octave range of those of us who have endured too much dreck to somersault over the moon just because a five-game losing streak didn’t grow to six. But we’ll still make appropriate joyful noises as Met circumstances suggest. Even in a year like this. Especially from an ending like that.

4 comments to Paralleled Joy

  • LeClerc

    Redemption for Houser.
    Redemption for Narvaez.

    Hurrah for Bader!

    • Curt Emanuel

      That sixth inning seemed the start of more of what we’ve seen before from Houser. The next three did not.

      When Webb didn’t come out to pitch the 8th I sort of shrugged, “In the old days . . .” After Narvaez’ hit it was more of a thank you. I don’t think we were figuring him out and pulling him after 96 pitches was a nice little going away gift.

      I was wrong about Bader, didn’t see the point of the big contract with Taylor and Nimmo. In a way I still don’t if it’s going to be part of a 70-win season but he’s done about as much as you can expect to see if we might take 75.

  • K. Lastima

    Gary is still one of the best, if not the very best, play-by-play guys but he needs to watch his fanboy tendencies, which seem more prevalent when the Mets play crappy baseball.

  • Lenny65

    Oh, John Olerud. That guy was a true gamer. A true professional hitter. That Schilling game was a portend of things to come. One of the great regular season wins in team history IMO.