Says Wilson, "We were all kind of tired of being linked. We were young, talented and brought up together, but we're three different types of pitchers. Now we're traveling different roads, all battling something. We're on our own, trying to get back to where people thought we'd be."
Last week the roads of recovery brought them to Brighton, Ill.; St. Louis; and Port St. Lucie, Fla. In Brighton, Isringhausen's throat was so sore from having cultures repeatedly taken from his esophagus that he could speak only hoarsely and eat solid foods rarely and, even then, with difficulty. According to his agent, Craig Fenech, Isringhausen "just wants to be home with his mother and father, getting a whole lot of nurturing. Tuberculosis was the diagnosis of choice. He felt like he dodged a bullet. These kinds of vicissitudes in life make us mature."
"Knock on wood, it can't get much worse than this," Isringhausen said on Sunday, during a brief conference call with baseball writers. "Hopefully, we can just put this behind us and start succeeding a little better."
Isringhausen grew up playing more in the outfield than on the mound. The Mets selected him in the 44th round of the 1991 free-agent draft because their regional scout, in the course of evaluating another player, discovered that Isringhausen dabbled with a funky breaking ball. "We took a flier on him," says Gerry Hunsicker, the Mets' former assistant general manager and now the G.M. of the Houston Astros. "Izzy never had the maturity that Pulse did, and I don't think he had the mental toughness Pulse had. One thing about Izzy is he always had that great breaking ball. He sailed through the minor leagues because he had that hammer."
In '95 Green and his staff lobbied McIlvaine to put Isringhausen on the Opening Day roster. The general manager resisted, and then Isringhausen opened the season in Double A by striking out 51 batters in his first four starts. He was in Triple A by May and in New York by July. In 14 starts with the Mets he went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA.
Last season, however, National League hitters adjusted to his knuckle curve. Isringhausen had neither the command of his fastball nor the grasp of pitching to prosper on the nights when his curve was not at its best. He went 6-14 with a 4.77 ERA and, by his own admission, drank too much beer and gained too much weight. "I talked to him about it from time to time as a friend," Pulsipher says of Isringhausen's poor habits. "A lot of people were telling him what to do. Izzy's the kind of guy, though, that the more people tell him something, the more he'll do the opposite."
Isringhausen reached another conclusion in September. "I have to learn about baseball," he said. "I have to learn how to pitch. I just always reared back and threw, and everything fell into place."
He did lose 19 pounds over the winter but infuriated management when he moonlighted with the softball team in spring training. (Manager Bobby Valentine, acting on a tip, confirmed it by attending one of the team's games, though Isringhausen did not show that night.) In the minors Isringhausen was throwing 95 mph and nearing a return to the big leagues when he took on the trash can. "Now," Apodaca says, "there is no timetable. Mother Nature has her own timetable."
Only 25 miles from the Isringhausens' house, another righthander sat in the Mets' dugout at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last Friday with one of his four spiral-bound notebooks. While on the disabled list Wilson fills the books with observations on National League hitters. "Last year," he said, "I didn't give this kind of stuff any thought."
Before the game last season in which Wilson threw his first major league pitch, the Mets' television crew showed a split-screen picture likening him to Tom Seaver. The expectations overwhelmed Wilson. In his eagerness to live up to the billing, he overthrew his two-seam fastball and slider. His left shoulder flew open—toward the first base dugout rather than the plate—causing him to fling the ball across his body and straining his pitching shoulder. By the end of the season he had a 5-12 record, a 5.38 ERA and torn cartilage in the shoulder.