"I don't blame anybody but myself," he says. "I was trying to do too much."
Wilson, 24, is progressing slowly. He started throwing off a mound two weeks ago and could be back on the Mets' active roster in July. Although he has all the attributes of a No. 1 starter—four pitches, including a changeup, good velocity and an understanding of how to work hitters—he admits, "I can't guarantee I'll be the same pitcher, with a hard fastball in the mid-90s for seven, eight innings. But if I have to throw in the mid-80s, I'll make the adjustment. I'm realistic. I'll do whatever it takes."
He is, as his expanding notebooks attest, a student of the game. "Of the three of them, he's the most polished," says Mets closer John Franco. "He'll be the best."
Last Friday night came gently to Port St. Lucie, a light breeze whispering through palms and the last bits of sunlight streaking through a blue-black sky. Only 883 people were at Thomas J. White Stadium to watch a Class A game between the St. Lucie Mets and the Fort Myers Miracle, including a handful of Little Leaguers who stood on the mound next to Pulsipher for the national anthem. They were part of Slider's Knothole Gang, the fan club of St. Lucie's mascot, a guy in a dog costume. This is where Pulsipher has come to learn how to throw a baseball again.
Pulsipher is what Fenech, who also represents the 23-year-old lefthander, calls "a baseball lifer." Pulsipher was four when he told his dad, "I'm going to be a major league baseball player." As an eighth-grader he once refused to fill out a guidance counselor's questionnaire because the boxes for career goals did not include one for major league ballplayer. "It's all I ever wanted to be," he says. "I love to watch it and talk about it."
Pulsipher made it to the big leagues on June 14, 1995 (one month before Isringhausen), with four-seam and two-seam fastballs that changed directions quicker than politicians in an election year. Wiry and athletic, he pitched as if he were spring-loaded, delivering the ball from high over his shoulder with a quick, violent motion that catapulted his body toward third base. The odd delivery deceived hitters and imparted uncanny movement on his pitches but did so at the cost of his health. After pitching well as a rookie (5-7, 3.98 ERA), he tore a ligament in his elbow during spring training in '96. He missed all of last season after reconstructive surgery.
This year, in an attempt to preserve his arm, the Mets have overhauled his delivery—changing his release point so that he lets go of his pitches in front of his body and altering his follow-through so that he finishes more square to the plate. "The dilemma," Hunsicker says, "is that he might lose the natural movement he had." He has been so inconsistent that if his left arm were the minute hand on a clock, the ball might be released at any point from five to 13 minutes past the hour.
"It's more of a mental thing than a physical thing," says Pulsipher. "When you're struggling, your mind starts going a mile a minute. I'd never been hurt before, never been through anything like this. I'm not the exact pitcher I was two years ago, but I will be at some point."
Pulsipher and the Mets agreed he would pitch in Class A after he struggled during a recent 30-day rehabilitation assignment at Triple A Norfolk. The idea was that he would prosper in a less-pressurized environment. Last Friday, in his first inning of work since the move, Pulsipher missed the plate with so many pitches—nine straight at one point—that even Slider's Knothole Gang gave a mock cheer when he got a called strike. In 5⅓ innings Pulsipher gave up six hits, walked six. hit a batter and threw four wild pitches.
Behind the safety of the wire backstop, a small, grandfatherly man in a rumpled cap, seersucker shirt and twill shorts peered through his glasses. Frank Cashen, the former Mets general manager who serves the club as a senior vice president and consultant, said, "You know, I used to get criticized for being too conservative when it came to young players. I always thought once you promote a young player to the big leagues, he should be ready to stay."