It's been that sort of season. On May 20 he became the first player to hit a grand slam in each game of a doubleheader. (He had 13 career slams through Sunday, tying him with the Cleveland Indians' Harold Baines for the most among active players, in just 122 at bats with the bases loaded.) His team-leading 104 RBIs left him within range of the Mets' record of 117, shared by Bernard Gilkey and Howard Johnson. All that success has made him happy to have turned down offers from Valentine and friend Tony Gwynn to provide him with videotapes over the winter to bone up on National League pitchers. "Not knowing a lot about them has made me simplify things," he says. "In the past I would have said something like, 'This guy is going to throw me a changeup on 2 and 0.' But now I don't have any buildup of knowledge. No expectations. Now it's real simple: See the ball and hit it. It's worked."
The ease of Ventura's transition to a new club and new league, however, may have been best exemplified last week, when the Astros' Craig Biggio dropped a near textbook bunt down the third base line. After a bare-handed pickup, Ventura threw the speedy Biggio out by a full, lunging stride.
How did he do it? Timing. Ventura broke for the bunt even before it came off the bat. He knew Biggio was bunting at almost the same instant Biggio himself knew. "It's hard to describe, but it's a look in the eye and a subtle change in the body language," Ventura says. "It's very, very difficult for a hitter not to change his routine in even the slightest way if he's going to bunt. Robbie Alomar's the best at disguising it. He can take a peek at me while the pitcher is in the middle of his windup. But almost all guys change something. I saw something with Biggio."
Said an exasperated Biggio, "I thought at worst it would be a bang-bang play. He got me easy. I couldn't believe it. That guy is awesome. You've got to be perfect to get one down on him."
Try as they might, opponents are learning it is difficult to get anything past Ventura and the rest of the Mets' infield.