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One Friday afternoon in October, a couple of days before the Subway Series was to begin, Mets lefthander Glendon Rusch stopped by the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y. It was a nothing-special trip, one of those dull, wander-around-in-search-of-a-CD days. He'd visited the mall plenty of times. No big de—
YO, GLENDON, GO KICK SOME YANKEE BUTT!
HEY, RUSCH, YOU'RE GOING DOWN!
DO US PROUD, G!
Was this really happening? Were the people of Long Island actually approaching the Mets' Mr. Anonymity? Yelling encouragement? Egging him on? "I'm from California, and nobody recognizes me there," says Rusch. "Here I am, on a team with the Piazzas and Leiters, and fans knew who I was. New York's the only place that happens."
Rusch exposed himself to the Big Apple because, in a season that began with subzero expectations for the 26-year-old Royals castoff, he emerged as arguably the league's best No. 5 starting pitcher and—under closer scrutiny—one of its best lefthanders, period. He had the league's sixth-best road ERA (3.70), but he received the lowest run support per nine innings of any NL starter (3.7). "We thought trading for Glendon would be a worthwhile chance," says G.M. Steve Phillips. "Did we expect last year's production? Let's just say it was a very pleasant surprise."
Now, with Mike Hampton gone to Colorado, the Rusch bar has been raised. Although the Mets added two free-agent starters—15-game winner Kevin Appier, 33, from Oakland and the innings-eating Steve Trachsel, 30, from Toronto—there should be concern over a rotation that, beyond Rusch and ace lefthander Al Leiter, is made up of three soft-throwing, thirtysomething righties. No. 3 starter Rick Reed has maintained impressive consistency since '97, but he's a 35-year-old control pitcher.