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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
May 28, 2001
Free-falling NowIn seven months the Mets have gone from the World Series to a world of trouble
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May 28, 2001

Baseball

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PLAYER, TEAM

DATES

HR IN 1ST GAME

2ND GAME

3RD GAME

Barry Bonds, Giants

May 18-20, 2001

1

3

2

Manny Ramirez, Indians

Sept. 15-17, 1998

3

2

1

Mike Schmidt, Phillies

April 17, 18 and 20, 1976

4

1

1

Ralph Kiner, Pirates

Sept, 11 (doubleheader) and 12, 1947

1

3

2

Ralph Kiner, Pirates

Aug. 14-16, 1947

1

2

3

Tony Lazzeri, Yankees

May 23 (doubleheader) and 24, 1936

1

2

3

Free-falling Now
In seven months the Mets have gone from the World Series to a world of trouble

The Mets have had little to feel good about this year, so they were eager for a positive vibe after their 8-0 win over the Dodgers last Friday night. New York had roughed up Kevin Brown, who entered the game with the best ERA (1.09) in the majors, for five runs in four innings. The Mets' own ace, lefthander Al Leiter, had excelled in his first start after nearly a month on the DL with elbow tendinitis. It was only New York's second win in 10 games, and Leiter hoped out loud that it might have the same effect as his win over the Yankees in June 1999. That game woke the Mets from an early-season slumber and launched their run to the playoffs. 'You look back and find turning points after a season," said manager Bobby Valentine. "This win is a step in the right direction."

To borrow a lyric from Bruce Springsteen, whose music blares in the clubhouse on days Leiter starts: "One step up and two steps back." That has been the story of the season for New York The day after beating Brown and the Dodgers, the Mets were pounded 10-2 by L.A. Though they rallied to win 6-5 on Sunday, the Mets ended the weekend with the NL's second-worst record (17-26) and were in last place in the East, 8� games behind the Phillies. Seven months after they played in the World Series, the Mets' longest winning streak had been two games. "We're not hitting; we're not pitching well; and when we do one, we don't do the other," said third baseman Robin Ventura.

As dismal as things were—New York's average of 3.7 runs per game was the league's lowest, its 5.17 ERA the second highest—the Mets retained hope of climbing back into the playoff race. For one thing, upstart Philadelphia can hardly be said to have a stranglehold on first place, and the Braves, the perennial division winners, were scuffling along with a 21-23 record. New York righthander Rick Reed has pitched brilliantly: He was 5-2 with a 2.53 ERA through Sunday. He and a healthy Leiter give the Mets a top-of-the-rotation duo that should bar extended losing streaks. New York could also expect to get better production from catcher Mike Piazza (hitting .167 with six RBIs in May), second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo (.254 with 15 RBIs for the year) and first baseman Todd Zeile (.240 with one home run).

To be sure, New York has been wracked by injuries to Leiter and other key players. Alfonzo has been playing with a sore back and a sore left knee. Centerfielder Jay Payton went on the DL on May 8 with a strained right hamstring. Leftfielder Benny Agbayani missed two weeks with a fractured left wrist and has been hampered by an abdominal strain for much of May. Rightfielder Timo Perez (strained left groin), reliever Rick White (sore right elbow in April, strained rotator cuff in May) and outfielder Daryl Hamilton (strained shoulder muscle) have also missed significant stretches. "We have Al back healthy, and Benny's about ready to go," general manager Steve Phillips said last weekend. "This is going to turn around at some point for us."

Even with everyone healthy, the Mets are enigmatic—not as bumbling as they've shown so far, yet significantly weaker than they were last year. The decline is the result mostly of a falloff in their starting pitching, largely attributable to the loss of 15-game winner Mike Hampton to free agency. Neither of New York's off-season pickups, veteran righthanders Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel, has come through. They were a combined 3-11 with a 6.78 ERA through Sunday, and Trachsel, who got a two-year, $7 million contract in December despite a 16-33 record over the past two seasons, was banished to Triple A Norfolk on May 18.

The Mets also failed to bolster a weak-hitting outfield, so it's little surprise that they had the least production from those positions of any NL team. No help appears forthcoming. "The trade front hasn't changed," Phillips said last Friday. "Most of the guys available either aren't playing or aren't performing for their own clubs. Any player we could get won't change the fact that our current players need to play better."

Now's the time: This week the Mets began a stretch of 17 games against division opponents, a golden chance to make up ground. Given the track records of such players as Piazza, Alfonzo and Zeile, New York will play better. That still might not be enough.

Inge in Control
A Big Catch For the Tigers

Every major league team coddles its prized pitching prospects, monitoring pitch counts and massaging psyches to ensure that the stars-in-the-making stay on the right track. Catching prospects, as the Tigers' Brandon Inge has discovered, are shown no such courtesy. After Mitch Meluskey, who was slated to be Detroit's regular catcher, went down with a season-ending shoulder injury less than a week before Opening Day, the Tigers had two choices: try to deal for a veteran catcher or throw the talented but raw Inge, 24, who had played in only eight spring training games and was getting ready for his first full season at Triple A, into the breach. What's the best way to handle your catcher of the future? "Just turn him loose," says Detroit third base coach Lance Parrish, a former All-Star backstop.

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