Manager Davey Johnson has started 26 different lineups in the 46 games to date, a situation he has been forced into somewhat reluctantly by the startling strength of his bench. With Foster, Mookie Wilson and Darryl Strawberry starting in the outfield, Johnson must find spots for talented young players such as Heep (.315), Mitchell (.329) and Lenny Dykstra (.277). That may explain why Johnson's particular compulsion is popping antacid tablets to calm his churning stomach. Someone asked him recently if he had switched to the new low-sodium antacid tablets designed to reduce blood pressure, but Johnson said he had not. "If I'm gonna go, I'm gonna go all the way," he said. "I want the whole stroke, not just my left side paralyzed."
Paralyzed is what Wilson looks like in centerfield when Kevin McReynolds of the Padres hits a line drive in the sixth inning that starts to Wilson's right side, then abruptly veers to his left, falling for a double and allowing Tony Gwynn to score from first base. Afterward, Wilson has no theories on why the ball suddenly changed course. "I don't want to deal with that," he says. "That's physics, and I dropped that in college."
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 4
Mitchell wears two parts in the hair on the left side of his head and a portable tape player in the crotch of his uniform pants when he is warming up. The parts in his hair are there to symbolize two base hits a game—he is considering adding another one because, he says, "I'm confident." The tape player in his pants is there because he is "into music." And now music is into him.
Tied at 2-2 with San Diego in the bottom of the eighth, Mitchell is sent to the plate to bunt Knight and Foster along from first and second. Johnson reminds him that the Padres may attempt to cover the bunt by running a defensive play called "the wheel." He tells Mitchell to "hack if you see any movement." Mitchell stands at the plate praying that shortstop Garry Templeton will move, and when at the last instant he does, Mitchell slaps a double to left, and the Mets go on to win 4-2.
It has seemed at times this season that there is nothing Mitchell cannot do for the Mets, no position he can't play, and yet he didn't even start to play organized baseball until he left home to live with his grandmother at the age of 18. "I had to get out of the neighborhood because there was always trouble to get into."
Two years ago when Mitchell was playing for the Mets' Triple A team in Tidewater, he learned that his younger brother had been shot to death back in his San Diego neighborhood. "It made me so sad sometimes I'd sit out on the field and cry," Mitchell says. "He was just trying to get out of trouble, but instead he got caught in the middle."
His brother's death sent Mitchell into a tailspin that eventually began to affect his career. "After that, I didn't care about anything and I ended up having a really bad year," he says. "I would just go out there looking for revenge. Anybody said something wrong to me, I was all over him." Word of Mitchell's ugly disposition got back quickly to New York. "He just didn't have any respect for anybody," says Robinson. "I told him two years ago he had one of the worst attitudes I had ever seen."
Mitchell came to spring training this year mentally and physically stronger than he had ever been, but he struggled defensively. "We tried to hide him in spring training, but the ball always seemed to find him," says Robinson. The more it found him, the better Mitchell looked in the field and now he is utterly fearless. A natural third baseman, he played center and right for the first time this year, then made his first big league appearance at shortstop when he started opposite Ozzie Smith in St. Louis.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5