"You were horrible tonight," said LaValliere with a grin. "Just horrible."
Van Slyke smiled weakly and said, "I had a good last at bat."
"What?" asked the catcher, remembering the pop-up to second.
"I put the ball in play," said Van Slyke. That was an achievement against Fernandez, just as it was against righthander Darling in Sunday's game. The Pirates actually got on the board in the first inning—their first run at Shea in 38 consecutive innings—on two singles and a fielder's choice, but that was all they could squeeze out of Darling, who scattered six hits and got the requisite big swing in the bottom of the first. After Pirate starter Walk gave up a walk to Dave Magadan, Mets rightfielder Darryl Strawberry blasted a belt-high strike some 400 feet over the right centerfield fence. Final score: 2-1.
On Monday night, the Pirates' bats finally came awake. They picked apart a shaky Gooden and exploded for seven runs on 16 hits, including homers by LaValliere and Van Slyke. Meanwhile, the Mets filled their one-homer-per-game quota with a two-run shot to left by Strawberry, his 28th of the year. But they failed to take advantage of several opportunities to catch the Pirates.
The Mets have been comatose at the plate for so many weeks now that their pitchers have almost come to accept it. When the hitters hand them a run, they steal away with it like a dog protecting a bone. After Strawberry hit his two-run shot on Sunday, Darling said he just knew that the Mets were finished scoring and that he would have to make do with what Straw had given him. "You don't make many mistakes," said Darling. "You can't."
One basic flaw in the Mets is their palpable lack of emotion, their lifeless-ness. Except for the pitching staff, they are generally dull, uninspired and...well, boring. They miss the drive that former Mets Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell provided in their championship season two years ago, not to mention the intensity and passion that Hernandez brings to the field.
Is anybody having fun out there? Outfielder Mookie Wilson has been playing as if he has lost interest in the game. Magadan has hit well in Hernandez's absence, but he doesn't have the skill or instinct to play first base on a major league level. Strawberry still plays the outfield with maddening nonchalance. The team is laid-back nearly to the point of lying down.
Take Kevin McReynolds. During spring training, outfielder Lenny Dykstra put a dead fish in the pant leg of McReynolds's uniform while it was hanging in his locker, then waited for the reaction. McReynolds simply picked up his pants, found the fish, removed it, dropped it in the trash and calmly finished dressing. That was it. Nothing more.