For all the hype and tripe being trumpeted in New York about individual Mets moves since 1986, the cumulative effect of the trades has certainly been negative. For one thing, New York's games this season have looked like Gilligan's Island reruns, with a recurring cast of players remaining stranded every night. In what the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of major league baseball, calls Late Inning Pressure Situations (LIPS)—that is, at bats in the seventh inning or later with the hitter's team tied or trailing by three or fewer runs, or by four runs with the bases loaded—the Mets were hitting .202 at week's end. In those same situations with men in scoring position, New York's average shriveled to .158. The '86 Mets faced a few LIPS with men in scoring position themselves and hit .326 (box, page 59).
"I think we're pressing too hard," says Jefferies, whose .289 average through Sunday was one of the bright spots on the Mets' dismal stat sheet. "We're just not getting runners over. We're not getting runners home from third with less than two outs."
One reason runners are being left on base is that tenants of what was the middle of the order under Davey Johnson—Howard Johnson, McReynolds and Strawberry—were hitting .252, .267 and .247, respectively, before Harrelson changed the order last Friday. New York's team average was an anemic .239, second worst in the league. That wouldn't seem so bad if the Mets had sacrificed offense to improve their defense, as the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox have done to rebuild. But through Sunday, New York had the league's worst fielding percentage as well.
In their zeal to promote players from their minor league system, the Mets have wound up with major weaknesses where they count the most—up the middle. New York has used five catchers this season and has a natural third baseman, Jefferies, at second and a second baseman, Miller, in center. "We have to get a catcher, a utility infielder—a backup at short—little things" is all Cashen will concede.
The pitching staff, led by Gooden, Sid Fernandez and Frank Viola, is excellent, though the Mets' luck no longer is: Gooden, 3-5 after losing 5-4 to Philadelphia last Saturday, missed most of 1989 with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Two weeks ago he cracked a toe when catcher Mackey Sasser inadvertently set a chair on it before sitting down. But the Mets are still so rich in pitching that starters Ojeda and Ron Darling have been herded in and out of the bullpen all season.
Darling, who was 15-6 as a starter in 1986, is the current odd man out. He is only 29, and New York is trying to trade him for a catcher. Says Harrelson of his bosses upstairs, "If they have any plans, I would like to find out, even if they're futuristic. Are we going to have the services of Strawberry and McReynolds?"
To hear his predecessor tell it, however, Harrelson will likely find out who his new catcher will be when he opens his newspaper one morning. "I would hear a name tossed out one day, and two weeks later we'd have made a trade for him," says Davey Johnson. "We used to have great organizational meetings, talking thoroughly about the personnel, but we stopped doing that. When? It doesn't matter when."
The approximate date is not difficult to discern. Just don't mention it, thank you, to any of the remaining Mets who were on the team that October. Says Howard Johnson, "It'll never be like that again."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]