FLUSHING, NY – David Wright, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana headed to St. Louis to participate and represent the New York Mets in Tuesdays Major League Baseball All-Star game. In the clubhouse Sunday afternoon others packed some belongings and headed home for their three-day break. And some will stay in town including manager Jerry Manuel.
It was a tough first half of the season for Manuel and these Mets. But the last two days, in particular when Jeff Francoeur arrived and was instead fifth in the lineup, something happened. The Mets bats revived with a stable lineup, 13 runs and 27 hits, two straight wins over the Cincinnati Reds.
“They feel good about themselves playing better baseball,” said Manuel after the Mets 9-7 win over the Red that saw their offense explode with 16 hits, and, finally two home runs at Citi Field from Brian Schneider and Fernando Tatis. The home runs in the seventh inning broke an eight-game and 80.0 inning streak of no home runs coming from the Mets offense.
Coincidence that Francoeur makes a difference in the lineup, perhaps, regardless the Mets feel better about themselves before heading for the second half that begins Thursday at Atlanta, a 10-game three city trip that also takes them to Washington and Houston.
“I think to have something of a set lineup makes a difference,” said Manuel who will stay in town and have team evaluation meetings the next few days. Decisions about the pitching rotation, how to keep that lineup consistent will be on the agenda. So will plans to know, when and how to insert Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado back in the lineup.
Both Beltran and Delgado continue to get better and are expected to return from injuries in the next dew weeks. Beltran with a bruised knee, possibly by next week and Delgado, recovering from hip surgery maybe by the beginning of next month, The status as to when Jose Reyes will return is still uncertain, though the Mets leadoff hitter and catalyst to the lineup was running and doing sprints in the outfield at Citi Field prior to the game Sunday afternoon.
In the meantime, Angel Pagan returned this week from the disabled list, made some excellent defensive plays in center field, and became the catalyst for Manuel in the leadoff spot. “It gives me an opportunity to let the team know I’ll be there to help them them,” he said after going 1-for 5 Sunday, He had two big hits Saturday along with two stolen bases, the first bags swiped by the Mets in seven games.
So things could get better for a team that finished 42-45, under .500 for the first time since 2003 at the break. “We have some good vibes going into the second half,” said Wright who has been about the only player in the Mets clubhouse that has been speaking about their woes of the last month.
It looked better the past few days, and as Manuel said afterwards “We still have issues here and there. One night it is the starting offense, today it was the bullpen.” Indeed, the pen, a priority of GM Omar Minaya during the off -season struggled Sunday as closer Frankie Rodriguez is still trying to work on some of his issues giving up a run in the ninth and getting his 23rd save of the season and win for starter Mike Pelfrey.
After Pelfrey (7-4) was lifted after seven innings, allowing five hits and three runs, the pen made it interesting as the Reds got three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth. And there is the issue of a starting pitching rotation. Orlando Hernandez has lost his last four starts at the backend and Pelfrey after the fifth innings tends to break down.
“Everybody here needs a day off because the second half is going to be important,” said pitcher Oliver Perez who will also stay in town rather than go to Mexico during the break. Perez will get some rest and work on the mechanics. Because the Mets need his arm to make a run at the post season as they closed the half trailing first place Philadelphia by 6-1/2 games and in fourth place.
And, it seems now that if things are going to get better, the Mets are going to have a big inning, as they did in the third inning with five runs Sunday. It will be with a single and the extra base hit The team, does not hit home runs and is next to last in that category next to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The hits and runs came on two-out hits, another sign that things could be turning around even if it was two games. Some momentum goes into the all-star break after a dismal first half of the season and they won their first series after losing the past four, their first one in July.
David Wright appeared more comfortable at the plate and Gary Sheffield had no problem with a slider and resembled the old Sheffield who was once the most feared hitter in the game. “It will give us a little more momentum and confidence going into the second half,” added Wright about the first half finish..
And Luis Castillo, still booed for that game-ending walk-off error in the first Subway Series at Yankee Stadium went 3-for-3 Sunday, got a good jump and stole second base, his 11th of the season. Sheffield drove in three runs and asked Manuel to put him in the lineup/.
Francoueur, in his second game as a Met got two hits, four in the series with the Reds and quickly fit in well with his new mates. “I’m excited to be here and I don’t see how we can’t make a run in the second half,’ he said.
So when that new apple in center field failed to come up, after the second home run in the seventh inning hit by Tatis, the Citi Field crowd began to chant, “Apple, Apple.” Home runs have been hard to find at the new ballpark, so has offense from this team, so maybe the apple went on an earlier hiatus before the second half.
“It was good to finally see the apple come up,” said Manuel with his usual chuckle that has become customary after a win or loss. “It took its time but it finally came up,” he said as the mechanical failures were fixed and the apple rose again when the inning ended.
And for the Mets, they certainly hope their first half failures are in the distance. Two straight wins and an offense that finally came together, with or without the home runs, leads to optimism in the second half.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]