NEW YORK – A few hours before the New York Mets took the field Gary Sheffield asked manager Jerry Manuel to take him out of the lineup. Earlier, Sheffield, the 22-year veteran met and asked GM Omar Minaya for a contract extension that was denied. Sheffield excused himself and later in the game came off the bench and pinch hit.
It did not matter that the Mets lost another game Thursday evening at Citi Field, 3-2 to the Atlanta Braves. It did not matter that they lost two of three games to Atlanta. What once was a great divisional rivalry between the two teams is no more. The Braves are in contention and the Mets are not, losing their 65th game of the season.
Sheffield was dressed and out of the ballpark moments after the last pitch. Manuel would not refer to the contract dispute, but it is known Sheffield is not a part of the Mets long range plans. Manuel would not elaborate and said, “He had some issues to take care of and asked to be removed form the lineup.”
Nothing more than another bit of quiet turmoil that has surrounded the New York Mets as they quietly play out the string with 43 games remaining. Besides Sheffield causing some turmoil, pitcher Livan Hernandez was released before the game to make room for the season debut of Billy Wagner. Hernandez was not happy and quickly left the clubhouse looking for another job after going 7-8 with a 5.47 ERA in 23 games.
Wagner would pitch a perfect eighth inning and got a rousing ovation from the Citi Field crowd, his first appearance in a game since August 2, 2008 at Houston after elbow ligament replacement surgery. “I guess you are always worried about how you are going to be perceived,” said Wagner about the ovation.
Wagner reportedly said he would waive his no trade clause and go to a contender if it can be worked out. Whether or not Wagner is being showcased, he looked good. He threw 14 pitches in the inning, nine for strikes. His fastball was clocked at 96 and struck out Reid Gorecki, got Chipper Jones to fly to right and struck out Brian McCann.
“To come back after eleven months and face these, caliber of hitters makes it better,” commented Wagner. Manuel said about his performance, “Really a big plus going forward not only for us but for his career. I would have to say he is back but be careful.”
So the game and another loss for the Mets was not the story. Neither was the otherwise seven good strong innings pitched by Johan Santana who threw 77 pitches and got the loss. Obvious that Santana, (13-9) was moved to showcase Wagner a free agent who could be traded before the August 31 waiver deadline.
“Overall I thought I had good stuff,” said Santana avoiding the issue of leaving a close game with a low pitch count. The decision was up to Manuel for Wagner to make his season debut and Santana, the professional he is, just evaluated his outing. “I was just trying to do my job,” he said.
“Johan competed and gave us a chance to win,” said Manuel. “We’re very happy with the performance he gives us all the time.” Santana has been that hard luck pitcher in this dismal Mets season. He has given up three runs in four of his last six starts and the Mets have failed to score more than two runs for him in nine of his starts this season.
Sheffield will be at Citi Field Friday evening when the Mets begin a four-game series with first place Philadelphia. But a source said the Mets will do everything they can to try Sheffield who was claimed by the Giants on waivers last week according to SI.com. That means the Mets only can release him or put him on waivers again, which means either a team claims him or he will be released.
Wagner will continue to be showcased, or there could be a change of thought about a trade if he continues to throw hard and effective like he did.
More drama to come as Pedro Martinez gets the start for the Phillies against his former team Sunday afternoon. And with Wagner back and Sheffield unhappy, are the Mets waiving the white flag or maximizing their assets for the future?
E-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com