Lo Duca carries Mets on his back

Lo Duca carries Mets on his back

NEW YORK -- It hung in his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium for hours Saturday, from the moment he slipped out of it until he dared to slip it back on. Unafraid, he left it there in full view of his teammates. It was the subject of ridicule, an object of scorn and, Paul Lo Duca said, the reason the Mets' losing streak ended.

Lo Duca had taken one for the team, like the .220-hitting shortstop who takes one in the ribs with the bases loaded. He had come to Yankee Stadium wearing an almost universally disparaged flowered shirt, seemingly a remnant from the unlamented period of leisure suits and stacked heels of 30 years earlier, or something Sid Fernandez had left behind.

He wore it -- an act of courage, to be sure -- showed it to his teammates before they were to engage the Yankees and, according to Cliff Floyd, predicted, "You'll thank me for this." And there it hung in all its bold grandeur -- green, tan, blue and orange on a black background.

"It's beautiful," Lo Duca said. "Right?"

And no one answered.

A number of factors contributed to the 8-3 victory over the Yankees that ended the Mets' four-game losing streak before it became something they couldn't explain, rationalize or stomach -- David Wright's two-run double in the first inning, Ramon Castro's two-run single in the fourth and Lo Duca's two-run single three batters later. But Lo Duca, clotheshorse that he is, was certain it was the shirt that made a material difference.

And who could argue? Less than 24 hours after they had been one-hit by five Yankees pitchers, the Mets won for the first time in five games. They buried Randy Johnson and changed the image of the four straight losses from a "streak" to an aberration.

"Told ya," Lo Duca said when it was over, approaching the moment he once again would don the piece of apparel Chris Woodward said he would wear for $20.

Lo Duca suggests the shirt has mystical influence.

"I wore this on the plane coming out of Florida [at the end of Spring Training], and we got off to a good start. So I figured ..."

And now that it has provided the intended service -- and not because of any sort of embarrassment, he insists -- he will put it away "until we need it again."

The shirt he wore is one of a set worn during camp by members of the clubhouse staff. The first day Vinny Greco, the assistant equipment manager, wore his, he was asked, "What shirt were you going to wear of you won the bet?" He understood.

Carlos Delgado said he wouldn't wear the shirt "in a million years."

"Nothing good can come out of that shirt," he said.

Steve Trachsel, the winning pitcher Saturday, also declined to wear it and offered a more subtle condemnation: "But my father would."

Floyd offered a flat denial.

"I want us to win, but let's be serious," he said.

And when Wright declined to wear it, he did so almost vehemently. He does have an image, after all. And he takes enough grief for wearing pink shirts.

They will leave it to Lo Duca to break all spells this season.

"Pauly can carry it off," Wright said.

The shirt will remain hidden if the Mets perform as they did Saturday. The team with the highest winning percentage in the National League gained its sixth victory in 14 Interleague games, defeating the Yankees for the third time in five games. The Mets scored all eight runs against Johnson, who has an 11.45 ERA in two starts -- one loss and one no-decision -- against them this season.

The Mets scored five times on four hits and two walks in the fourth inning, when they extended their lead to 7-2. Wright and Julio Franco scored when Castro singled with the bases loaded and one out. After Johnson struck out Eli Marrero, Jose Reyes drove in one run with his second hit, and Lo Duca drove in two with the second of his three hits.

Marrero accounted for the eighth run when he hit his second home run as a Met off Johnson (9-7) with two outs in the sixth. The home run was the 16th allowed by Johnson this season and the 23rd the Mets have hit against the Yankees in 17 games.

That was ample support for Trachsel (7-4), who gained his fifth victory in five starts, pitching into the seventh inning. He was removed after developing tightness in his right groin after making an awkward play on an infield hit in the seventh. He had aggravated a condition that has existed for two or three weeks, he said.

Trachsel allowed seven hits and two runs, walking four and striking out three. The Yankees' third run, a home run by Alex Rodriguez off of Aaron Heilman, came in the eighth. Trachsel equaled a career high by winning his fifth straight decision. He did so with the Cubs in 1998 as well. This is the first time he has won five straight starts.

His victory hardly was a thing of beauty. But no one complained. It looked better than any of the four games that preceded it. His performance aside, the Mets had done what the '83 White Sox had popularized -- "winning ugly."

"It was the shirt," Lo Duca said.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.