"What if you fall behind?" the friend asked.
"Slider," Smith said.
"And what if it's a 3-0 count?" Smith was asked.
"Slider," was Smith's rushed and emphatic response.
Then came the seventh inning Thursday night. It was Smith's inning, and the first batter was -- who else -- Ramirez. The first pitch was -- what else -- a slider. And the result was a neck-high pitch that would have struck the Red Sox slugger only if he moved backwards.
Smith had missed his target by maybe three feet and Ramirez by maybe a foot.
Ramirez hardly reacted, even as his friend Pedro Martinez jockeyed from the Mets dugout. Ramirez said nothing. Veterans expect the worst from unknown rookies. Had Ramirez reacted, Smith wouldn't have noticed anyway.
"I just looked away as soon as I let it go," he said, acknowledging a degree of chagrin.
Some of it was nerves, Smith acknowleged, some of it was his intent to throw the first 150-mph slider. And the ball was slick, almost moist, too. Billy Wagner later made the same observation. Smith had done what all young pitchers do at some point.
"I still do it once in a while," Scott Schoeneweis told Smith.
"I figured this was my first real challenge -- night game, Boston, sellout," Smith said. "That's why I got too excited. It wasn't Manny. I know how great a hitter he is. It was me.
"Scott told me sometimes you just have to step back and slow yourself down. I think I did that after that pitch to Manny."
Smith retired Ramirez on a popup, walked a batter and struck out two. That Smith self-corrected impressed the Mets as much as his hard, sub-sidearm slider.
"It's pretty clear he's not intimidated," manager Willie Randolph said. "His body language says he belongs."
Cover boy: Third baseman David Wright is featured in the April edition of Men's Health magazine, which was published Tuesday. Some of his thoughts include:
"I want to do everything above average."
"There's a fine line between cocky and confident. ... There's so much failing in baseball, you never feel like you're good enough."
"There are so many players out there who are better than me talent-wise, but I like to think I'll outwork all of them."
"The first time I dove into the stands for a foul ball, that made me feel like I could go out and play the game the right way."
Wright posed for photos for New York magazine Friday.
The thinker: John Maine took his head out of his crossword puzzle long enough the other day to share this thought: "To a pitcher, a base hit is negative feedback."
Life with father: "No cheering in the pressbox" is more than the title of a book. As a longtime baseball writer with the Los Angeles Times, Ross Newhan watched the game dispassionately. David Newhan, son of the Hall of Fame writer and a reserve outfielder in the Mets plans, isn't sure his father is so dispassionate in retirement -- at least not when David is playing.
"No way," David said. "He tries his best. He tries to keep it bundled up inside, but you can tell. It lookes like his head is going to pop off."
Ross and his wife are in town these days, though David says the primary attraction is Nico, Ross' grandson.
Short-changed: Rickey Henderson on being born on Christmas: "I've been cheated all my life. They always said this [present] is for both days. Now, I tell them, 'There has to be two. Give me one shoe in one box and the other in another.'"
Furthermore: There's been no decision yet from Ruben Sierra about accepting an assignment to the Minor Leagues. General manager Omar Minaya said the Mets will not enforce a deadline with the veteran slugger who was assigned to Minor League camp Thursday night. ... Randolph, noting the Mets won't need a fifth starter until April 16, acknowledged an extra position player -- outfielder Ben Johnson, maybe -- could be carried for two weeks.
Coming up: The Mets play two Saturday: a home game against the Nationals, beginning at 1:10 p.m ET, and a game against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. Chan Ho Park starts the home game opposite Jerome Williams. Aaron Sele pitches for the Mets against the Orioles. The Orioles' starter is scheduled to be Erik Bedard.