Notes: Smith a man of ritual

Notes: Smith a man of ritual

PHOENIX -- The ritual began while Joe Smith was learning his craft at Wright State and regularly enduring a rather benign wardrobe malfunction. The bottom of the legs of his uniform pants would ride up and show more of his socks than Smith preferred. He found it necessary to make an adjustment.

That one adjustment, almost unnoticed when it began, has begat a series of uniform pulls and tugs that, over time, have become a ritual for the Mets rookie reliever, one that is neither inconspicuous or rare.

Watch him. After each out, except the final out of an inning, Smith walks to the first base side of the mound, faces the rubber, bends at the waist and "fixes" himself.

It is a four-stage process that executes with almost drill-team precision. First, he tugs at the bottom on his pant legs -- one hand on each leg. Then he adjusts the bottom of his "sliders," the long shorts worn under his uniform for protection again sliding burns (were he ever to reach base and need to slide). Again, one hand on each leg and a tug, another move of symmetry.

As he stands straight, Smith then appears to adjust the front of his belt when it fact he is trying to conceal an annoying tag inside the waist of his uniform pants. Stage 3 of the ritual also is a two-hand operation.

And, finally, standing straight, he adjusts his cap with two hands. One, two, three, four. And only then will he return to the rubber and go about his business.

The whole idea began innocently enough because of a need to feel comfortable in his uniform. Now, though, if Smith doesn't perform the four-stage ritual, he feels uncomfortable in his own skin.

"When I got to Brooklyn [his first Minor League assignment after he was drafted last summer], I figured I'd stop so I wouldn't be made fun of," he says. "But the first time I didn't do it, I pitched horrible. So I said 'Let them get on me. I'd rather pitch well.'"

His Mets teammates have noticed, of course -- little goes unrecognized, and all is fodder for clubhouse jockeying. But they hardly need ammunition. As Paul Lo Duca said, "He's a rookie, we've got all kinds of things."

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Smith's performance has made him a conspicuous rookie. He has yet to allow a run in 15 1/3 innings and, even when he has allowed inherited runners to score, mitigating circumstances have existed. The first scored on a Baltimore chop by Edgar Renteria April 7. Renteria couldn't get a good swing on Smith's slider.

No other of Smith's first 13 inherited runners scored. But he allowed two to score Saturday night when pinch-hit Miguel Montero hit a double in the seventh inning of the Mets' 6-2 victory against the Diamondbacks. That hit wasn't tainted. But Jose Reyes had dropped a ball at second base before he could make a relay to first base for what would have been an inning-ending double play.

Beltran sore: The original lineup posted by Willie Randolph on Sunday for the fourth game of the series here had David Newhan as the left fielder and Carlos Beltran in center. Endy Chavez, though seemingly recovered from his ankle scare Friday, was not playing at least partially because Randolph wanted to get some at-bats for Newhan who had yet to start. But Chavez was in the revised lineup when Carlos Beltran told the manager his legs were sore.

Moises Alou rested his swollen right knee again. He expected to have it examined by a Diamondbacks doctor. He remains uncertain about the stability of his problematic knee. "It feels OK, walking around. But I haven't played," he said.

At first, a problem: Mike Pelfrey retired the side in the first inning of his first start this season. Since then, the Mets rookie starter has been undone by the first. He allowed a run in the first Sunday against the Diamondbacks; so now he has allowed at least one in the first four straight starts. His first inning performances have yielded these figures: a 15.75 ERA, .500 on-base average, .666 slugging percentage and .333 batting average.

This date in Mets history -- May 7: Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson pitched complete games in the Mets' 3-1 victory against the Cardinals at Shea Stadium on this date in 1971. Seaver allowed six singles. Gibson was done in by doubles by Ed Kranepool, Bob Aspromonte and Jerry Grote.

Only Ryne Sandberg hit more home runs, four, against Bruce Sutter than Gary Carter. One of Carter's three came on this date in 1985. It was a grand slam in the eighth inning that fueled the Mets' 5-3 victory against the Cardinals at Shea. ... One of the most often overlooked home runs in Mets history was the one Darryl Strawberry belted off Nolan Ryan in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS. Ryan mostly toyed with Strawberry. He struck him out 15 times in their 35 regular-season confrontations. But on this date in 1986, Strawberry hit a two-run home run off Ryan, the critical hit in the Mets' 3-2 victory at Shea. The victory, Sid Fernandez's fourth without a loss, was the fourth in a sequence of seven straight that put the Mets' record at 20-4.

Coming up: The left-handed starting pitcher the Mets pursued but opted not to overpay opposes the left-handed starting pitcher the Mets thought they could fix. In other words, Barry Zito starts for the Giants Monday night in San Francisco, opposite Oliver Perez. First pitch is set for 10:15 ET.

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