It was June 10. The early runs suggested to manager Willie Randolph that his troubled team had recovered from that sickening four-game sweep at the hands of the Padres. The return of Moises Alou -- his second return to active duty in five weeks -- and the two-run single he produced in his first swing had Randolph believing the long-awaited turnaround was beginning. And then the Mets lost, 9-5.
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Again, the Mets implemented an MO that had been so effective for them two years ago. They scored three times in the first inning. They wouldn't score again until the sixth inning, and they scored in the seventh and eighth as well. The ingredients for a victory against the visiting Giants were in place.
It was July 8. The early runs convinced manager Jerry Manuel his team still was rolling. No let up this time, even after three successive victories against the Phillies with a lineup that lacked Alou, Ryan Church and Luis Castillo. Manuel believed his team was in the midst of the long-awaited turnaround. And the Mets won, 7-0.
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Tuesday, June 10, to Tuesday, July 8 -- a four-week sequence that changed everything for the Mets. The
manager, the lineup, their outlook, their fortunes, what a three-run first inning could produce, Mike Pelfrey and perhaps their future as well.
On June 10, the Mets' season turned, all right -- 360 degrees -- and brought the Mets back to where they were before they left San Diego. The fifth successive defeat exasperated Randolph. One week before his dismissal, he lamented: "We can't keep anything going. We hit for two innings, then we stop. We get five decent innings from our starter, then the bullpen blows up. We win six out of eight, then we get swept."
No other day in the first 106 days of the Mets' uneven season was more representative of all that befell the team in Randolph's 69 games. June 10 brought Alou back, but only for his final two at-bats, and it also brought assignment to the disabled list for Church, more poor relief pitching, more peek-a-boo offense, and the demotion of Abraham Nunez, one of a host of retreads the club has brought to Queens in the absence of better-qualified depth.
Likewise, no game was more representative than the July 8 victory of the uplift that has occurred since Manuel replaced his friend. One night before the anniversary of Tom Seaver's Imperfect Game (July 9, 1969), the 2008 Mets played almost flawlessly in handling the Giants.
The victory followed the Spring Training blueprint. It came replete with seven scoreless innings from the starting pitcher, two perfect relief innings, a three-run home run from the cleanup hitter, scoring, early, often and late and a performance sans the kind of mishaps, missteps and missed cutoff men that has marked so many of the Mets' games.
|METS TOP PERFORMANCES|
6/27, NYM 15, NYY 6 -- Delgado's monster day
Carlos Delgado sets a team record a nine-RBI day against the Yankees in the Bronx.
5/28, NYM 7, FLA 6 -- Tatis' walk-off double
Fernando Tatis comes up clutch, stroking a walk-off double in a dramatic win over Florida.
5/7, NYM 12, LAD 1 -- Angel's acrobatic grab
Angel Pagan injures his shoulder on a tremendous over-the-wall grab at Dodger Stadium.
6/11, NYM 5, ARI 3 -- Belran plays stopper
The Mets snap a five-game losing streak in dramatic fashion behind Carlos Beltran's 13th-inning walk-off homer.
6/14, NYM 4, TEX 2 -- Cancel that drought
Robinson Cancel strokes his first hit since 1999, a clutch pinch-hit that drives in the decisive runs in the win.
But the greatest problem before June 10 and, really, since then has been an offensive shortfall.
"We're a bad offensive team right now," Jerry Manuel said June 24, his seventh day as Randolph's successor. And no one tried to refute that assessment.
For the most part, the offense has been like the start-to-start performances of Oliver Perez in the first three months of the season -- from one extreme to the other. The Mets scored 11 runs in beating the Yankees on May 18 and nine in the subsequent four games, all losses. They scored all their runs in the first three innings of their 8-2 victory June 25 and didn't manage a baserunner thereafter. They scored 15 runs in the first game of their doubleheader against the Yankees two days later and were shut out in the second game. They scored 25 runs and amassed 39 hits in their final three games in St. Louis earlier this month and scored twice and had four hits in their ensuing game against the Phillies.
And still David Wright used the phrase "with an offense like ours" when discussing the Mets' two-run effort against the Phillies July 4. He spoke as if this team had an offense comparable to that of the '27 Yankees, the '75 Reds ... or the 2006 Mets. It does not. The Mets' offense hasn't hibernated so much as it has dissolved.
Even with the recent surge, this offense has no single operative in the midst of a killer season or even a season comparable to what he had done in previous years. Home runs are down, and not only because the Mets' composite left fielder -- also known as Marlon, Moises, Pagan and Co. -- has produced at the level of a reserve middle infielder. And the other major flaw was this offense regularly turned wine to water after the second out of an inning until the most recent games.
The team was batting .218 with runners in scoring position and two outs through its game in Philadelphia July 6. It had raised its average in those situations to .230 by Saturday.
But no matter what the offense has done, and even if Fernando Tatis and Damion Easley make significant contributions, the batting order lacks depth and the ability to protect the top four spots with Alou gone and Church likely to be mostly unavailable. And with Carlos Delgado unable to maintain a semblance of consistency, creating an optimum everyday batting sequence is difficult and could be counterproductive.
Delgado certainly has had his moments, but they have been quite isolated. He had produced 54 percent of his RBIs in 10 percent of his games through Friday. The other side of that is he has 23 RBIs in his other 82 games, more than half a season. If he were to continue producing as he has this month for the remainder of the season -- and how likely is it that a player produces at his optimum level for weeks on end? -- he would fulfill Minaya's promise: "In the end, his numbers will be there." But they would be misleading, somewhat hollow numbers.
At the same time, Carlos Beltran produced 70 percent of his RBIs in 17 percent of his games, meaning he had 19 RBIs in his other 76 games. Wright, the team's RBI leader, had produced 60 percent of his RBIs in 18 percent of his games, leaving him with 28 RBIs in his other 76 games.
A comparison to Josh Hamilton, the leading run producer in the big leagues, shows he had 78 percent of his RBIs in 29 percent of his games, but he still drove in 26 runs in his other 65 games.
The same math applied to the Mets' feast or famine run production shows they scored 132 runs in 13 selected games and averaged just under four runs per for the remaining 80. And four runs a game will not suffice, no matter how well Pelfrey, Perez, Johan Santana, John Maine, Pedro Martinez and the relievers pitch.
Consistent run production makes the pitchers' work easier. Ten-run outbursts that lift the team's average runs per game don't win bonus points. And an average production of four runs won't win enough games.