Those able to perform didn't fare well. There wasn't much for Francisco Rodriguez to save, and he struggled at times. With the dimensions of Citi Field playing a part, Wright hit 10 home runs, 19 fewer than his four-year average and two fewer than team leader Daniel Murphy. Castillo produced a renaissance season, but his decisive misplay in the ninth inning against the Yankees on June 12 -- he dropped a routine popup -- became the defining moment of the season.
Castillo's reaction to that play and Jeff Francoeur's to the unassisted game-ending triple play his line drive produced against the Phillies on Aug. 23 were more readily associated with the Mets' season than the two plays that created the most smiles -- Gary Sheffield's 500th career home run against the Brewers on April 17 and Murphy's remarkable behind-the-back flip at first base against the Dodgers in July.
With most of its offseason renovation done in a three-day period in December, the club turned away from Scott Boras, who was selling Derek Lowe at an exorbitant price, and Pedro Martinez, who was selling himself as the piece necessary for a Mets championship, and toward Perez. The Mets, it turned out, were buying what Perez was selling. While no other club showed much interest, the Mets pursued him as if unaware of his track record. Before January ended, they signed two others -- Tim Redding and Alex Cora, all but finalizing the roster they would have in Spring Training.
Meanwhile, their players were signing up, left and right, for the World Baseball Classic.
On Groundhog Day, the Mets did something that, knowing what they know now, they probably wouldn't do again -- they signed Perez. They bestowed a three-year, $36 million contract on a pitcher whose performance in 2008 was, at best, uneven. Days later, an omen developed. Fernando Martinez, at the time the primary prospect in the organization, strained a muscle in his right elbow while playing in the Caribbean World Series. His injury was the first of many to beset the Mets in an eight-month sequence that began with Sling Training.
Before the month was over, problems with Santana's elbow (surgery was necessary in August) and Redding's shoulders surfaced, the club signed Livan Hernandez and speculated about the possible effects of the Madoff scandal on the finances. On the field, Manuel awarded the left-field assignment to Murphy, had his hitters involved in a new drill that emphasized opposite-field hitting and made public his notion of Reyes batting third. (The change happened in Spring Training games only.)
And in Queens, the demolition of Shea Stadium was completed.
Before the World Baseball Classic was completed, 16 Mets, Santana not among them, had left camp to participate in it. When Perez returned, he was seen as out of condition. Santana, once thought to be in question for the Opening Day start, made progress. Duaner Sanchez didn't and was released. More Met-ical stuff: Angel Pagan underwent elbow surgery, and Pelfrey strained a muscle in his lower left leg that would undermine his progress.
Redding's poor performances led to him beginning the season on the disabled list, Pedro Martinez repeatedly reminded news outlets of his availability and Brian Schneider's right knee developed a problem that bothered him most of the year. The thinned crowd in the Port St. Lucie, Fla., clubhouse reveled in Wright's game-winning hit against Puerto Rico in the Classic. Most of the Puerto Rican Mets were at the tournament.
After insisting they were satisfied with the personnel on the roster, the Mets signed Sheffield to a one-year contract following the second of two dress-rehearsal games against the Red Sox at Citi Field. Two days later, they won on Opening Day for the 31st time in 40 years, beating the Reds behind Santana with a revamped bullpen performing effectively.
The Mets weren't so successful in their home opener. After Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza had reprised the roles they played following the final game at Shea during the pregame celebration of Citi Field, the Padres inflicted a 6-5 victory on them, despite a three-run home run by Wright, the Mets' first homer at their new digs.
The Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the focal point of the new ballpark, was celebrated on April 15 -- the 62nd anniversary of Robinson's big league debut -- and two nights later, Sheffield rocked the ballpark when he became the 25th player in big league history to hit 500 career home runs.
Foreshadowing of the spike of injuries that was to come happened on April 27, when Delgado was scratched from the lineup because of pain in his right hip. He didn't play until May 2. The team completed April with successive losses to the Marlins, a 9-12 record and a concern about its first baseman.
The new month began with the general manager publicly acknowledging the Mets might not have played with grit comparable to that of other teams. It hardly was the only time Omar Minaya stubbed his tongue during the season. Before May was four days old, Perez was the center of attention again, following a dreadful performance in Philadelphia. The following day, he was limping and wearing an ice pack on his right knee, though when the pack was removed, he was unsure which leg was injured.
Delgado played eight straight games, batting .423 with seven RBIs, but his season ended on May 10 in the middle of the team's most successful extended run of the season. The Mets won 11 of 13 games, sweeping series in Atlanta and against the Phillies and Pirates to take sole possession of first place for eight days. They would lead the division two more days all season. Delgado underwent surgery on May 19, one day before the season ended for Reyes (hamstring tendon tear). While Murphy continued to struggle in left field, Fernando Tatis played first base. But when the Mets visited Fenway Park, Murphy batted leadoff and played first base.
The Mets achieved their grandest victory of the season on May 23, beating the Red Sox on a two-run ninth-inning home run over the Green Monster by Omir Santos. Their record, 28-21, was a season-high seven games over .500 when May ended.
The month began with three straight losses in Pittsburgh that prompted Beltran to say, "I don't know about anybody else, but being swept, I feel embarrassed, us coming here and losing three games, three games with this team. We have to play better, no doubt. We have to take this personal. It can't happen."
But as happened in 2007, June undermined the team. Reyes' situation became more unclear, and by June 22, Beltran, in the midst of a promising season, was assigned to the disabled list because of a bone bruise behind the right knee cap. He wouldn't play again until Sept. 8. By June 6, Beltran, Reyes, Delgado, Pagan, Maine, Ryan Church, Putz and Ramon Martinez were disabled. Moreover, Santana endured the worst month of his career -- a 2-4 record and a 6.19 ERA in six starts -- and the team suffered its worst loss at Yankee Stadium on June 12, when Castillo dropped what would have been the final out of an 8-7 victory. The resulting 9-8 loss was the third defeat in a 5-9 sequence that put the Mets' record one game over .500. Five straight losses at Citi Field -- three to the Yankees and two to the Brewers -- dropped the Mets two games under, though merely three games from first place on the morning of July 1.
Murphy, the full-time first baseman, made the team's play of the year at Citi Field, flipping the ball behind his back to achieve an out in a July 8 contest against the Dodgers in a game that marked the return of Perez. The following days put Fernando Martinez on the DL and brought Francoeur to the Mets in an unexpected deal with the Braves for Church. Santana, Rodriguez and Wright represented the Mets at the All-Star Game in St. Louis.
Wright's bizarre season continued. The leading hitter in the league for much of June, he produced a 1-for-23 stretch in the first days of July. His home run output continued well below his norm, and his strikeout total continued to skyrocket. His season would produce 10 homers and 72 RBIs -- both figures well below his averages for four full seasons -- and a career-high 140 strikeouts despite missing two weeks in August.
The remainder of the month brought yet another serious injury -- Fernando Nieve tore his right quadriceps in Atlanta in July, and he, too, was lost for the season after providing several solid starts -- a disabled-list assignment for Sheffield and six days of tension and embarrassment for the organization. Minaya dismissed his special assistant, Tony Bernazard, after a series of reports in The New York Daily News about Bernazard's behavior prompted an investigation. In announcing the dismissal, Minaya tied the newspaper accounts to the reporter's having sought employment with the club. He and COO Jeff Wilpon later apologized for the remarks.
The Mets won five straight games, two in Houston and three at home against the Rockies from July 25-30, but two more July losses left them 10 1/2 games from first place when July ended. They would win two straight games three more times before the end of September. Wright hit his seventh home run on the final day of the month -- his first at Citi since June 9 and his fourth overall at home.
A 10-19 record for the month ended all pretenses of the Mets reversing their fortunes and competing for the National League Wild Card. They lost Jon Niese to a season-ending injury to his right hamstring on Aug. 5, learned that the returns of Reyes, Putz and Delgado were unlikely and lost Castillo to an ankle injury suffered when the second baseman fell down the dugout steps. Need more be said?
And by month's end, the 1969 Mets had been celebrated in an arena most never seen, Cora's season had ended with the first of two thumb surgeries, Bobby Parnell's audition as a starter had produced mixed results, Perez's season had ended because of a need for knee surgery, Hernandez was released, Billy Wagner had been activated -- made a triumphant return and been traded -- Sheffield unsuccessfully had sought a contract extension and -- play the bagpipes here -- Santana was shut down for the season because of the need for elbow surgery.
Wright hit his fifth and final Citi Field home run on Aug. 5 and pushed his average to .330 two days later, but his season was interrupted on Aug. 15, when he was struck in the head by a pitch thrown by Matt Cain of the Giants. Because of the resulting concussion, he was disabled for the first time in his career. And after his return to active duty Sept. 1, Wright acknowledged being less than comfortable in the batter's box.
The Mets had been undone by September in each of the two previous seasons. This year, there was little to undo. Just the same, they lost 20 out of 28 games, the 20 losses exceeding by two the September losses suffered by Casey Stengel's hopeless 1962 team.
Despite the returns of Beltran, Maine and Wright, it was a bleak month, though Wright did provide comic relief when he wore a new helmet, big enough to fit Mr. Met. The rookies and near-rookies created some levity when they dressed for the season's final road trip as Goldilocks, Minnie Mouse and a Playboy bunny. But mostly, the season played out as expected.
Rookie Josh Thole made some positive impressions in his first big league tour of duty. Pat Misch gained his first big league victory on Sept. 27. But the month ended with three successive losses in Washington, the third turning on a two-out ninth-inning grand slam by Justin Maxwell against Rodriguez.
The first of the three losses to the Nationals guaranteed the Mets their first season of at least 90 losses since 2004. But their last series, against the Astros, produced a sweep and the team's only complete-game shutout of the season by Nelson Figueroa. Wright called the 70-92 season "a failed season," and Beltran vowed, "Next year will be different."
The Mets had tied for the league lead in batting, but ranked 12th in slugging and runs, 13th in walks and last in home runs. Their pitchers had produced the fifth-highest ERA (4.45) and allowed the second-most walks (616).
The day after the season, the club began changing personnel. First-base coach Luis Alicea and bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr. were set free, coach Razor Shines was taken off third base and batting, pitching and bullpen coaches Howard Johnson, Dan Warthen and Randy Niemann were retained. Alomar eventually left, and Chip Hale and Dave Jauss were appointed third-base and bench coaches.
On Oct. 15, a day the Mets had hoped to be playing in the postseason, Reyes underwent surgery that, he said in December, would have him back at full speed before Opening Day.
The month was mostly eventful except for Francoeur undergoing surgery, and the free-agent filings of Delgado, Putz, Sheffield, Cora, Schneider, Elmer Dessens and Tatis. Cora and Dessens re-signed, and Tatis was expected to. Schneider and Putz moved on. And Delgado and Sheffield were in limbo.
The performance of Ike Davis in the Arizona Fall League and the appointment of Wally Backman as manager of the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones produced some headlines, but despite Minaya's stated intention to be active in the free-agent market, the Mets were mostly inactive, eventually signing reserve catchers Chris Coste and Henry Blanco.
On the final day of the Winter Meetings, the Mets announced they had made offers to free agents Jason Bay and Bengie Molina, but as year's end approached, they had made no free-agent acquisitions and, because of their inactivity, incurred public grumbling.