And for one day, anyway, the Mets took an offramp from the road to perdition behind pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who had no say in the team’s mode of transportation. Pelfrey had been excused ahead of the team meeting called Tuesday night by Manuel, groping for ways to end a five-game skid that sent the team careening to a 9-18 record in June, the Mets’ worst month in almost six years.
“I told him that if he’d been at the meeting,” Manuel told reporters after Pelfrey went 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 win Wednesday over the Brewers, “he’d have thrown a no-hitter.”
Pelfrey came up big the day after the team’s ace, Johan Santana, not only was whacked around by the Brewers, giving up a mammoth home run to Prince Fielder, but also succumbed to the daft way the Mets have been playing with alarming regularity. Santana’s wild throw to third while backing up home, which followed closely on the heels of shortstop Alex Cora’s errant relay throw, enabled Ryan Braun to make a complete circuit on what is charitably called a Little League home run.
The team’s epidemic of injuries is no match for the number of self-inflicted casualties that have afflicted the Mets (Ryan Church missing third base, Luis Castillo’s dropped popup, Daniel Murphy’s botched fly ball, K-Rod walking Mariano Rivera). And Manuel rightly – if not belatedly – decided that the survivors had to throw away the crutch of missing their crippled stars.
“We have enough here,” Manuel said in a call to accountability that was appealing in its directness, even if the premise might be challenged by any sober look at the Mets’ roster.
Indeed, it represented a reversal by the manager himself, who during the weekend debacle against the Yankees, when asked if the team needed to trade for help, said: “It would be dishonest if I said no.”
But help, if it is to come, appears more dependent on the emptying of hospital wards than a major trade by general manager Omar Minaya, for a reason not likely to appease Mets fans whose patience already has been frayed to the breaking point by late-season collapses the last two years.
The Mets don’t have much to offer in a deal, especially for teams looking for immediate help, and aren’t inclined to give up the few prospects they have, such as right-hander Bobby Parnell, whom Washington asked for in trade talks for first baseman Nick Johnson. Parnell almost certainly came up in the conversations the Mets had with Cleveland about Mark DeRosa before the Indians traded DeRosa to the Cardinals for another right-handed reliever with a mid-90s fastball, Chris Perez.
One major league scout assigned to the Mets farm system said he found little of interest on a recent visit to Triple-A Buffalo outside of pitchers Jonathon Niese and Eddie Kunz, and they both need more seasoning. The best prospect, centerfielder Fernando Martinez, already has been promoted to the big leagues, though his stay may be short-lived, depending on what the Mets elect to do when Angel Pagan comes back in a couple weeks from groin injury.
The numbers bear out the scout’s analysis. Buffalo began Wednesday night 23 games under .500, having hit a league-low 38 home runs in 75 games and ranking 11th in staff ERA.
Double-A Binghamton, the scout said, is mediocre, and he still shudders at the memory of his visit last season to watch the team’s Class-A affiliate in the Florida State League, the Port St. Lucie Mets, whom he called the worst minor league team he watched all year.
Baseball America ranked the Mets’ farm system 17th among the majors’ 30 clubs, but much of the promising talent – shortstop Wilmer Flores, pitcher Brad Holt (recently promoted to Binghamton), third baseman Jefry Marte – are still in the lower minors. Part of the shortage stems from two major Minaya deals of recent vintage – shipping four prospects to the Twins for Santana last year, and parting with seven players in the three-team deal that netted reliever J.J. Putz, now among the wounded – as well as a willingness to surrender draft picks for free agents. The supplemental pick the Red Sox received as compensation from the Mets for losing Pedro Martinez, for example, became top prospect Clay Buchholz, who already has a no-hitter in the big leagues.
Minaya last weekend said finding another bat is a priority, but that with so many teams still believing they’re in contention, the pickings remain slim a month before the trading deadline. So, the Mets seek to survive until the big guns are healthy and the pitching staff is replenished. Hard to do when Manuel is forced to use Murphy, whose instincts are suspect even at positions where he is comfortable, at first base, where he played just a handful of games in the minors. Alex Cora is a splendid backup infielder, but exposed when he is placed at Reyes’ spot at the top of the order. Gary Sheffield still has life in his 40-year-old bat, but his knees are in ever-present danger of crumbling. And on it goes.
So the bus, more often than not, remains idling. The Mets received good news this week when they learned center fielder Carlos Beltran doesn’t need knee surgery and should be back around the All-Star break. Reyes and starting pitchers Oliver Perez and John Maine are expected back within that same time frame.
But the road doesn’t get easier before the Mets pull into the All-Star rest stop. There’s a weekend showdown with the first-place Phillies, followed by a visit from the Dodgers, who boast the majors’ best record.
Yellow submarine, anyone?
(Kudos to Gordon Edes for writing this article)