September 2006 Archives

September 30, 2006

More worrisome details

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Not sure what this picture has to do with anything, but since the Mets are in DC, I threw it in ...
A few minutes ago, Mets PR guru Jay Horwitz came through the press box to announce that Steve Trachsel was headed back to San Diego for "personal reasons" and will not start tomrrow's season finale against the Nationals. The Mets also did not say when Trachsel would return, and it is unclear how this affects his status as the anticipated Game 3 starter.

Also, Carlos Delgado was scratched from tonight's lineup because of "general soreness." It's not unusual to see Delgado sporting a huge ice pack on his left elbow walking around the clubhouse, and he's had tendinitis issues in the past. Cliff Floyd was not in the lineup either, but hopes to play tomorrow.

Pedro out for eight months

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Pedro Martinez will have surgery to repair a tear in his right rotator cuff at some point next week and is expected to be out for eight months, Mets general manager Omar Minaya announced today at RFK Stadium.

Martinez, 34, already had been scratched for the playoffs because of a muscle tendon tear in his left calf, and during another MRI exam of his shoulder last week in New York, the damaged rotator cuff was discovered.

“You can go rehab it,” Minaya said, “but it was fairly clear the best course of action was to get surgery done on this.”

The operation will be performed at the Hospital for Special Surgery by Mets medical director David Altchek, team physician Struan Coleman and former Red Sox team physician William Morgan.

Continue reading "Pedro out for eight months" »

September 29, 2006

Willie brings the pain

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In the wake of Pedro Martinez's sobering news, manager Willie Randolph had one of his more entertaining pregame sessions today in the visitors dugout here at RFK Stadium. When asked about Jose Reyes' brutal collision with Braves catcher Brian McCann in Thursday's game, Randolph said he scolded the young shortstop for not "waffling" McCann with a more aggressive slide. The Mets manager believed that Reyes' attempt to avoid contact actually made him more vulnerable to getting his shoulder crushed by a shin guard or perhaps something even worse.

"All my players I’d like to see go in feet first or knock the ---- out of the catcher," Randolph said. "He’s trying to hurt you, so you might as well hurt him before he hurts you. So I told Jose, 'Go and try to knock the ---- out of him. 'Go through him if you can.' If you worry about a collision, you’re going to wind up getting hurt. Players don’t know how to slide these days, which is why they come up with excuses."

When someone pointed out that maybe Reyes would have been better off to let himself get tagged rather than risk an injury so close to the playoffs, Randolph laughed.

"If I saw a catcher waiting there at home plate, blocking the plate, and he didn’t have the ball, I’m like, 'Wow -- this is a perfect opportunity to waffle this guy'" Randolph said. "Next time he won’t do it."

Randolph then began throwing elbows for effect, demonstrating how he would jam a catcher in the neck. "I'd rather get him before he gets me," he said.



September 28, 2006

Lost Season for Pedro


When reporters are summoned from their seats during a game, and told that the general manager has something to say, chances are it doesn't involve the third-string catcher.

We knew the news from Omar Minaya was going to be about Pedro Martinez. And we figured it wasn't good. Minaya confirmed that when he told us that a muscle tendon tear in the left calf was discovered during an MRI in New York on Thursday. That it was the left calf, and not the right one that had sidelined Pedro for a month from mid-August to mid-September, tells you what kind of season it's been for Martinez.

At least one Met wasn't shocked at the news. "When Pedro walked off the field Thursday night," Tom Glavine said, "I don't think any of us were optimistic he'd pitch again. We all knew it was a possibility. Now it's a reality."

And the reality is, the Mets weren't really counting on him anyway. "If he was there, it was a bonus," Billy Wagner said.

El Duque: Numero Uno


Mets fans need not fret about Pedro Martinez not being ready to start Game 1 or 2 of the Division Series. They can just ask Yankees fans how they felt when Orlando Hernandez pitched in the postseason: In a word, confident.

El Duque may have been the Yankees' best money pitcher not named Mariano Rivera during his five seasons in pinstripes. His postseason record is brilliant: 3-1 in the Division Series; 4-1 in the League Championship Series; 2-1 in the World Series. When the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 regular-season games, faced elimination in the LCS, trailing Cleveland 2-1, it was El Duque who pitched a gem in Game 4 to even the series. The Yankees didn't lose another game that October.

He may not be the El Duque of the late 1990s, but he's been the Mets' best pitcher lately and that's why Willie Randolph tabbed him to pitch Game 1 next week, with Tom Glavine set for Game 2. Figure on Steve Trachsel for Game 3 and if the Mets somehow are facing elimination in Game 4 next Sunday on the road, count on El Duque pitching on short rest, just as Glavine would if there's a Game 5. If the Mets are ahead 2-1, John Maine could get the call in Game 4.

Not to minimize the loss of Martinez, whom Randolph called "one of the best pitchers of all time," but the truth is the Mets may be better off without him. It's unreasonable to assume he'll suddenly regain the health that he admitted he hasn't had all season. It was a bad toe early and a bad calf late. It added up to a bad season.

But guess what? The Mets didn't miss him. They breezed to the NL East title with little contribution for their nominal ace. They got this far without him. They certainly can go further.

As Randolph said Thursday, "We'd love to have him, but we feel we can win without him. The people here kept us afloat all year."


September 27, 2006

The Dominos Are Falling

How Pedro Martinez pitched Wednesday night – and perhaps more importantly, how he feels on Thursday – can have a ripple effect on the entire starting rotation for the playoffs.

In a best-case scenario, Martinez pronounces himself fit, Willie Randolph agrees and Pedro starts Game 1 on either Tuesday or Wednesday at Shea. That allows Tom Glavine to prepare for Game 2 and Orlando Hernandez for Game 3.

But after allowing seven runs in less than three innings, it's looking more like a worst-case scenario for Martinez, who admitted afterwards, "I'm not confident" and basically said Randolph would be making a mistake by starting him in Game 1.

So get ready Mr. Glavine and Mr. Hernandez. Looks like you'll be the Game 1 and Game 2 starters. They'll have to re-arrange their routines. Not ideal but necessary.

"I've talked to them and told them to stay loose and stay flexible," Randolph said before Wednesday's game. "The main thing for them is to get their work in and be ready."

That goes for Steve Trachsel and John Maine, too, because Martinez sounded like he might not be ready for the Division Series at all.

The on-going health issues of Martinez and the Yankees' Randy Johnson (back) adds yet another riveting back story to the playoff plights of New York's finest baseball teams.

As if we need one!

September 26, 2006

Worry-Free Zone

These are carefree days in the Mets' clubhouse, even if they've now lost six of their last seven. The latest defeat Tuesday night, a 12-0 thrashing at the hands of the deposed Braves, couldn't wipe the smiles off the faces of most of the players who contributed to the 2006 NL East crown.

David Wright, though, was willing to speak to the recent skid. "It's about time to re-group and focus," the gritty third baseman said. "It's no knock on us to get beat by John Smoltz [who shut out the Mets for eight innings Tuesday], but we need to get going and springboard into the playoffs. This might be a blessing in disguise. It's a low point and we can only go up from here."

Manager Willie Randolph was perhaps the most relaxed guy in the room after the game. "This was an easy one to turn the page on," Randolph said. He insisted he "never wavers in my confidence" in this team and reminded one questioner, "We've played well. Best record in the National League. It's just a little down thing. It's just blah-blah-blah."

Then he delivered the line of the night, when talking about what he might discuss with his team on Wednesday. "I don't want to get all psychology major on you," he said with much mirth to the assembled media.

Writing on the Wall


Herzog here in Atlanta getting acclimated to the team I will be covering in the playoffs, home and away. Close watchers of the Newsday Blogs know that I have covered both the Mets and the Yankees throughout this season.

I'm often asked, which team is better to cover? I'd have to say the Mets this year, because of their youth and exuberance. Winning, especially in such dominating fashion, is new to them and they are enjoying every moment.

Over in the Bronx, winning the division is nothing new and many of the Yankees approach the regular season the same way the fans do: They expect to win the AL East every year, something they have done since 1998, and are more business-like and less animated about the process. Of course, the Yankees duplicated the Mets in celebrating their inevitable division crown with an enthusiastic champagne shower.

Which brings me to my next point. Having seen both teams frequently throughout 2006, I'm convinced one of them will enjoy the ultimate champagne celebration in late October as World Series champion. Which one, and will it come at the end of a Subway Series? I'll refrain from further predictions. No need to inflame an already spirited group of Bloggers of both teams, who enjoy taking shots – some on target; some cheap -- at the other team in town.


* * *

Nice touch by someone on the Braves' staff. Written in black magic marker on a white message board that is the first thing you see when you walk into the visitors' clubhouse at Turner Field were these words: "Welcome to the 2006 NL East Champion New York Mets."

As Tom Glavine observed, "There's some getting used to for people around here that when October comes around and the playoffs start, the Braves aren't playing. It had to end sooner or later. I'm happy I'm on the team that beat them."

September 25, 2006

I'm Outta Here!

Welcome to my last entry on the Mets blog for this season. I've enjoyed reading the comments of most of you and thank you for your participation. Others will continue the fine tradition of blogging that Newsday has given you since the beginning of the 2006 season while I slide over to the Yankees. I leave you with these predictions:
NL West champ: Dodgers
NL Wild card: Phillies
Mets' first-round opponent: Cardinals
NLDS:
Mets over Cardinals
Phillies over Dodgers
NLCS:
Phillies over Mets
Sorry, but that's how I see it. I'm sure 99.9% of you will disagree, but you are Mets fans. What else are you going to think? If I'm wrong, I'll see you at the parade. Enjoy the postseason.

September 22, 2006

Minor Matters

The Mets announced today that first baseman Mike Carp was named the Sterling Minor League Organizational Player-of-the-Year while righthanded pitcher Mike Devaney earned Sterling Pitcher-of-the-Year honors.
In addition, the Mets also released the 2006 Sterling Awards, emblematic of the team Most Valuable Player, for each of their nine minor league clubs.
Outfielder Lastings Milledge was the Sterling Award recipient at Norfolk (AAA) of the International League, first baseman Michel Abreu and outfielder Carlos Gomez were co-winners at Binghamton (AA) of the Eastern League, catcher Jesus Flores at St. Lucie (A) of the Florida State League, outfielder Fernando Martinez and lefthanded pitcher Jonathan Niese were co-winners at Hagerstown (A) of the South Atlantic League, outfielder Dustin Martin at Brooklyn (A) of the New York-Penn League, shortstop Emmanuel Garcia at Kingsport (R) of the Appalachian League, righthanded pitcher Josh Stinson with the Gulf Coast Mets, second baseman Greg Veloz won with the Dominican Summer League while outfielder Gabriel Zavala captured the award with the Venezuelan Summer League.

So Sori

Was Willie Randolph stumping for the Mets to sign free-agent-to-be Alfonso Soriano when he anwered a question Friday about the 40-40 man, who is in town for the weekend with the Nationals?
“I’m sure Sori is probably more offensive-minded then he ever will be. I’m sure defense is not one of his strong suits. If a club has a good leftfielder or a good leftfield situation, I’m sure he could do more than an adequate job at second base and be an asset to a club. If you have a second baseman who can put those kind of numbers up, I’m sure he probably would make them stronger.”
Won’t the Mets need a second baseman in 2007? Just asking.

September 21, 2006

In Case You Missed It . . .

--- The Mets clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs on Wednesday night when the Cardinals lost to Milwaukee, 1-0. The American League will be the home team in the World Series.
--- Paul Lo Duca was out of the lineup on Thursday after getting hit in the left thumb by a Roberto Hernandez wild pitch in the eighth inning on Wednesday. Lo Duca stayed in the game and singled in the bottom of the eighth, but came out before the top of the ninth. He had x-rays after the game. On Thursday, he said he felt better and could have played if he had to. Lo Duca has had trouble with his thumb most of the season and said it's just something he has to play through.
-- Willie Randolph called Joe Torre to congratulate him on the Yankees’ AL East title. “I told him it would be nice to make a date for late October,” he said.

September 20, 2006

Issue No. 1

OK, now let's delve into issue No. 1 for the postseason: Pedro Martinez. Pedro starts on Thursday. Are you all worried that he's not going to be able to answer the bell for Game 1 of the NLDS? Or do you think Pedro will round into form in these final two regular-season starts and be ready to go on Oct. 3 or 4? Of all the meaningless games left, do you consider Thursday's must-watch TV for Mets fans?

September 19, 2006

2006 NL East Champs

Since this blog is more yours than mine, let's hear your thoughts about the Mets' division-clinching night. If you were there, tell us your story. If you weren't, tell us what it looked like on TV. Were you in the car and heard it on the radio? Or were you sitting at your computer at some distant outpost wishing you were there? We'll have plenty of time to dissect the playoffs. Let's talk about last night.

September 18, 2006

Subway Race


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Each day that passes without a victory, the Mets leave the door open a crack for the Yankees to possibly beat them in the sprint to clinching the division title. Heading into Monday's games, the Yankees' Magic Number stood at 4, which gives the Mets a little leeway, and manager Willie Randolph said he wasn't worried about having the crosstown rivals clinch first.

"They're going to get there also," Randolph said. "Not that it's a race. It doesn't matter who gets it done first. Once you get there, we've still got a lot of baseball left to play."

But does it matter to Mets fans? Do those bragging rights mean anything at this point, if only to kick off the trash talking before a possible Subway Series next month?

September 17, 2006

DNP at PNC


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Cliff Floyd, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green and Jose Valentin are noticeably absent from today's lineup against Pirates lefthander Zach Duke.
Here's the lineup that will try to nail down the clincher -- on the third attempt.

Reyes -- SS
Chavez -- RF
Beltran -- CF
Delgado -- 1B
Wright -- 3B
Woodward -- 2B
Milledge -- LF
Stinnett -- C
Maine -- RHP

Asked about Lo Duca not being on the field for what could be a momentus afternoon, manager Willie Randolph joked, "He had his chance." It was Lo Duca who flied out to strand Green at second base in the ninth inning of Saturday's 3-2 loss at PNC Park.

September 16, 2006

What's with the roll call?


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OK, I usually don't check in on this type of stuff, but maybe some of the Mets fans out there can help with this one. The Mets are on the field stretching right now for tonight's game at PNC Park, and their fans are behind the visitors dugout -- doing the Yankees' roll call. You know, clapping and chanting players' names until they respond with a wave or tip of the cap. Why? Why are Mets' fans copying something that originated in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium? Does that make any sense? Isn't that some sort of baseball blasphemy?

It doesn't happen at Fenway Park, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than Mets fans should avoid the roll call of their bitter intracity rival. Don't you agree?

Cutting room floor ...


Just a couple of tidbits that never found their way into Saturday's Newsday. Enjoy.

-- Manager Willie Randolph said Friday that Dave Williams was removed from the rotation to make room for Pedro Martinez’s return that night, keeping the Mets at six starters.

-- The Mets are considering Columbus, Ohio – home of the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate – as the new site for their top minor-league club, a person familiar with the situation said. The Orioles and Nationals also are in the running, with negotiations expected to kick off Saturday.

September 15, 2006

Wagner for Cy Young?


The Mets have begun openly campaigning for Billy Wagner in this year's Cy Young race. This release was sent out today to at at least one of the BBWAA voters

BILLY WAGNER

Since the inception of the Cy Young Award in 1956, five relief pitchers have been honored, could the Mets’ Billy Wagner be the sixth? With two weeks to go, here are Wagner’s credentials.

“Minutes after Billy became a free agent last winter, I called him to let him know of our interest,” said Mets General Manager Omar Minaya. “We went down to his house in Virginia and told him that he could be the guy to solidify our bullpen and lead us to the post-season. He’s more than lived up to those expectations.”

“Saves are a just a number,” said Mets Manager Willie Randolph. “I’ve used him so many times to nail down an important win for us in non-save situations. He’s given our bullpen a sense of completeness that we didn’t have last year.”


¨ Is fourth in the majors with 13 saves when entering a game with a one-run lead…San Diego’s Trevor Hoffman is first with 15…Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon and the Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez are tied for second with 14.
¨ Has converted his last 16 save opportunities and has saved 24 of his last 25 chances.
¨ Has allowed two runs in his last 18.0 innings (1.00 ERA) dating back to August 2nd.
¨ Is tied for first in the NL with Trevor Hoffman and is tied for third in the majors with 38 saves, is fourth among NL relievers with a 2.14 ERA, is third with 86 strikeouts and is fifth with a .206 batting average against.
¨ Has at least one strikeout in 51 of 65 appearances (86 strikeouts in 67.1 innings – 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings).
¨ Is five saves shy from tying Armando Benitez’ club record 43 saves in 2001.
¨ Moved into 12th place on the All-Time Save List with his 321st save after preserving New York’s 6-4 win on September 12th at Florida…Troy Percival is 11th on the List with 324 saves…Has already passed Jose Mesa, Rick Aguilera, Rod Beck, Bruce Sutter, Doug Jones, Jeff Montgomery, Rich Goosage, Tom Henke and Robb Nen this year.
¨ Became the fourth Met to record 30-or-more saves in a season with his 30th save on August 19th vs. Colorado when he preserved a 7-4 win…The others are Jesse Orosco (1984), John Franco (1990, 1991, 1994, 1997-1998) and Armando Benitez (2000-2002)…Now has seven seasons of 30-or-more saves (1998-1999, 2001-2003, 2005).
¨ Recorded his 12th career save of five-or-more outs and second with the Mets on July 30th at Atlanta in New York’s 10-6 win.
¨ Notched his 300th career save on July 4th vs. Pittsburgh in a 7-6 victory…Became the 20th pitcher to reach that plateau and only the third lefthanded pitcher to do so…John Franco and Randy Myers are the others… Ranks sixth among active relievers in saves and is third on the All-Time Save List by lefties.

September 13, 2006

Not tonight

The Mets learned in the second inning tonight that they would have to wait until at least tomorrow before clinching the National League East. As soon as the giant teal scoreboard in left-centerfield showed the Game 1 final from Turner Field-- PHI 6, ATL 5 -- the champagne could be packed away for Pittsburgh.

Not that the Mets seemed overly concerned about clinching before the game anyway. Instead of watching the first game of the Phillies-Braves doubleheader, which began at 4:35 p.m., the players had the White Sox-Angels game on one big-screen TV and the movie "Red Dragon" on the other.

Manager Willie Randolph did have a cigar ready, however, sitting upright on his desk. The stogie, an Opus X Forbidden, was a gift from assistant trainer Mike Herbst. Still, cigars have been bad luck for Randolph. When Mike Piazza presented Randolph with a cigar last season, meant to commemorate his first victory as manager, the Mets opened the season 0-5.

September 12, 2006

Blame it on the rain

It's raining again here at Dolphin Stadium, which means tonight's game is being delayed for the second time in a little more than an hour. It's not the Marlins' fault that nobody comes to watch this plucky team make a run for the NL wild card. Who wants to spend an evening in South Florida getting rained on? Not the best way to spend your entertainment dollar, and I'm sure the huddled masses in plastic ponchos I'm looking at right now feel the same way.

Before the game, manager Willie Randolph didn't provide much insight into the postseason roster. And with the playoffs still more than two weeks away, he's already getting tired of the questions. The bottom line is that Mets will have four starters available for the Division Series, but they may not need to use all of them if the series goes the full five games. As GM Omar Minaya said, "We'll see how things are going." If the situation is dire, expect Tom Glavine to come back on three-day's rest for a Game 4 and Pedro Martinez for Game 5 on his regular turn.

Beyond that, the Mets are preparing to bid adieu to the Braves, who are one game away from having their run of 14 straight division titles ended. Tonight's game between Atlanta and the Phillies was rained out, so if the Mets and Marlins are postponed as well, the Braves may live for one more day. Either way, the streak will soon be over, and Minaya paid his respects this afternoon.

“If there was a Nobel Prize in baseball, they would be voted a Nobel Prize for the work they’ve done there,” Minaya said. “They’ve done it right. They’re like the model of success in the past 15 years.”

September 11, 2006

Willie vs. Joe

Willie Randolph would be a lock for Manager of the Year if not for his former Yankee colleague, Joe Girardi. Randolph's Mets may have the best record in baseball, but Girardi has the Marlins on the brink of a playoff berth with a payroll the size of Carlos Beltran's annual salary. Getting more bang for the buck goes a long way when it comes to voting for this award, and if the Marlins make the playoffs, Girardi should be a slam dunk. When asked about the Mets' sizable payroll hurting his chances, Randolph took exception to that being a factor in the debate.

"Sometimes it’s tougher to manage a club like that, when you have egos, talent, and injuries come into play," Randolph said. "A lot of intangibles come into play that you don’t even know about."

So what do you think? Who's the better manager this season?

September 7, 2006

No No-Hitter, but Plenty of Pitchers

By MARK HERRMANN
There evidently is no jinx in talking about it before the game, so Willie Randolph had this to say yesterday afternoon about Tom Glavine’s start last night: “Maybe it will be a no-hitter. That would be nice.”
History, of course, didn’t endorse that idea. The fact the Mets never have had a no-hitter hit home freshly Wednesday night when the Marlins notched the fourth no-hitter in their history. Anibal Sanchez was the latest to do it for a franchise that got started 31 years after the Mets did.
Anyway, with due respect to the Marlins, the Mets have bigger fish to fry, in terms of pitching. The Mets must decide how many pitchers to keep on the postseason roster, and who they might be.
Interesting is that starters Dave Williams and Oliver Perez could barely have pitched better than they did in the doubleheader Wednesday (no, neither had a no-hitter, but they allowed only one run between them). Still they didn’t do much to enhance their chances of pitching in October.
“I’m not auditioning anybody here,” Randolph said. “Dave Williams could be 5-0, but I’m not going to go, `Hey, he’s 5-0, I’ve got to get him in.’ I might, but…
“That,” the manager said of the postseason, “is a whole different animal, a totally different situation.”

September 6, 2006

Playoff ticket lottery


METS LAUNCH POSTSEASON TICKET ONLINE REGISTRATION ON METS.COM

Random Online Drawing Provides Fans Access For Single Game Ticket Purchase
For All Potential Postseason Games At Shea

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 6, 2006 – The New York Mets today announced the launch of an online drawing for the opportunity to buy tickets to potential 2006 Mets postseason games at Shea Stadium. Fans selected through the random online drawing on mets.com will have the opportunity to purchase tickets for potential postseason games at Shea.

All fans that register now on mets.com will automatically be eligible for the random drawing for single game ticket purchase for potential National League Division Series (NLDS), National League Championship Series (NLCS), and World Series games at Shea. There is no fee and no purchase necessary to register. There is a limit of one entry per person. In the case of multiple entries for the same individual, only one entry received will be entered in. There is no assurance that any particular registrant will be selected. Opportunities to purchase tickets are non-transferable.

Registration for the NLDS drawing closes at midnight Tuesday, September 12th. However, fans may register after that for additional potential series. A limited number of fans will be selected in a random drawing and will be notified via e-mail by Friday, September 15th with instructions regarding the online purchase of up to four tickets to one NLDS game at Shea. Tickets start at $45 each for the NLDS games and must be purchased with a major credit card. MasterCard is the preferred choice of the Mets. Per ticket and per order fees will apply.

Single game ticket sales for the Mets’ possible participation in the NLCS and World Series will be conducted in the same manner, at dates to be announced, from the same pool of online registrants.

For more information, visit mets.com or call the Mets Ticket Office at 718-507-TIXX.

Beltran's back

Minutes after Willie Randolph said Carlos Beltran wasn't ready to play in Game 2 of today's doubleheader, the rightfield scoreboard indicated otherwise. The No. 15 and CF is clearly posted in the third slot between Anderson Hernandez and Cliff Floyd, who also is returning for the nightcap.

Beltran hopped from the dugout to cheers from the sparse crowd, and is now on the field doing stretching exercises. Stay tuned.

September 5, 2006

Thoughts for a Rainy Day

The Mets' clubhouse is filled with new faces as the roster expands, as it always does after Sept. 1. The wrinkle this time is that the minor-league call-ups – and some players that have been here for a while -- may get playing time for a different reason. In the past, September meant playing time for youngsters auditioning for the future on a Mets team that was out of contention. This time, the auditions might be for a spot on the postseason roster of one of baseball's best clubs.

The Mets have some injury issues that could open some October positions. If leftfielder Cliff Floyd can't get his aching Achilles under control, Lastings Milledge could challenge veteran Michael Tucker for a reserve outfielder's spot.

If backup catcher Ramon Castro doesn't get back from the DL, Kelly Stinnett could put some pressure on Mike DiFelice for that job.

The pitching picture is a bit muddled, too, with the uncertain health of dual aces Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine. Presumably both will be fully recovered by the end of the month, meaning only two other spots in the rotation -- at most -- are open. El Duque, with his past playoff resume, seems the solid choice as the No. 3 starter come October, while the club's winningest pitcher, Steve Trachsel, could find himself in the uncomfortable position of No. 4, with a limited role. Depending on how the off days break and how long each series lasts, the No. 4 starter often goes unused.

And what about John Maine, who has pitched so well of late? He could be out of the playoff picture, though it's a picture that remains out of focus.

Humber Is Humbled

He may not pitch an inning in a major-league uniform this month, but no player was happier to put on the uniform before last night's game – that was eventually rained out – than pitching prospect Phillip Humber.

Humber, a first-round draft choice in 2004, had reconstructive elbow surgery last July. He said last night that he was worried when he first arrived in spring training because he couldn't even throw off a mound yet.

But he recovered so well that after excelling in seven starts at Class A St. Lucie, he was promoted to Double-A Binghamton on Aug. 1 and had a 2.28 ERA in six starts. That, plus he hard work to come back from the serious surgery, earned him a recall that he'll remember forever.

"Just to be around this team is an honor," Humber said. "If I pitch at all, it's icing on the cake. My arm feels great."

He said his fastball is in the 91-94 range, just about what it was before his surgery, and he had command of his curve and changeup as well. "Willie [Randolph] told me to soak it all in," Humber said. "I can't wait to watch guys like John Smoltz [scheduled to start for the Braves today] pitch in front of 40,000 people."

Randolph called Humber, "a part of our future. It's nice to give him a taste of the big-league experience. He worked hard. It's a reward."

The ultimate reward would be for Humber to get into a game. Randolph said it's not in his immediate plans, but once the Mets clinch, why not give the kid a chance?

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