BY JOE RINI
Preseason prognosticators who pegged the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins as consensus winners of the Eastern Division with the Mets barely glimpsing first place from a distance have been defied by the New Yorkers first half success. As major league baseball returns from the All-Star break this weekend, the Mets find themselves in third place with a record of 46 and 40, 4 1/2 games behind the Washington Nationals, but in the thick of the playoff hunt as they trail the Atlanta Braves by only 1⁄2 game for the second wildcard spot.
Concerns about Johan Santana were allayed as he overcame shoulder surgery, stabilized the Mets rotation and pitched the first no-hitter in the franchise’s 50 year history. After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and the Best Seller Lists, R.A. Dickey pitched consecutive one-hiiters and was selected to the All-Star team with a record of 12 and 1. February Mets fans who wanted David Wright traded for prospects at the July trading deadline, now want the team to sign the National League’s third leading hitter and his .351 batting average to a contract extension.
The team’s resilience has been exemplified by the offense’s success scoring two out runs and by veterans Scott Hairston and Chris Young capably replacing the injured Jason Bay and Mike Pelfrey. Rookies Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin, and other Buffalo Bison callups have been key contributors and the departure of Jose Reyes has barely stirred a whimper with the capable play of Miguel Tejada.
However, while starting pitching has been a strength of the team this season, two starters were felled by injuries in recent days as Johan Santana’s first start after the All-Star break has been delayed until Sunday because of an ankle injury suffered last
Friday against the Cubs. More significantly, pitcher Dillon Gee was hospitalized Tuesday with numbness in the fingers of his right hand and found to have a blood clot in a right shoulder artery. Gee underwent an angiogram and his return is unknown as doctors seek to determine the extent of his injury. Ironically, Gee’s injury followed one of his best performances of the season as he threw eight innings of one run ball against the Cubs on Saturday.
The return from the All-Star breaks takes the Mets on the road with three games against the Braves this weekend in Atlanta followed by a trip to Washington to face the Nationals. The Mets are 18-12 against their division rivals but have lost four out of six to the Nationals, who they will play 12 times in the second half of the season.
Among the other questions/concerns to be answered as the season progresses are strenghtening the bullpen; whether Johan Santana’s surgically repaired shoulder can sustain another 15 starts down the stretch; what deals the team may make at the July 31 trading deadline; and whether the playoff push causes the Mets to call up the highly touted prospect Matt Harvey from Triple-A Buffalo sooner than they may have anticipated.
In other news, Reggie Jackson questioned the Hall of Fame credentials of the late Gary Carter (among others) in Sports Illustrated, thus irking more Mets fans this week than in any other week since powering the Oakland As to a World Series win over the Mets in 1973. Perhaps Jackson was suffering from a case of Reggie Bar deprivation, causing him to forget that Carter was the National League catcher for many of the All-Star games that he played in, but to his credit, Mr. October apologized to the Carter family for his remarks.