Mets amazin' mess
Amid the chaos at Shea, one Met says playing for Art Howe is like "playing for your grandfather."
NEW YORK -- Another day, another day's imprisonment in the Mets' endless summer. Just when it feels like the 2004 season can't become any more grotesque, a fresh wound is opened at Shea. This time, it was Sunday's 10-2 flogging by the Dodgers that accelerated the Mets' downward spiral -- assuming that's even possible.
In just one month, the Mets have gone from NL East contenders to such complete disarray, irate fans are clogging the lines of radio call-in shows. Their targets? The front office, for its hasty acquisition of Victor Zambrano from the Devil Rays for Scott Kazmir, the franchise's No. 1 pitching prospect. Art Howe is feeling heat, too -- and not just from ticket buyers.
Word is, owner Fred Wilpon will consider firing Howe if the Mets finish with another 90-loss season. They lost six of seven last week and are just 3-15 against contending teams since Zambrano and Kris Benson arrived. Even though Howe has two years and $5 million remaining on his contract, executives are aghast at the team's listless play and were particularly troubled by comments from the clubhouse after a 10-3 loss to the Padres, who completed a four-game sweep, on Thursday.
Cliff Floyd, usually clear-eyed and optimistic, all but issued a concession speech when he said, "things aren't looking bright. There's no light at the end of the tunnel."
Mike Cameron, another upbeat Met, echoed the dreary sentiment, saying, "San Diego took everything we had away from us. They took everything."
The Mets' hierarchy moved swiftly against both players. GM Jim Duquette confronted Floyd and Cameron the very next day to ensure "that kind of attitude doesn't permeate the rest of the year."
A truce was reached, but the fact that Duquette was forced to respond to a clubhouse-related issue was an open indictment of the manager. Executives are increasingly concerned that Howe has lost touch with his players. One veteran said, "it's like playing for your grandfather."
That dissatisfaction has apparently reached the highest level of the organization. According to one insider, Jeff Wilpon, the son of the owner and the club's chief operating officer, bluntly told Howe, "you're too weak."
The irony, of course, is that Howe was hired for precisely that gentle demeanor. Wilpon decided the Mets needed a calmer influence after the volatile Bobby Valentine was dismissed after the 2002 season. But Howe rarely appears troubled or angry after losses. Indeed, after the Padres' sweep, the manager asked why reporters keep coming to his office, since, in his words, "it's the same old song."
What the Mets would have preferred from Howe was a blistering wake-up speech to his players. One official stiffly said, "if Art had taken charge and said, "no one in here is giving up," I guarantee you Floyd and Cameron wouldn't have said a word to the press."
To be fair, though, Howe isn't the only Met with blemishes. The injury-list is unfathomably long, reducing their current lineup to Double-A status. Without Mike Piazza (knee, but he'll be activated Monday), Kaz Matsui (back spasms) and Jose Reyes (fractured tibia), one National League scout said "the Mets don't have a prayer" taking a series from a contending team.
Yet, it was only six weeks ago, on July 15, the scent of success wafted through Shea. Only two games over .500, the Mets were nevertheless one game out of first place. At that point, the Mets abandoned their longer-range goal of a 2006 run for the pennant. Instead, they embraced a new philosophy, articulated by Duquette.
"Any time you can shoot for the playoffs," he said, "you go for it."
Had the Mets moved swiftly, they might've enjoyed a kinder fate. Instead, they waited until July 30 to acquire Benson from Pittsburgh and, 15 minutes later, Zambrano from Tampa Bay. The Mets chose to ignore the standings -- and history. They were six games out and in fourth place, yet gambled wildly, giving up three of their top prospects in Kazmir, Matt Peterson and Justin Huber.
As ESPN.com's Alan Schwarz recently noted, there have been 112 teams in the Mets' shoes since 1969 -- that is, being between 4 and 6½ games back on July 31 -- and only nine have come back to win. Of that small group, just one team, the 1984 Royals, were able to climb over three other teams. That means the Mets, in all their delusion, failed to realize they had less than a 1 percent chance of catching the Braves.
The Mets have paid a huge price for their short-sightedness. Turns out Zambrano had a bad elbow even before the trade, and, currently on the DL, may be out the rest of the season. Benson has a 6.43 ERA since becoming a Met, and after allowing the Dodgers five runs and eight hits in four innings on Sunday, admitted, "my shoulder is tired."
No wonder the fans are angry and why other teams' executives still shake their heads in disbelief. The Mets' public relations nightmare only deepened when Kazmir threw five shutout innings against the Mariners in his major league debut on Aug. 22, topping out at 97 mph. Kazmir's victory was an embarrassment to the Mets, who'd insisted the 20-year-old lefty needed another 200 innings in the minors.
But, in perfect spin-control, pitching coach Rick Peterson said Kazmir's success "proved he learned something from our system."
If they were honest, the Mets would admit they were relieved when Kazmir was rocked by the A's in his second start on Sunday, allowing six runs in three innings.
It's a negative pleasure, rooting against a rookie, but it's all the Mets have these days. The real fun at Shea evaporated long ago.
Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Mauer only Twin with hit off Tigers' Sanchez
- Granderson fractures pinkie after hit by pitch
- Nats' Zimmermann first in NL to win 8 games
- Dodgers' CEO says Mattingly's job safe for now