Mets' .246 average leads to Walling's exit

NEW YORK -- Frustrated by a season-long struggle to score runs, the New York Mets fired batting coach Denny Walling on Tuesday and replaced him on an interim basis with bench coach Don Baylor.

The Mets went into Tuesday night's game against Cleveland batting .246, next to last in the major leagues, trailed only by Montreal. The team was particularly bad with the bases loaded, going only 6-for-59 (.102).

"I made the decision based primarily on results," general manager Jim Duquette said. "It had nothing to do with his work ethic or what we think of him as a person.

"We've struggled with what to do. Our failures are well known.
We tried a number of things that didn't work. We felt the timing
was now. Maybe a different voice with a different message will help."

The Mets' problems don't extend to pitching -- their 3.61 team ERA leads the National League -- but the offense needs an infusion and a trade might provide one. The Astros, for instance, have let the Mets know that outfielder Richard Hidalgo would be available in a deal, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. The Astros would want a prospect in return for Hidalgo, according to the report.

Walling came to the Mets a month after the team hired manager
Art Howe in October 2002. Howe called him a close friend and was
not happy with the firing.

"I know the offense has had problems," Howe said. "Everybody
knows how much trouble we've had scoring runs. You realize
something like this can happen and it has. Denny did everything
possible to get the guys going. It just did not happen. Sometimes,
things don't sink in."

In a statement released by the Mets, Walling expressed his
unhappiness with the situation.

"Sure, I'm disappointed it didn't work out," he said, "but
that's part of the game. The thing that's the most disappointing to
me is that I know the team is not that far from turning it around.
I'm just sorry I'm not going to be a part of it"

Walling and Howe were teammates from 1977-83 with Houston. He
played for the Astros in 1992 when Howe managed that team and was
Oakland's hitting coach from 1996-98 when Howe managed the

"This didn't come out of left field," Howe said. "I knew if
it continued, something would happen."

Baylor has been a Mets bench coach for two seasons, sharing the
job this year with Bobby Floyd. He has worked as a hitting coach
for the Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals
and managed the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies.

Hidalgo, who's missed the last three games with a sore neck, has cooled off drastically after a red-hot April. The Astros are willing to pick up part of his $12 million salary; the club holds a $2 million option on next year's contract, which would pay Hidalgo $15 million should the Astros exercise the option.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.