ST. LOUIS - The Mets have much bigger problems than how to handle a middling utilityman with a penchant for irritating his own teammates. And they showed it in a 10-4 loss to the Cardinals last night in which starter Dillon Gee lasted just four innings and the Mets didn't score until they trailed 9-0.
The loss was the Mets' fifth straight, dropping them to a season worst eight games below .500. But with the team in free fall, manager Terry Collins found himself defending his handling of Jordany Valdespin, whose antics have been a frequent source of tension.
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"I don't answer to fans," Collins said. "They don't play this game. They have no idea what goes on, what goes on in there. They have absolutely no idea what it means to be a professional teammate at this level."
Collins was responding specifically to a question referring to the unflattering perception that he left Valdespin on an island on Saturday, when he pinch hit him in a situation in which he was due to get plunked.
"I don't care what the perception is," Collins said. "All I know is what goes on here. I've been doing this for 42 years. I don't care what anybody on the outside thinks. I know how to get it done in the clubhouse. I've been getting it done a lot longer than a lot of people. He's fine. He handled it great."
On Friday night, Valdespin flipped his bat and jogged the bases slowly after homering late in a one-sided loss. The next day, he was plunked by a pitch when he pinch hit.
But the issue flared up again Tuesday when a published report citing anonymous sources alleged that Valdespin attempted to talk his way out of pinch hitting against the Pirates. Collins denied the report, saying that Valdespin shied from a potential at-bat later in the game.
Nevertheless, Valdespin tweeted what seemed to be a response. "They criticize me to lower my self-esteem but I go straight to the top," Valdespin tweeted in Spanish Tuesday. "I wasn't born to lose."
The incident reignited tensions surrounding Valdespin, whose behavior has made him unpopular within his own clubhouse. The Mets also faced criticism for a perceived lack of support for one of their own, especially when the Mets didn't retaliate. Veteran catcher John Buck disputed the notion.
"If we didn't, there wouldn't have been a couple players who talked to him," said Buck, who added that retaliation wouldn't have been appropriate under the circumstances.
"He understands why he got hit," Buck said. "If we start throwing at people, and beaning people, we're putting other people in danger as well. Baseball has a way of historically monitoring itself so that stuff doesn't get out of hand."
Buck said he addressed the situation almost immediately with Valdespin. "He hit it, I called him over, right after we all gave him high fives to talk about it," said Buck, who called Valdespin apologetic. "I explained to him what he did. It wasn't necessarily a smart thing to do."
Buck left Valdespin with another piece of advice: wear extra padding the next time he came to the plate. Valdespin listened, wearing the armor when on Saturday, when he took a 94-mph fastball off his arm.
Collins was quick to play down the incident. "To be honest, one of the things that's caused this is that we're not playing very good, so everybody is looking for something to write about," he said. "A lot of stuff you usually handle in house."