David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Terry Collins described the Mets as "tired" after yesterday's 8-4 loss to the Phillies at Citi Field. Consider that manager-speak for overexposed, and with a roster as thin as the paper it's printed on, the timing could not be worse at this particular part of the schedule.
We already knew depth would be an issue for the Mets. But it reached the crisis level Monday when David Wright was forced to play shortstop for six innings -- the most time he's spent there since his senior year at Hickory High.
It's not often that teams run out of shortstops. But with Ruben Tejada still recovering in Port St. Lucie and Ronny Cedeño nursing a calf strain that initially was described as a more benign cramp, the Mets couldn't afford an injury to Justin Turner, who also happened to be their leadoff hitter on Memorial Day.
So when Turner went down with what the Mets called an ankle sprain -- he looked to be in much more pain than that -- it was not the easiest blow to absorb, for Monday's game as well as the weeks ahead. The Mets were lucky in one respect, however: Wright avoided contact with Jimmy Rollins on the pivotal hit-and-run play that led to the Phillies' go-ahead run in the seventh.
Wright probably did so by accident. A full-time shortstop would have turned the double play. But one loss is nothing compared with the soul-crushing impact of another injury to Wright, which would have left the Mets in serious trouble for the Hell Month that awaits them.
The Mets are wrapping up a stretch of 20 consecutive games without a day off; they are 9-9 with two left against the Phillies. That's a pretty decent run, especially without Tejada, Josh Thole, Jason Bay, and if you want to go back that far, Mike Pelfrey.
"Every day is a test," Daniel Murphy said, "and it's been a test since we've been five games into this thing. I don't know about it being a gut check, but we've got the pieces on this ballclub to put it together."
We'll see about that. The Mets' big move after the game was to announce that shortstop Omar Quintanilla and righthander Chris Schwinden were en route from Buffalo. Nothing else was imminent, and Collins said Quintanilla is likely to be his starter Tuesday night.
Schwinden's arrival is a short-term pitching fix as the Mets await Pedro Beato, Miguel Batista and even Jenrry Mejia down the line. But Manny Acosta probably is a goner, which would be addition by subtraction.
The Mets have relied on solid pitching from their starters and excellent situational hitting in climbing to five games over .500 (27-22) and a second-place tie with the Marlins in the NL East. But how they perform during the next month could very well make or break their season.
They are in the midst of eight straight series against above-.500 clubs, a killer lineup that features the Phillies, Cardinals, Nationals, Yankees (twice), Rays, Reds and Orioles. Way off in the distance, a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel, sit the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 25.
"Mentally, it's a challenge, more so than physically," said Scott Hairston, who homered for the second time in three games. "But we've been a resilient team. I think we've shown that."
The Mets already have squeezed plenty from this group. That Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and yes, even Vinny Rottino have been key contributors this early in the season has been almost too much to ask. But the Mets are about to face more complete teams, deeper teams, in the days ahead.
"We've got to grind it out," Collins said. "That's what our business is about. That what's our game's about: to go out every day and do the best you can no matter who you're playing."
The effort is there. Collins, to his credit, has made sure of that. Whether the Mets have enough players is the bigger question, and one that will be answered sooner rather than later.