David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
Jordany Valdespin acted just like everyone expected he would Saturday when Pirates reliever Bryan Morris drilled him on the right forearm with a retaliatory 94-mph fastball.
He carried the bat with him halfway down the first-base line, which always makes for some anxious moments, before flipping it, end over end, toward the Mets dugout. When the seventh inning was over, Valdespin walked down the stairs and angrily rifled his helmet at the rack, a startling display from the volatile utility man.
The Mets' response afterward was just as predictable.
To say his own teammates and manager were happy about the Pirates using Valdespin as a pinata would be unfair. Instead, let's put it this way: They certainly didn't sound upset.
"I would have been bothered had it been somewhere up in the neck area," manager Terry Collins said. "If nothing else, he grew by it, and that's the most beneficial thing that could happen."
Though it's comforting to know Collins might have been angry if Valdespin were knocked unconscious, this whole Valdespin affair, which escalated to another level Saturday, has grown into an unnecessary distraction for a team with much bigger problems. The Mets were embarrassed in an 11-2 loss, staged before too many empty seats at Citi Field, yet a few of the players were laughing in the clubhouse because Valdespin ducked the waiting reporters.
Valdespin still has plenty of maturing to do. That's obvious. And if he winds up "pimping" after a home run again, as he did in Friday's blowout by taking his time getting to first base, then he's beyond repair.
But as long as Valdespin remains on the 25-man roster and is wearing a Mets uniform, then his teammates have to at least pretend to stick up for him. Making fun of Valdespin or ripping him constantly to the media is no way to try to build a winning foundation in Flushing, which is what is supposed to be going on there.
Not once Saturday did any of the Mets say they don't like to see one of their own get hit by a pitch -- on purpose, no less. The discussion mostly involved talk about lessons learned and growing pains.
Sorry, but throwing members of your team under the bus because the Pirates thought they were shown up just doesn't sit right. Whether Valdespin was in the wrong or not, why should the Mets care how the Pirates feel?
David Wright, the team's captain, came the closest to acknowledging Valdespin as someone who at least shares the same clubhouse.
"We obviously try to help him," Wright said. "We're here for him, and he knows that, and we talked to him after the game. I think he was mad because he got hit by a 94-mph fastball on the forearm. That hurts.
"He knows we support him. Obviously, we can't make him run any faster down to first base after home runs. That rubs some people the wrong way."
Eventually, we'd like to believe that the Mets will be beyond having to instruct their players how to play the game correctly at the major-league level. But if they have a problem with Valdespin, and he's going to keep being singled out for everything that's dysfunctional about the franchise, then there's no point in keeping him around.
At best, Valdespin is a part-time player and a pinch hitter with occasional pop. The Mets' decision-makers feel that he keeps getting exposed when used on a more regular basis, and the numbers bear them out. For that reason, he's probably been more trouble than he's worth, given the grief that he seems to have caused.
But the Mets aren't exactly swimming in talent these days, and if they think he can help them win games, this Valdespin drama has to end. He can't continue to be a punching bag for his own teammates, as well as the other club. It's a pointless exercise, and Collins has to realize that by now. "I want to close the book on Jordany Valdespin," the manager said.
That's better than throwing it at him, which is all the Mets have done lately. And if Valdespin can't act like a major-league player, everyone would be better off having him continue his education in Las Vegas.