David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Wilmer Flores did it. So did Curtis Granderson, during his bumpy first year in Flushing. And David Wright? Well, he's the Mets' captain for a reason.
Playing in New York, regardless of whether it's the Bronx or Queens, always involves more than just showing up at the stadium, taking a few swings and going home. The good times are great here. Winning here creates legends.
But when things aren't so fantastic, and frustration begins to chew at your insides, surfing that turbulence -- and coming out the other side -- that's what separates the true New York stars from the one-hit wonders.
Saturday, after another rough showing at the plate in the Mets' 5-0 loss to the Yankees, Yoenis Cespedes had the chance to be that guy. The one who stands in front of the TV cameras, shrugs off his current 0-for-17 skid, and maybe provides some insight into what's going on.
They've all done it. Derek Jeter, Johan Santana, Mike Piazza, CC Sabathia. Pick a team or year. And frankly, what they say at that moment doesn't matter much in the big picture; more what it says about them. But Cespedes, after going 0-for-4 and remaining hitless since the Marlins' Tom Koehler drilled him on the hip Tuesday, wasn't up to the task.
Even with the intervention of Mets PR officials, who tried to convey the importance to Cespedes of answering a few questions -- especially during the max exposure of the Subway Series -- he declined. That's his prerogative, of course.
But we've seen a ton of talented players go through much longer periods of soul-searching and still have steel skin. Scenarios like these aren't written into $180-million contracts. There's no speaking clause. It is something to consider, however, when you're a New York owner or general manager weighing the entire package, wondering how somebody will perform over the length of a sizable deal.
It's worth mentioning now because Cespedes recently had a restriction lifted from his current contract that allows him to negotiate with the Mets this winter just like any other team -- rather than limit them to a five-day window and unable to talk again until after May 15.
Cespedes also told ESPN on Friday that he plans to seek a contract of six years or more once he hits free agency in the hope it will be the last one he needs. That doesn't quite jibe with Sandy Alderson's team-building philosophy. But the Mets are keeping an open mind, and for these next few weeks, Cespedes will be under the microscope.
This brief cooling-off period was bound to happen. It's just getting more attention because he was lava-hot before the skid, batting .382 (21-for-55) with nine homers, 19 RBIs and a 1.018 OPS since Sept. 1. Consider this 0-for-17 dip as him returning to earth from Mt. Olympus.
"Unless you want him to hit .500 with 100 RBIs, inevitably you're going to slow down a little bit," Wright said. "It wouldn't surprise me for him to get hot again very soon."
Nobody can sustain what Cespedes had been doing, but it's seductive to get caught up in small sample sizes. Despite a .985 OPS with the Mets, Cespedes is .806 for his career. And with his 35 homers, he's far outpaced his previous best of 26, over 135 games for the Athletics in 2013.
Could Cespedes, who turns 30 next month, be undergoing some career-changing transformation right before our eyes? It's possible. But baseball is a self-correcting mechanism. The timing just seems odd on the heels of Koehler nailing him, and even the Mets bench has been talking about it.
"One of the coaches brought that up today during the game," Collins said. "I don't think he's afraid by any stretch of the imagination. We'll just keep running him out there."
In a slightly different spot for Sunday's finale, however. Collins intends to move Cespedes out of the No. 2 hole, where he's spent 19 of his 45 games. And in a move to perhaps change his luck, Cespedes switched his walk-up music Saturday to "Empire State of Mind," by Jay Z, who also happens to be one of his reps with Roc Nation Sports.
Being a true New Yorker, however, involves more than just the right ZIP code -- or simply wearing the uniform.