Usually, in desperate times, like the daily dumpster fire burning right now at Citi Field, someone is able to step forward, to convince everybody that the Mets will get through this, that the current malaise affecting this team is not fatal.
This group, however, doesn’t seem to have that person.
It’s beyond the reach of the rookie manager, Mickey Callaway, who’s still feeling his way along the tightrope that stretches between the clubhouse and front office. Among the locker stalls, there are willing candidates, like Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and perhaps Asdrubal Cabrera, but no one seems to have the Flushing gravitas to pull it off.
In other words, David Wright isn’t walking through that door.
And that’s what made Wednesday’s pregame activities at Citi Field, long before the Mets’ sixth straight loss, this time by the score of 1-0 to the Orioles, such a study in contrast. After Wright had eagerly spent his morning inching up the rehab ladder, taking more grounders at third, Yoenis Cespedes — on Day 23 of his DL stint for a strained hip flexor — ran the bases a bit and shagged some fly balls in center.
Of all the players on the Mets’ roster, Cespedes is the one capable of propping this team on his shoulders. He’s done it in the past, and as Callaway himself said, it’s what the Mets are paying him for ($110 million, which is a king’s ransom in Flushing dollars). But Cespedes chooses to exist as an island on these Mets, refusing to give any updates on his condition to the media, and leaving team officials to tiptoe around him.
All but one, anyway. As Cespedes played catch in rightfield, Jeff Wilpon approached him — a very unusual occurrence before a game — and he stopped throwing to have a conversation. We don’t know the subject matter, since neither speaks publicly these days, but we’d like to believe Wilpon was prodding Cespedes to give it the old college try for the Subway Series this weekend.
As for what will convince the Mets to play him? Who knows. A small army of staffers, including Wilpon and Callaway, watched Cespedes go through his paces, but the manager led us to believe there’s more huddling to do. When asked if they could green-light him on a simple thumbs-up from Cespedes, the answer was no.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Callaway said.
Everything always is around the Mets, and that’s why they often have trouble getting out of their own way. On one hand, the team’s starters have pitched brilliantly, and Zack Wheeler’s seven scoreless innings Wednesday trimmed the rotation’s ERA to 2.36 over their past 18 games (incredibly they have a 5-13 record to show for it). On the other hand, the Mets’ bats have wilted.
Nothing looks worse in baseball than a team that is unable to score, and it’s not something that can’t just be fixed with more batting practice or working harder. The danger with the Mets, however, is this growing frustration is turning into something more permanent. Even when Cabrera, the team’s best hitter, resorted to laying a bunt down after Brandon Nimmo’s leadoff single in the eighth, he popped it back to reliever Richard Bleier, who then threw to first for the double play.
Maybe you take issue with Cabrera’s decision, but we won’t bash him for the effort. The Mets have scored a total of seven runs during this six-game losing streak — remember, one of those went 14 innings — so Cabrera surely was feeling that pressure, as all the Mets are.
“It was my call,” Cabrera said. “I was just trying to do something to help the team.”
Callaway was asked twice if the decision came from the bench, but the manager, perhaps worried about offending Cabrera, wouldn’t give a straight answer.
“Everybody has the choice,” Callaway said.
But that’s kind of the problem, right? There seems to be a leadership void, a missing clubhouse compass, and that’s why steering them free of this deepening quicksand is becoming problematic. It was only a week ago that Callaway said they had hit “rock bottom.” Now, after sinking even further, the manager said Wednesday the players were angry.
Deflated? Sure. But we’re not seeing the fury at a season slipping away. Could the Mets privately fear they’re incapable of reversing the slide? If not, someone has to step up and stop it.
“We’re going to come out OK,” Michael Conforto said. “We’re going to be just fine.”
The Yankees would love to prove otherwise.