The game was only two minutes old, and it appeared, for once, that the Mets had already filled their quota for bad news. Josh Smoker had been put on the 10-day disabled list, Rafael Montero was called up, and Matt Harvey — his velocity skirting dangerously close to batting practice territory — had allowed home runs to the first two batters.
How young everyone was then. How naïve.
It turns out, the Mets had to wait a full 45 minutes for things to get really, really bad Wednesday night. It was then that Neil Walker sacrificed in word and in deed: Down two runs in the third, and with Juan Lagares on first, Walker laid down a beauty of a bunt, and tried to leg it out for a hit. Instead, about halfway up the baseline, he pulled up short. He grasped toward his left hamstring. He made the sort of grimace that makes a stadium worth of people gasp, and though he made it to first base, he fell promptly, writhing in pain. Terry Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez went to meet him, and both helped the second baseman hobble off the field and into the tunnel.
“I’m concerned,” Collins said. “Until I hear the doctor’s report — until we have a look at it tomorrow, I’ve got nothing. I saw the same thing you did and it looked like it was pretty painful.”
The Mets called it a left leg injury and said Walker would get an MRI Thursday. T.J. Rivera, who began the game at first base, moved to second, and Lucas Duda came in to play first and bat in Walker’s No. 2 spot.
The injury undoubtedly looked bad, but there’s no denying that a sense of pessimism surrounds the Mets and their injuries, regardless of how much writhing is involved. Already, they have to tread so carefully with Yoenis Cespedes, who returned last weekend after missing almost six weeks with a hamstring injury. Michael Conforto (stiff back) wasn’t even allowed to swing a bat Tuesday, because Collins feared it would exacerbate the injury (he pinch hit Wednesday). A day after hitting two home runs Tuesday, Asdrubal Cabrera was on the DL with a left thumb sprain. Noah Syndergaard has no timetable for his return, and neither does David Wright.
Amid all that misery, Walker was a bright spot.
Aside from being an optimistic presence in the clubhouse, Walker hit his ninth home run Tuesday, and recently he’s been neck-and-neck with Wilmer Flores as the biggest contributors to the lineup. Before Wednesday, when he flied out and had the sacrifice — which likely would have gone for a hit, if not for his hurting himself — Walker was hitting .321 in May and June, with nine doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 23 RBIs. He’s hitting .270.
If the injury does linger, the absence of Walker and Cabrera might finally force the Mets’ hand with Amed Rosario. Fans have long been clamoring for a look at the top-tier infielder — sporting a slash line of .338/.379/.504 with the Las Vegas 51s. The team previously decided to take its time with him, not unlike how they groomed Jose Reyes back when he was starting his career 14 years ago.
Now, they may not have such a luxury.