Shortly after his No. 31 was unveiled Saturday along Citi Field’s rooftop, Mike Piazza pointed skyward through the steady rain and told the soggy crowd that he would always be with them.
During the hard times, Piazza said, “Just give a little peek up there to Ol’ Mikey.”
It was an emotional gesture that was appreciated by the fans, who roared in approval of the beloved Hall of Famer, only the second player to wear a Mets cap in Cooperstown. But watching Piazza’s highlight reel Saturday night reminded everyone what’s been missing in Flushing lately as the Mets furiously work behind the scenes to import some magic before this season slips into oblivion.
There’s no duplicating what was brought to the Mets by Piazza, or even Yoenis Cespedes, whose brawny shoulders helped carry the Mets to the World Series after last year’s trade, which beat the deadline by minutes.
By late Saturday night, it looked as if the Mets were down to Jay Bruce on the trade front, as the Indians reportedly were close to finalizing a deal for Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Either way, these Mets appear to be in need of a savior after Saturday night’s 7-2 loss to the Rockies, their fourth straight defeat.
As Terry Collins awaits reinforcements, the trade-deadline frenzy has been working in reverse for the Mets, who have lost two key pieces to the disabled list in as many days.
On Friday, it was Juan Lagares, stripping them of their best centerfielder. Twenty-four hours later, Jose Reyes was placed on the DL with an intercostal strain, temporarily snuffing out the potential spark he was signed to provide.
The Reyes setback felt inevitable; the initial two-day prognosis for an injury of that nature was unrealistic to begin with. But the Mets need all the help they can get in trying to stay in this wild-card race, and subtracting Reyes, even as a work in progress, will make that task more difficult.
With the front office busy making calls, Collins resorted to the power of positive thinking after Friday night’s loss, imploring his players to loosen up and not stress over the darkening skies. But turning up the volume on the clubhouse speakers can’t drown out the fact that the Mets have lost eight of their last nine home games and hit .125 (8-for-64) with runners in scoring position during this depressing stretch.
“We’ve got to quit being caught up in all of this, all the injuries and everything else,” Collins said before Saturday night’s game. “We need to have some fun here. We’re not out of any race.”
Collins, in his sixth year at the Mets’ helm, should know it doesn’t work that way in Flushing. There is no fun without winning, especially not for the defending National League champs. This three-day party for Piazza is an extremely rare occurrence and a special moment for the franchise and its resilient fan base. But even a 72-hour Piazza fest won’t sustain everyone beyond Monday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.
If only the Mets could have handed Piazza a uniform Saturday night. Instead, they signed journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano and started him in centerfield, a far cry from earlier in the season, when Cespedes manned the position before his leg issues messed with the Mets’ preferred outfield alignment.
Cespedes has managed to play leftfield while dealing with his lingering right quadriceps issue, but it’s a tenuous situation at best. Collins pulled him from Saturday night’s loss after the fifth inning, with the Mets down 5-2, and it wasn’t until the eighth that the team explained the move as “precautionary.”
We get the Mets being careful, but having to remove their biggest offensive threat midway through a tight game is not a scenario they can afford to repeat very often. If Cespedes’ condition becomes more serious or his bat is severely affected, the rest of this season will become moot anyway. Trading for Bruce, an imperfect fit, won’t matter much.
That’s the predicament the Mets are facing as Monday’s deadline approaches. Multiple sources said Saturday that the Brewers’ sky-high asking price for Lucroy had prompted the Mets to turn back to Bruce, but is just doing something, anything, going to be nearly enough?
Remember, Piazza isn’t walking through that door.[/DROPCAP]