2 New York Mets They can still pitch, but let's face it: The reshuffled rotation is minus an ace

March 26, 2001

One Friday afternoon in October, a couple of days before the
Subway Series was to begin, Mets lefthander Glendon Rusch
stopped by the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y. It was
a nothing-special trip, one of those dull,
wander-around-in-search-of-a-CD days. He'd visited the mall
plenty of times. No big de--

HEY, GLENDON!

Huh?

YO, GLENDON, GO KICK SOME YANKEE BUTT!

Wha?

HEY, RUSCH, YOU'RE GOING DOWN!

DO US PROUD, G!

Was this really happening? Were the people of Long Island
actually approaching the Mets' Mr. Anonymity? Yelling
encouragement? Egging him on? "I'm from California, and nobody
recognizes me there," says Rusch. "Here I am, on a team with the
Piazzas and Leiters, and fans knew who I was. New York's the only
place that happens."

Rusch exposed himself to the Big Apple because, in a season that
began with subzero expectations for the 26-year-old Royals
castoff, he emerged as arguably the league's best No. 5 starting
pitcher and--under closer scrutiny--one of its best lefthanders,
period. He had the league's sixth-best road ERA (3.70), but he
received the lowest run support per nine innings of any NL
starter (3.7). "We thought trading for Glendon would be a
worthwhile chance," says G.M. Steve Phillips. "Did we expect last
year's production? Let's just say it was a very pleasant
surprise."

Now, with Mike Hampton gone to Colorado, the Rusch bar has been
raised. Although the Mets added two free-agent starters--15-game
winner Kevin Appier, 33, from Oakland and the innings-eating
Steve Trachsel, 30, from Toronto--there should be concern over a
rotation that, beyond Rusch and ace lefthander Al Leiter, is made
up of three soft-throwing, thirtysomething righties. No. 3
starter Rick Reed has maintained impressive consistency since
'97, but he's a 35-year-old control pitcher.

Rusch, once one of the Royals' top prospects, fell on hard times
in K.C. In '98 he was 6-15 with a 5.88 ERA; he had abandoned his
two-seam fastball and lost confidence in his changeup. With his
arrival in New York, though, bad turned good. "It gave me a new
life," he says. "A switch in uniforms can sometimes change
everything."

The Mets enter 2001 with a lineup featuring mostly the same men
in the same uniforms. However, a Rusch-like improvement is needed
from Robin Ventura, who struggled through his worst season since
his rookie year of 1990. Ventura's .232 average was a lifetime
low, and his .954 fielding percentage was fourth-lowest among
regular NL third basemen. It was painful to watch the six-time
Gold Glover, and even more painful to be him. Ventura played 141
games, but even as fans moaned and tabloids ripped, he never
openly complained about the bruised right rotator cuff that sent
him to the DL for 15 days in July and caused yearlong discomfort.
"Robin definitely went through stretches when his shoulder
affected his swing," says first baseman Todd Zeile. "But people
who criticized didn't realize how much his presence helps. Even
when he was struggling, Robin found a way to come up with a big
hit, a big RBI."

As long as Ventura and Mike Piazza (105 or more RBIs in each of
the past five seasons) stay healthy, the Mets will have no
trouble surpassing the 807 runs they scored last season, which
ranked seventh in the league. That number, as well as the Mets'
puny 66 stolen bases, will rise dramatically as long as Timo
Perez, the fleet-footed rightfielder who emerged from the
Japanese minor leagues, bats as he did in 24 regular-season games
(.286) and not as he did in the World Series (.125, 2 for 16). At
his best Perez is a slap-hitting bundle of energy with the speed
to steal 40 to 50 bases. Before last season he was a nobody,
unwanted by the Hiroshima Carp, his old team in Japan.

As Rusch proves, such is a route the Mets embrace.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Piazza's productivity and durability are crucial for the Mets, whose offense was merely middle of the pack last season. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS RUSCH

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Mets

"I wouldn't count the Mets out, but this team is significantly
weaker than it was last year. It's tough to win without outfield
production, and losing Mike Hampton really hurts....Even so,
when you look around the league, this staff is in the upper
echelon because it has a lot of proven guys. Al Leiter has
looked outstanding this spring. He keeps getting better. His
cutter is devastating to righthanders. Four years and $42
million was a shock, but Kevin Appier has the knowledge to get
outs even though his stuff has diminished somewhat. He still has
that big curveball, and he locates well. Rick Reed is the poor
man's Greg Maddux--a big key is having him healthy for the whole
season. Glendon Rusch has learned how to pitch inside and is a
lot more aggressive....Mike Piazza works his butt off behind the
plate, but he'd benefit the team most if he played first base.
He might hit 70 home runs if he played there. He has a weakness
way up in the zone, but if you miss a hair below that, he'll hit
a tape-measure shot....Edgardo Alfonzo has no defined weakness
at the plate, no place in the zone a pitcher can go when he gets
in trouble. There aren't many hitters like that....Jay Payton
might be an All-Star someday. He has compact strength; his power
is gap to gap, but as he matures, he might learn to turn on
balls more....If Armando Benitez would put aside his machismo
and mix in a breaking ball occasionally, he could be a
lights-out closer. When he gets in trouble, he tries to throw
harder and harder, and as hard as he throws, his fastball
doesn't have a lot of life.

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 94-68 (second in NL East)
Manager: Bobby Valentine (sixth season with New York)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

RF Timo Perez (R) L 238 .286 1 3 1
2B Edgardo Alfonzo R 35 .324 25 94 3
C Mike Piazza R 11 .324 38 113 4
3B Robin Ventura L-R 106 .232 24 84 3
1B Todd Zeile R 157 .268 22 79 3
LF Benny Agbayani R 170 .289 15 60 5
CF Jay Payton R 166 .291 17 62 5
SS Rey Ordonez R 355 .188 0 9 0

BENCH

OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo*(R)[1] R 301 .278 28 85 15
C Todd Pratt R 313 .275 8 25 0
IF Joe McEwing R 322 .222 2 19 3
OF Darryl Hamilton L-R 331 .276 1 6 2
IF Lenny Harris L-R 346 .260 4 26 13

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Al Leiter 9 16 8 6.7 1.21 3.20
RH Kevin Appier[1] 48 15 11 6.3 1.55 4.52
RH Rick Reed 70 11 5 6.1 1.23 4.11
LH Glendon Rusch 88 11 11 6.3 1.26 4.01
RH Steve Trachsel[1] 134 8 15 5.9 1.52 4.80

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Armando Benitez 14 4 4 41 1.01 2.61
RH Turk Wendell 130 8 6 1 1.22 3.59
LH John Franco 149 5 4 4 1.29 3.40
RH Donne Wall[1] 173 5 2 1 1.06 3.35
RH Rick White[2] 213 5 9 3 1.21 3.52
LH Dennis Cook 248 6 3 2 1.59 5.34
LH Bobby M. Jones 294 0 1 0 1.48 4.15

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Japanese Central League stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats

"Piazza would benefit the team most at first base. He might hit
70 homers there."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)