Sports

METS: HOPING AGAINST HOPELESSNESS

The sound you may not have heard last Sunday night during Armando Benítez's pathetic bases-on-balls meltdown against the Yankees on national TV was Met interim GM Jim Duquette banging his head on a desk, as the task of moving the, er, closer for anything of value instantly became more difficult.

At least for once, Benítez couldn't claim after blowing a big save that "[fill in the blank] hit a good pitch." With the July 31 trading deadline still a month away, and few takers lining up so far for Benítez and Roberto Alomar, Duquette's more pressing problem is trying to decide whether rookie shortstop José Reyes really belongs in the majors or needs more schooling in Triple-A.

The Mets know there are still questions about Reyes's development, mostly regarding his hitting. Though they would like to project him as a leadoff batter, he has shown less propensity for taking pitches than even crosstown free swinger Alfonso Soriano. Reyes doesn't even have that much minor league experience—after all, he just turned 20—but his overall game so far has been much more about speed than power (only eight homers in 550 ABs last year). And in his first dozen games with the Mets (48 at-bats), Reyes was not only hitting under .200, but also hadn't walked a single time. Couple that with concerns about the young switch-hitter's ability to bat left-handed, and maybe it's not a bad idea to send him back down, since the Mets will go nowhere this year regardless.

What can be said definitively is that the kid isn't fazed at all by either the major leagues or New York City. He seems relaxed and comfortable on the big stage, and that's the one quality that can't be taught. Just ask Benítez. —Billy Altman


YANKS: ONLY PARTLY RELIEVED

Even if the Mets are sinking like a leaky, Mo Vaughn-laden rowboat, the unpredictability of baseball means they still have a chance to beat the Yankees, as Saturday's rain-erased outing showed. (Rookie Jason Griffiths was outpitching Mike Mussina, 4-3, when time was called.) Though the Bombers swept the two-game series, they shouldn't feel too giddy about it. Their hold on first place is as precarious as ever, while none of the problems that dogged them this spring have been solved. The bench deployed in Sunday's extra-innings nail-biter—Enrique Wilson, Charles Gipson, Bubba Trammell (in a rare start), and Juan Rivera, batting a collective .210—might have been invented to define the term "raggedy ass"; they didn't win the game so much as let the Met relievers blow it (thanks, Benítez). Apart from Mariano Rivera, the Yanks' own rickety bullpen is decent at best, especially compared with that of the Mariners or Giants. When Bernie Williams returns from knee surgery, the perennially slow starter will need plenty of time to find his stroke. And Cap'n Jeter, already in offensive decline for the past three seasons, is hovering around .250 (hindered by his previously dislocated shoulder).

A few weeks ago, in what was surely a first, George Steinbrenner said he "wanted to give the team a message to calm down." For once, the blind chicken's actually onto something: The Bombers' lack of patience makes things too easy on opposing hurlers. Of ye olde Yankees, Tom Glavine recalled, "You'd have to throw like 160 pitches to get to the sixth inning, the way they fouled them off." It took him only 66, through six frames, on Sunday. Mr. Met nodded his bulbous head in approval. —J.Y. Yeh


CHANGING OF THE GUARD

One story is dominating coverage of the New York Liberty this season. Sportswriters just can't seem to get enough of the displacement narrative: Becky Hammon, 26, has been clocking more minutes—and scoring way more points—than veteran Teresa Weatherspoon, 37. As of Sunday, Hammon has run the point twice down the stretch while Spoon has watched from the bench. The local headlines keep trumpeting the change: "New Guard Rotation," "Spoon Reaches Fork," "Spoon Gettin' Stirred," "Hammon It Up." In the pressroom, the dish is running away with the Spoon. Reporters gripe about coach Richie Adubato's commitment to keeping her in the starting lineup and one-up each other in expressing their disdain.

Hammon is a great player, to be sure. She's not just a spark off the bench. She's a wildfire. Helping the Liberty beat the Charlotte Sting 69-57 on Sunday, she scored 21 points in 28 minutes, going 6-for-8 from the field (3-4 from three-point range). She hit all six of her free throws, bagged three assists, and, at five-foot-six, pulled down four rebounds. "She's impossible to guard," said Charlotte's Kelly Miller, who got shaken off repeatedly.

Hammon deserves the attention. But there's something a little too eager about the enthusiasm for the perky blond knocking the butch African American from her perch. The zeal goes beyond sportswriters' usual perverse glee in seeing a superstar diminished. Nobody seems to care that Spoon—who will not comment on the situation and did not turn up for interviews after Sunday's game—brings her full heart to practices and is generously passing on her wealth of knowledge to Hammon and rookie K.B. Sharp. Reporters may be focusing on the newer kid with cheerleader looks, but Spoon remains, as several teammates say, "the emotional leader" of the team. —Alisa Solomon

 
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