THE METS: STRAINING CREDIBILITY
After Mike Piazza won a game for the Mets with a walk-off homer on May 10, Art Howe remarked that a player like Piazza can carry a whole team on his back—”I’d like to hop on, too,” Howe joked. Five days later, though, Piazza couldn’t even stand up after severely straining his groin, joining Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, David Cone, and John Franco on the best disabled list money can buy. Things have gotten so pathetic around Shea that hanging-by-a-noose’s-thread GM Steve Phillips actually spent a press conference discussing details of the team’s injury-insurance deductibles. With Piazza’s status for even the second half of the season now in doubt, the Mets seem headed for nowhere more than ever. Which only increases the likelihood of major housecleaning by owner Fred Wilpon and “Mini-Me” son Jeff.
The biggest rumors concern Roberto Alomar, who virtually from the minute he arrived in 2001 and saw the Mets refuse to extend his through-2003 contract has acted as if he had a foot out the door. After a miserable 2002, Alomar hasn’t exactly bounced back with the numbers of a 12-time All-Star. Through May 18, he was hitting just .272, well below his career .304 average. Significantly, he went 11-24 in his native Puerto Rico, where his mother still lives, and in Colorado, where his father, Sandy Alomar Sr., is a Rockies coach. The homesick bachelor may be swapped to St. Louis, where second baseman Fernando Viña has spent most of the season in manager Tony LaRussa‘s doghouse. Throw in the fact that the Cardinal bullpen is in double figures in blown saves and don’t be surprised if Flushing’s favorite whipping boy, Armando Benitez, is also involved, along with another current St. Loo doghouser, J.D. Drew, and maybe even Tino Martinez. He actually plays first base, y’know. —Billy Altman
WHAT A NUT
A peanut? Such was the threat to David Wells‘s safety at one Yankee Stadium game when a fan allegedly lobbed the legume Boomer-wards. Though the missile-cum-snack bounced harmlessly off Wells’s well-padded chest—”It could’ve hit me in the eye,” he complained afterward—the incensed southpaw sent stadium security into the stands to nab the offender. (They failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing, perhaps because it had been eaten.) This was hardly butter knives in the diner, but at least Wells’s nutty overreaction proved the old Boomer was alive and kicking.
On the eve of his 40th birthday (May 20), with a 5-1 record and two complete games this year, Wells has reason to feel feisty. He’s hurled 60 2/3 innings, more than any of his teammates, allowed the fewest walks—two—and shows no signs of breaking down yet. The Bombers’ surprising survivor already seems to be thinking, pace Beyoncé Knowles, “Even in my years to come I’m still gon’ be here.” Last month he pressed the Yanks to pick up their 2004 option on him—now. (GM Brian Cashman was not amused.) Then Wells, who bragged in his memoirs of manipulating the media to help obtain his previous pinstriped contracts, promptly told reporters he’d retire if the Yankees let him go—”unless somebody offers me some stupid-ass money.” For added Boss-baiting value, he recently elaborated that “the Mets or Red Sox” would be favored future employers. While Cashman is unlikely to succumb to such tactics, he does need to find two more starters for next season, because only Mike Mussina, Jeff Weaver, and José Contreras are signed through ’04. And just a couple of young aces will be available via free agency. Could Wells get his way after all? —J.Y. Yeh
FINALLY, THE RETURN OF LIBERTY
Sunday’s only pre-season home game for the New York Liberty left coach Richie Adubato confused as he looked to trim the roster from 17 to 11 by Wednesday. The rookies whom New York has been considering for the last couple of weeks “clouded up our decision-making process,” Adubato said, “because some people who had been playing well didn’t play well and some people who hadn’t been playing well played well.” Center Sonja Mallory, for one—a 6-5, 210-pound center from Brooklyn Tech and Georgia Tech—burst off the bench midway through the second half of the Liberty’s 67-64 defeat of Houston and quickly blocked a driving layup, scored over a double team, and blocked two more shots. Linda Frohlich shot two for three, snagged 11 rebounds, and grabbed three steals. Guard Erin Thorn and free-agent forward Lindsey Yamasaki turned on the juice for this last chance to show their stuff, too, while Camille Cooper and Kristen Brooke Sharp faltered. No doubt Adubato will be looking to shore up the post since the retirement of Sue Wicks (who was showered with Sunday’s biggest cheers from the Garden’s crowd of 13,131 as she took a seat courtside). He also needs to start weaning 38-year-old point guard Teresa Weatherspoon from long minutes, and giving more play to Becky Hammon, her likely replacement when the time comes. Meanwhile, the WNBA features two top old-timers this season. The least rookie of this year’s rookies is five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, 38, making her WNBA debut with Minnesota—at last a chance for fans to watch one of the greatest. And two-time MVP Cynthia Cooper, 40, is back on the roster for Houston after two restless years off the court. In 17 minutes on Sunday, she bagged nine points, three assists, and two steals, and, despite a pulled hamstring, breezed right by Hammon, proving that it’s not just the youngsters causing confusion. —Alisa Solomon