Mets Meet; Hernandez is Hobbling

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Their manager is fending off accusations that he is too passive. Their presumptive No. 3 starter is hobbling around in a stabilizing boot. Their bullpen is in tatters. And when the doors to the visitors' clubhouse at RFK Stadium closed just before 5 p.m. yesterday, the New York Mets gathered to engage in that ultimate sign of fraternal distress: the team meeting. Being in first place has never seemed so depressing.

And that was before the Mets blew another four-run lead to the Washington Nationals, losing their fifth straight game, 9-8. The second-place Philadelphia Phillies' 7-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals last night reduced the Mets' lead in the National League East -- which was seven games just a week ago -- to 1 1/2 games, their lowest since mid-July.

"This feels very normal to me, the way a playoff race should be," Mets Manager Willie Randolph said, oozing tranquility and calmness after another loss. ". . . When we sip the champagne later on, it'll be even sweeter."

The columnists, bloggers and talk-radio callers demanding fire and brimstone from the stoic Randolph will be sorely disappointed. The team meeting itself was the brainchild of a handful of veteran players, who approached Randolph earlier yesterday afternoon with the idea. After saying a few words at the start -- calmly, one assumes -- Randolph walked away to let the players discuss among themselves.

Even veteran pitcher Tom Glavine -- the epitome of calm himself -- seemed to imply the team needed to see more passion from somebody in a position of influence, saying before the game, "Anytime somebody gets [ticked] and raises hell, it catches people attention, and it's not a bad thing. . . . You want to see that guys care, whether it's your manager or [other] players."

Meantime, veteran pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, the hobbled starter, is expected to miss seven to 10 days -- which, coincidentally, is all the season that is left -- with what is publicly being called a bunion on his right foot, but which General Manager Omar Minaya acknowledged also involves some inflammation in his ligaments.

"There's no turmoil," Randolph insisted. "There's nothing going on [other] than just trying to find a way to get a win . . . This is not Armageddon to us."

Not yet anyway.

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