So the Mets departed Shea Stadium on Tuesday full of hope, wonder and uncertainty and hoping that what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
What they did know was this: Hernandez had sustained an injury to his right calf -- the club provided no more specific information -- while running in the outfield Tuesday, changing his status from probable pitcher to, at 5:35 p.m. ET, a possible pitcher.
An MRI confirmed the diagnosis, presumably with greater detail than the Mets made public. The results of the test and Hernandez's condition eventually persuaded the club to
wait. The Mets and El Duque would sleep on it. The wisest course of action, the club decided, would be to withhold a final determination until the morning.
And so the Mets' Fall of Uncertainty continued.
"I can't say that I've experienced anything like this before, even as a coach or a player. But it is what it is," manager Willie Randolph said before the MRI results were known. "It's life. It's the way it goes. I've been around the game a long time. Things happen. You know, you have a team of 25 guys who have not really focused too much on who's on the field, but [rather on] rallying around each other and playing the game."
Randolph's never-panic persona remained intact most of the afternoon, but his expression when he first was told of the injury said he was incredulous. He left the field quickly and returned to the clubhouse to speak with El Duque, who Randolph later characterized as "upset" and "disappointed."
The indecision that developed after the apparent misstep in the outfield prompted "Are you kiddin' me?" disbelief within the Mets' clubhouse and offices, coming, as it did, within days of the club's announcements that Pedro Martinez would, one, not pitch in the postseason and, two, undergo surgery -- now scheduled for Thursday -- on his right rotator cuff.
"This is sick," Cliff Floyd said. "Sick and weird. How can all this happen?"
Shawn Green called the injury "a very bad thing." But other Mets dealt with it as they usually deal with adversity.
"I just finished throwing in the bullpen," utilityman Chris Woodward said. "I could probably go the last three [innings] and get a save ... if it was 21-0 against a Class A team."
The uncertainty, weirdness and gallows humor seemed to increase when Randolph announced four contingency starters -- Maine, Williams, Tom Glavine and Darren Oliver -- and it hardly dissipated when the club finally announced its decision to wait.
"You almost have to laugh, it's so ridiculous," Roberto Hernandez said. He called Tuesday "Black Sunday" and agreed the Mets had had "too much of a bad thing."
Glavine said he had volunteered to make the start, an offer the Mets had to decline because, as the scheduled starter for Game 2 Thursday night, Glavine would have started Game 1 with insufficient rest -- three days, rather than four. And he had thrown a bullpen session Tuesday, completing his work just moments before Hernandez "felt something in his calf."
One person familiar with the decision to retain Glavine as the Game 2 starter said the Mets' thinking was based on this logic: Glavine would be a compromised starter in Game 1 and with him gone, Game 2 then would be compromised as well.
At the same time, the possibility of journeyman Oliver starting after a season of long relief seemed quite remote, leaving Maine and Williams as possibilities. Maine was a far more likely choice, a person with the club indicated. But Maine said he had been told nothing definite.
Neither team is required to submit its final roster for the NLDS until 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.
"Whenever they need me, I'll be available," said Maine who last pitched on Friday and consequently would be in normal every-fifth-day routine. "It would be great to pitch in postseason -- whenever they say. I'll be ready if they need me [Wednesday]. It won't be that different. You still have to get guys out."
The absence -- for personal reasons -- of Steve Trachsel added to the sense of "what else can go wrong?" But had Trachsel remained with the team and not returned to San Diego on Saturday, he presumably would have made his scheduled start Sunday and, thereby, been unavailable to replace Hernandez. Now, having missed that start, Trachsel's availability for Game 3 is an issue. The assignment never was his officially anyway.
After his red-eye flight Sunday was canceled, he flew Monday, returned to Shea and threw in the bullpen. He would speak with Randolph to see where he fits in the disarray. Hernandez, if unable to start Wednesday, could conceivably start Game 3 in Los Angeles or a subsequent game, Randolph indicated.
The other side of that scenario was El Duque starting Game 1, aggravating the injury and being unavailable to pitch again in the series. That was a consideration as well, Randolph said.
But he wasn't borrowing trouble. He had enough already. Instead, the manager tried to communicate his calm to his players.
"We're in the playoffs, man," Randolph said, "I still feel real good about the next month or so. It's a little bit strange, a little bit different. But you have to react and adjust as you go. We're gonna do that, and we'll be fine."
Carlos Delgado provided this advice in a public forum. "It's only a game. It's not like nobody's gonna die here or anything like that."
And when Randolph, his players and the Dodgers had completed their preparation and left Shea Stadium, the Mets issued a news release, stating Mookie Wilson and Jerry Koosman, prizes from the Mets postseasons past, would throw out the first pitch Wednesday.
The Mets could get along without Wilson's bat. But Koosman could be of some use Wednesday.