Mets duo aims to be factor for NL

Mets duo aims to be factor for NL

NEW YORK -- Billy Wagner wants to close, which is pretty typical for a closer. It's not that he doesn't like and respect Brad Lidge, or Kerry Wood, or anyone else who might have a chance to close out Tuesday's All-Star Game for the National League. It's just that Wagner wants the biggest stage for himself, which is also pretty typical for a closer.

"That would make about every Met fan in the world happy," Wagner said.

True, but as far as fan adoration goes, Wagner will have to share this All-Star stage with third baseman David Wright. NL manager Clint Hurdle recently named Wright to this year's roster as a replacement for injured Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, and so the suddenly surging Mets will be doubly represented at an All-Star Game with a decidedly New York flavor.

And that much hasn't been lost on one of New York City's most popular athletes.

"If you would have told me as a kid that I'd be able to participate in one All-Star Game, I would have given up everything for that," Wright said. "This being my third, it's extremely special. It's right up on my list of personal highlights to be able to take the uniform for the National League and take the field at Yankee Stadium."

Maybe he will, maybe he won't -- Wright is just a reserve on a roster that also features third basemen Chipper Jones and Aramis Ramirez. But the All-Star Game, both Wright and Wagner know, is not only about playing. It's about sitting on the grass and watching the State Farm Home Run Derby. It's about milling around and getting autographs. It's about the experience of the thing, and the tradition of the game.

"It's a time to laugh and smile, have a good time," Wright said.

That much is easy for the Mets, who entered the All-Star break on a nine-game winning streak. Wright, the heart of the offense, and Wagner, the heart of the bullpen, are among the most significant reasons why. So it's no surprise that they're All-Stars.

They're also two players on opposite ends of the All-Star spectrum. For Wright, this is his third straight selection, and probably just the dawn of his experiences at the game. He's 25 years old, he's the face of the Mets and he's become a darling of the league.

He'll almost certainly be here again.

For Wagner, this is his sixth career selection, and his fifth this decade. He's three weeks shy of 37 years old, and despite his productivity, he's the first to admit that his career is winding down. Every All-Star opportunity could be Wagner's last.

"I feel pretty good to be old and still here," he said.


"This being my third [All-Star Game], it's extremely special. It's right up on my list of personal highlights to be able to take the uniform for the National League and take the field at Yankee Stadium."
-- David Wright

Not that he doesn't deserve it. Wagner wrapped up his first half with 22 saves -- three of them in the past week -- and a 2.31 ERA. He's led a bullpen that hasn't allowed a run in 19 1/3 innings, and he's tugged the Mets back into playoff contention in the process.

Wright, though experiencing something of a down year by his own high standards, has still hit enough to place him among the NL's elite infielders. His power numbers remain high -- he's hit 17 homers and knocked in 70 runs -- and his average sits at .282.

Those are the numbers on which Wagner and Wright will be judged this week, though what matters most, of course, is something greater than both of them.

"In case a lot of you didn't hear, we just won nine games in a row," Wagner said. "When you win, it pretty much cures all illnesses. I think that's how it is right now. Everything's as good as it could be. It doesn't get much better than this."

Not here, not at Yankee Stadium, where all these stars have aligned. Wright envisioned this stage as a kid, and Wagner went as far as to coordinate his own All-Star Games in his backyard.

But this Tuesday -- especially if he closes -- Wagner won't need to pretend.

"We're playing against the best," Wagner said. "And that means a lot."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.