The nameless serpent has worked overtime of late. Not content with the likely season-long absence of Matt Harvey it prompted last summer, it subsequently has stuck its fangs into Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, and, now, Chris Young. The Mets' primary adversary, it seems, isn't the Braves, Nationals, Phillies or Marlins, but the snake identified years ago by chairman of the board and CEO Fred Wilpon in a New Yorker report.
In a rare moment of public frustration, Wilpon characterized his franchise as "snakebitten." And nobody questioned that assessment at the time. Say what you will about the Mets, deny them the benefit of the doubt at every turn if you wish. But they have been dogged by inordinate misfortune almost since the days of Steve Chilcott.
Somewhere along the line, the Mets unwittingly stepped in a pile of calamity, and it has stuck to their shoe even when they have put their best foot forward. High-priced and high-profile acquisitions George Foster, Bobby Bonilla and Jason Bay stumbled in Queens, prompting a question that remains relevant today: Who is the last position player to prosper more with the Mets that with his previous club? Kevin McReynolds? Name another. And now, whither Curtis Granderson?
Roberto Alomar brought his star with him to Shea Stadium and then tarnished it with on-field apathy. Tony Fernandez wasn't quite so obvious, but he hardly broke a sweat here.
Those sorts of things happen with every club. But injuries have routinely bombarded the Mets at the least opportune moments -- see Duaner Sanchez and his taxi accident in 2006, and the strained calf El Duque suffered the day before he was scheduled to start the team's first playoff game the same year. Injuries have been guilty of piling on. Look back no further than Monday.
Mostly front-line players have fallen. Need more than the name Johan Santana be spoken to remind us? But there are Jose Reyes' hammy, David Wright 's back, Ryan Church's skull, Jose Reyes' hammy, Carlos Delgado's hip, Pedro Martinez's toe, Carlos Beltran 's knee, Jose Reyes' hammy, John Maine 's shoulder, J.J. Putz 's elbow, Tom Glavine's circulation problem and Reyes' hammy. And lest we forget the sickening collision that cost Beltran and Mike Cameron significant time in 2005, and how a foul tip broke the leg of Jose Valentine in 2007?
Mets injuries rarely have been so simple as bruises and bumps. John Franco lost use of his middle finger on his left hand in 1999. He said it rendered him speechless. He couldn't pitch either.
And those maladies involve only one generation of Mets and don't involve medical problems the club inherited, i.e., Mo Vaughn.
And, for now, Harvey, Niese, Parnell and Young. The Mets lost to the Nationals on Thursday, playing without conspicuous energy. They struck out merely eight times -- that's an improvement, but still a lot -- but exited the field following a third straight defeat with no new physical problems. It was a step in the right direction -- without a limp.
Before the 8-2 defeat, Wilpon's son, Jeff, the club's chief operating officer, put aside the sense of misfortune that is pervasive in the Citi. "I don't look at it that way," he said. "I take a broader view."
How broad do you want to go? Ron Darling's thumb in 1987, Tom Seaver's sciatica in '74, Rusty Staub's shoulder in the '73 postseason? The Mets don't want to be characterized as victims of misfortune.
No reason to play comparative miseries with another club. Each franchise has a Brien Taylor saga, a Joe Charboneau flash or a group jackpot similar to what the Braves have endured since Valentine's Day. But the Mets have operated under an upside down horseshoe -- all the good luck runs out of an inverted one -- since the summer of 1989, when shoulder injuries to Dwight Gooden and Kevin Elster coincided with the accelerated aging of Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. Darryl Strawberry's back ached down the stretch in '90.
In early August 1992, the middle of the Mets' batting order, namely Howard Johnson and Bonilla, was disabled within a 24-hour period. No switch-hitters, no power, no run production. A team that was 5 1/2 games behind on Aug. 1 was 14½ behind and widely condemned 18 days later.
In 1995, Jay Payton, as skilled and determined a hitter as the club had developed since Strawberry, underwent Tommy John surgery, as did Sean Johnston, a young pitcher selected in the same 1994 Draft as Payton. Johnston hadn't allowed a hit in his first 10 innings as a professional. By the end of the 1997 season, he was one of 17 players in the organization who had experienced that invasive procedure. Payton endured a second Tommy John surgery in 1997.
Three of the 17 were the Beatnik, the Bumpkin and the Baron, also known as Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, the highly regarded kids who had displaced Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux on the covers of some offseason baseball publications in 1995-96. Isringhausen and Wilson were traded and found success elsewhere, the Bumpkin more than the Baron.
In May 1997, Ryan Jaroncyk, a sure-handed shortstop the Mets had selected in the '95 Draft, retired because he found baseball boring. To what other team does that happen? And let us not forget can't-miss prospects Alex Escobar and Fernando Martinez who missed in part because they couldn't stay on the field.
And so it went. Misfortune did skip town for a while before Edgardo Alfonzo's back betrayed him in 2001.
Now, outside the six-year-old park hangs a revised series of flags depicting players of the Mets' past. Outside the right-field corner is one with Keith Miller pictured. How appropriate that the oft-injured utility man from the early 90s has been included this year. David Cone once said "Millsie can pull a hammy when he's running something through his mind."