Zeile Plays The Hero Once More

PHILADELPHIA -- If you thought you were watching a replay of Tuesday's game, you're forgiven. <P> For the second night in a row, Todd Zeile stepped up as the Mets' hero, accounting for all five of New York's runs with a three-run homer in the eighth inning and a two-run shot in the tenth. The output boosted the Mets to a 5-3 win Wednesday, sealing a series sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.

In fact, you could write Zeile's name all over the entire series at Citizens Bank Park, which no doubt is on track to become one of the Mets' favorite road haunts. In the three games in Philadelphia, Zeile went 7-for-15 with three home runs, eight RBI and four runs scored against Phillies pitching.

"He was a one-man game show," said Phillies pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who served up Zeile's second home run of the night Wednesday.

Just how revved up were the Mets over Zeile's performances? Well, Wednesday's heroics were enough to transform usually stoic Art Howe into some poor imitation of a John Wayne-era tough guy, spitting tobacco into a dusty wind and fingering an imaginary six-shooter.

"He's going to have a tough time convincing me he'll be walking off into the sunset," Howe said. "I'll be right there at dawn waiting for him."

For Zeile, it's just one more notch on the belt of a productive player heading into the glory of retirement. Zeile's first home run of the night, the three-run shot off reliever Ryan Madson, was the 250th of his Major League career, a solid milestone that seemed to mean more to outfielder Cliff Floyd – who pointed it out to reporters – than it did to Zeile himself.

"You couldn't script that out," Zeile said. "It's nice that it had some significance to it. It'll be easy to remember. It's a nice memory."

If Zeile was acting as though he'd done this whole stand-up routine before, you'd have to excuse him. After leading New York to victory one more time, Zeile basically had no choice but to repeat the mantra he's been spitting out on an almost daily basis since spring training workouts began in February.

"This whole season is a bonus for me," Zeile said. "I'm playing with the house's money, and I'm having fun being a part of the team. I really enjoy the guys and the atmosphere of being a Met. …

"Part of what I wanted was to have this feeling. I'm not worrying about anything except enjoying my time and savoring being a Major League player."

As he did 24 hours ago, Zeile still maintains that the success and fun he's experiencing won't change his plans to head home to California after the season to spend time with his family and begin the rest of his non-baseball life. At this moment, however, spending the rest of his summer between those two chalk lines must seem like a pretty sweet concept.

And as evidenced by Howe's quote this evening, there appears to be no shortage of playing time in Zeile's future.

Having contributed both a timely stroke and strong defense in this Philadelphia series, it's quite probable that Zeile has played his way into the starting job at third base, with Ty Wigginton shifting to become the Mets' everyday second baseman. Wigginton started all three games of the Philadelphia series at second base, clearing the way for Howe to keep Zeile's red-hot stick in the lineup.

"It's certainly gratifying," Zeile said. "When I joined this team, I was told I'd be a role player. I definitely do a better job when I get more at-bats. For me, it's worked out so that I have that opportunity."

Even if Zeile's hitting does eventually cool off, the Mets now realize – if they didn't before – what a valuable commodity they have in the 38-year-old infielder. His raw versatility, whether it be at third base, first base or coming off the bench as a potent pinch-hitter, gives the Mets a dimension that many of their National League rivals cannot match.

Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, initially asked about his own solid seven-inning performance Wednesday, eventually joined the crowd and couldn't help but keep the celebration going over Zeile.

"When you have a guy like that who can do so many things offensively and defensively, it gives us a luxury so many teams covet," Glavine said. "He's just a true professional."

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