For One Night, Mets Respond To Baylor

Much will be made in the mainstream media of Don Baylor's so-called immediate impact as the Mets' interim hitting coach Tuesday – as if any instructor could direct players to rap out seven runs and 14 hits. <P> The firing of hitting coach Denny Walling seemed to have paid dividends for at least one night, as the Mets trounced the Cleveland Indians 7-2 at Shea Stadium, but what happens over the next few weeks could have an even greater impact on the club.

While GM Jim Duquette refused to characterize the firing of Walling as a warning shot toward manager Art Howe, it's hard to take it as anything but. The last time the Mets pulled off a similar move, canning hitting coach Dave Engle in 2002, manager Bobby Valentine was axed three months later.

It's been no secret that the Mets haven't exactly been enamored with the performance of Howe and the coaching staff – ownership spoke openly this spring about their dismay with the club's sloppy preparation tactics – and Howe has hardly been the Gil Hodges-type inspirational figure that principal owner Fred Wilpon envisioned when Howe supposedly "lit up the room" in his job interview during the winter of 2002.

While Walling ultimately took the fall for the Mets' meager offensive output this year, the firing could have been a symbolic move. On numerous occasions, Howe has called Walling "my best friend, in baseball or otherwise," and he pleaded the case with Duquette on Monday to no avail.

Duquette's mind was made up, and Walling became the second of Howe's ‘guys' to take the fall in the organization – the Mets dumped pitching coach Vern Ruhle after last season.

That was part of the reason that the normally stoic Howe emptied the contents of a garbage can across the visiting clubhouse of Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Saturday. It was more than the fact that the Mets had just dropped their fifth game in a row – somewhere in the back of his mind, Howe admitted that he'd begun to fear for the job safety of his friend.

"We've had trouble scoring runs and that had a lot to do with the way I reacted the other day," Howe told reporters Tuesday. "I realized something like this, in time, could happen. I knew this could happen if it continued to go this way."

If Baylor, whose baseball resume includes stops as a hitting coach in Milwaukee (1990-91), St. Louis (1992) and Atlanta (1999), can provide the cure for what ails the Mets offensively, it'll be a great relief to all in a clubhouse that has seemed edgier ever since the Mets failed once more to stay above the .500 mark.

Internally, the Mets may already be questioning whether they deserve to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline – this stretch against subpar AL Central clubs will determine a great portion of that – and some are already speculating that infield coach Matt Galante, who has failed to straighten out Kaz Matsui's defensive jitters (Matsui enters Wednesday with 14 errors), could be the next to fall.

ADDING A BAT?: The New York Times reports that the Mets have discussed a trade with the Houston Astros that would bring outfielder Richard Hidalgo to Shea Stadium. The Mets are looking for a No. 5 hitter who could supplement Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd in the batting order, and Hidalgo – a career .278 hitter who is not starting in Houston despite having nearly $10 million remaining on his contract – could be an easy target to deal for.

DL FOR WILSON, SPENCER?: The disabled list is a possibility for catcher Vance Wilson, who strained his right hamstring rounding third base in the fourth inning of Tuesday's win. Wilson, who said that he doesn't consider the injury serious, pulled up lame and was tagged out at the plate, and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.

The Mets may also be looking at a disabled list stint for Shane Spencer, who is nursing a sore left shoulder.

MINOR MUSINGS: David Wright made his debut at Triple-A Norfolk Tuesday, going 3-for-4 with a walk in a 13-6 loss to Toledo. … Jose Reyes went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and a stolen base last night at Canton-Akron, the first of three games he'll be playing with the Double-A Binghamton Mets before the Mets entertain ideas of an activation on Friday.


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