Mets limp home, looking for a spark

With aching injuries to several key players and a disappointing 5-8 road trip under their belts, the Mets limp home to New York on Tuesday to open a six-game homestand with the Houston Astros and the Arizona Diamondbacks. <P> The Mets' run at first place in the National League East is but a distant memory now, with the team now appearing to have no realistic shot at leapfrogging three teams and making up a 11-game deficit in the division.

Instead, the Mets must aim simply to get healthy and play better baseball through the end of the season: if not for their own sanity, then for the job security of Mets manager Art Howe.

Should the Mets continue a freefall that has seen them drop from three games above .500 and one game back in the NL East on July 7 to six games under .500 on August 9, the club's second consecutive last place finish isn't entirely out of the question. The Mets lead cellar-dwelling Montreal by eight games entering play Monday.

Mets ownership has already canned hitting coach Denny Walling this season and threatened the positions of two other coaches, Matt Galante and Gary Pettis. Failing down the remainder of the Mets' 52 games this season could spell disaster for just about every coach on the major league level except for pitching guru Rick Peterson.

It will be a challenge for the Mets not to roll over and dog the last four dozen or so games of the season, as the club has already shown its disappointment in falling out of contention by playing lackluster baseball over the last few weeks.

The team was crushed this weekend by mostly showing they were able to hang with the best team in the majors, the St. Louis Cardinals, but still leaving town swept away in three games (Saturday's 1-0 loss in the ninth inning being the most devastating defeat).

The Mets have also tried unsuccessfully to deal with nagging injuries to Mike Piazza (wrist, knee), who was 5-for-33 on the road trip and dropped his average to .276, and Kaz Matsui (cramps), who left in the fifth inning of Sunday's game after earlier convincing Howe that he would be able to play nine innings.

Mets Notes

  • Catcher Justin Huber, who was traded to the Kansas City Royals on July 30 as part of New York's flurry of deadline dealing, is ailing so badly from a sore left knee that the Royals have rescinded permission for him to represent his native Australia in the Olympic Games, according to the Kansas City Star.

    The newspaper reported that Huber was hurt at the time of the trade, having been injured in a play at the plate on the night of July 29. However, the newspaper stated that GM Allan Baird absolved the Mets of any intentions of malice or deceit.

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