Cellar dwellers?

The Mets look to avoid falling into an unthinkable tie for last place in the NL East when they play the middle game of their Cellar Series with the Montreal Expos Wednesday. <P> Every time you begin to think the Mets can't possibly fall any lower, the team is challenged with new depths of desperation. So it went Tuesday, as Al Leiter was roughed up for three runs over five innings in a 6-1 Mets loss, moving Montreal within one game of fourth place.

For the Mets – who were within one game of first place as recently as July 15 – falling into the cellar in the division would be a final indignation.

After a summer that seemed so promising, from the sweep of the Yankees to the arrival of David Wright to the success of the starting staff, the Mets now find themselves within two losses of their 2003 pace at 65-86. Last year, the Mets were 63-88 after 151 games.

Part of the problem has been that the day-in, day-out starting pitching that the Mets seemed to be wasting on a nightly basis finally evaporated.

It was Leiter's turn to throw a clunker on Tuesday, extending his streak of starts without a victory to seven – his last win came on Aug. 3 at Milwaukee, the longest single-season streak of his Major League career.

Mets Notes

  • The Mets have been walking wounded all season. This time, it was Mike Cameron, who left the game after injuring a tendon in his left wrist while swinging at a pitch in the second inning on Tuesday night. He'll be re-evaluated Wednesday.

    MLB.com reports that catcher Joe Hietpas pulled an oblique muscle during batting practice and is out indefinitely.

  • On a positive note, Jose Reyes (fractured left fibula) believes that he may be able to return to game action as soon as Wednesday night, although it's unlikely because of the unfavorable conditions of Montreal's artificial turf.

    He ran sprints Tuesday without incident and is improving with consistency. Reyes could be a probable to play this weekend when the Mets meet the Cubs at Shea Stadium.

  • The Mets' affiliation with Class-A Capital City is no more. New York signed a new two-year deal with the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the South Atlantic League on Tuesday.

  • The Mets will honor their top minor league players at Shea on Sunday afternoon. David Wright was named the Organizational Player of the Year, Yusmeiro Petit was tabbed Pitcher of the Year and Lastings Milledge was named Rookie of the Year.

    Accepting player of the year honors for their respective clubs will be Victor Diaz (Norfolk), Angel Pagan (Binghamton), Brett Harper (St. Lucie), Blake Whealy (Capital City), Ambiorix Concepcion (Brooklyn), Jesus Gamero (Kingsport) and Jesus Flores (Gulf Coast).

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