Notes: Rookie Smith soaking it all in
Wagner, Maine share stories of rough outings with sidearmer
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Trouble, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder, too. So it was Tuesday afternoon when the Mets gradually gathered in their clubhouse and small-talked their way to 3 o'clock, when the bus took most of them to Viera, Fla., and a game against the Nationals.
At one point, closer Billy Wagner inquired of rookie reliever Joe Smith, "How'd it go last night?"
Smith told the Mets closer, "It got a little rough," and explained how the ninth-inning -- and Smith's first exhibition game save -- had evolved Monday night. He spoke of the infield tapper that became a single, and how he'd hit Dodgers third baseman Andy La Roche with a 1-2 pitch, and so on.
The play-by-play prompted Wagner to ask the bottom-line question: "Did the score change when you were out there?"
And when Smith indicated it hadn't, Wagner became the incredulous sage teacher and Smith the innocent pupil.
"You call that a rough outing?" Wagner said. "Let me tell you about ... "
And Wagner proceeded to give Smith a first-person account of his experiences during the Mets' series against the Yankees last May. Wagner won the first game, squandered a four-run lead in the second and saved the third.
"I went from hero to goat to hero in three days," he said. "They wanted to lynch me after the second game and I got a reprieve, because I held on to third one."
And so it went. Later, John Maine told Smith of how in his second Mets start, he walked the opposing pitcher, the Pirates' Paul Maholm, and was roundly booed -- at home.
The anecdotes were shared with Smith, not to scare him, but to prepare him. Manager Willie Randolph and general manager Omar Minaya haven't shown their hands yet, but the players believe Smith is a member of the team's expanded seven-man bullpen -- and not necessarily the seventh man. There was indication of that Saturday morning, when word of the plan to use Chan Ho Park in relief seeped out. Smith and Park would work in short in relief and Aaron Sele would pitch in long relief.
Smith takes it all in and hopes. It's hard enough to command a sub-sidearm slider in normal circumstances, but to throw it with fingers crossed is like trying to hit a knuckleball with an invisible bat. Smith listens, gleans and wishes for the calendar pages to turn more quickly.
An hour later, Minaya acknowledges how, last summer, he challenged Aaron Heilman to "step up" after the shoulder dislocation had ended Duaner Sanchez's season. The general manager says he has another stepper-upper in mind, now that Sanchez is down until at least July. But he won't identify him.
Can it be anyone other than Smith?
Furthermore: Sanchez said he spoke with teammates and friends about the need for surgery to repair the broken bone in his right shoulder. His own second opinion still is forthcoming. ... Minaya said Lastings Milledge doesn't need to play again in an exhibition game, that he still could win a place on the Opening Day roster without playing. Milledge had been concerned that the bruised right hand he suffered Sunday when struck by a pitch would undermine his chance to make the big-league roster. Milledge continues to get treatment for the sore and swollen hand.
Without a song: Now that he is certain he will pitch for the Mets at some point in April, Mike Pelfrey needs to catch up on some things. It struck him Monday that he will be batting at Shea Stadium.
"Hopefully three or four times each start," he said.
And that he, too, will need a song for his at-bats.
He wants nothing so elaborate as David Wright, who has fans voting, on the Mets' Web site, for his song. Pelfrey wants "just something to get me going." He admits his musical knowledge is limited. This best sums up how limited: he says he has heard of Bruce Springsteen. That probably eliminates most recordings before 1980.
So what's an appropriate song for a 23-year-old, 6-foot-7 pitcher born on an Air Force base in Ohio who now lives in Wichita, Kan., and was the club's first-round selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft? Or what will get him going?
Not likely: Mason Glavine, the 7-year-old son of Tom Glavine, posed this question to his father recently: "Dad, if you retire next year, does mom have to get a job?"
Up next: Lined up to pitch for the Mets in their Wednesday home game at 1:10 p.m. ET against the Braves are relievers Ambiorix Burgos, Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman, Wagner, Park and Jon Adkins. Atlanta's starter is right-hander Kyle Davies.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.