Mets' role-players thriving as starters
Bench a perfect complement to balanced, talented regulars
NEW YORK -- The final touch, a bases-loaded single worth two runs by Carlos Delgado, had been applied some 20 minutes earlier. The Mets were in their clubhouse savoring their victory against the Cubs on Thursday afternoon when David Wright used the phrase so often used by Mets personnel: "With a lineup like ours ...," he said as he began to explain how a team comes from four runs down in the ninth inning to win.
On that day, though, the "lineup like ours" hardly struck fear in the citizenry of Wrigleyville. No Wright, no Jose Reyes, no Carlos Beltran, no Paul Lo Duca. The lineup put on the field Thursday wouldn't have satisfied a strict interpretation of the Spring Training rule that requires teams to start four regulars.
In order, Endy Chavez, Ruben Gotay, Shawn Green, Delgado, Julio Franco, David Newhan, Ramon Castro and Carlos Gomez were the names on the card Sandy Alomar had handed the boys in blue at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday. No matter, on that day, eight was enough; eight-plus, if you want to split hairs. There was ninth-inning input from Wright and Beltran. But the Mets played eight innings without them, and nine without Reyes and Lo Duca.
The developments of the ninth inning gave a different meaning to Green's pregame assessment. "We've got the best bench in the big leagues," he said. By game's end, that claim could have been supported in either of two ways.
The talent in the Mets' regular lineup is second to none in the National League. The bench is special, too. The production of Damion Easley and all-around genius of Chavez calls attention to how well the Mets reserves have performed. But, as starters, Castro, Franco, Gomez, Gotay and Newhan have five home runs and 17 RBIs in 92 at-bats, more home runs in 92 at-bats than Delgado has hit in 159 and more RBIs in those 92 than Lo Duca has in 130.
As starters, Easley and Chavez have combined for seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 112 at-bats, production totals that slightly exceed what Green has done -- five home runs and 22 RBIs -- in more at-bats during his seven-week renaissance.
The prowess of the Mets' reserves isn't conspicuous in terms of late-inning substitution and production. The regular lineup is so balanced and such a left-handed-right-handed challenge for opposing bullpens that pinch-hitting isn't a great need. Some teams pinch-hit for their middle infielders, their catcher or their center felders. The Mets never do.
Instead, their bench is all about providing rest for the regulars and production when opportunities present. When the Mets' disabled list is devoid of regulars, as it was until Jose Valentin went down last month, the regular lineup included a 40-year-old left fielder, a 37-year-old second baseman, a 35-year-old catcher and a center fielder whose legs seemingly have more limitations than his skills.
The reserves as starters
"Our bench is prepared," manager Willie Randolph said. "They do their work, and they're ready whenever we need them. They've done a nice little job already. We have guys who know how to play and keep themselves ready. [General manager] Omar [Minaya] has done a good job bringing in the kind of players who know how to handle those roles."
And Randolph has done a good job keeping his bench fresh and using his players in situations in which they can shine. He started Chavez and Gomez, both fleet and defensively skilled, in left and right field, respectively, in the last two starts made by Oliver Perez, the league's foremost flyball pitcher. Until Valentin's knee betrayed him, Randolph used Easley rather than Valentin, a switch-hitter, at second base against left-handed starters.
Randolph, seldom a bench player in his 17 seasons in the big leagues, embraces his role players.
"I treat them like I treat my regulars," the manager said. "Some managers don't talk to their role players, let alone play them. I know how important that is. I used to talk to the guys on the bench when I was a player. I heard their grievances and gripes."
Easley learned the benefits of a manager's communication. Before he became the almost everyday second baseman, he regularly took pregame ground balls at every infeld position and worked some in the outfield. But Randolph would advise him the day prior to a planned start, allowing Easley to concentrate his work at the position he was to play.
"It just makes sense to communicate with all your players," Randolph says. "Everyone needs a little love, whether they're playing every day or twice a week. I like to use my bench as much as possible. Keep them sharp, keep the regulars rested ... keep everybody happy."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.