NEW YORK -- The Mets offense -- for all its shortcomings and unfulfilled promise -- is now Howard Johnson's to save.

The team named Johnson its hitting coach on Friday afternoon, two days after dismissing Rick Down. The newest Met, Rickey Henderson, will take over Johnson's old duties as first-base coach.

"I don't look at it as pressure," Johnson said. "I always look at it as responsibility, and my responsibilities have changed."

General manager Omar Minaya said that the choice was made because of Johnson's seniority in the organization and his subsequent familiarity with Mets hitters. Manager Willie Randolph spoke with both Johnson and Henderson privately before conferring with Minaya to make the decision.

Henderson's presence at first, the by-product of the move, could be a potential boon to Mets basestealers. The all-time Major League stolen-base king has spent the past two springs helping Jose Reyes and others decipher the movements of opposing pitchers, and now can do so on a daily basis.

"I wanted to be a coach, it's my dream outside of playing baseball," Henderson said. "I can bring excitement. I can bring a winning feeling."

Though this marks Henderson's first foray into coaching, it's just the latest in a string of promotions for Johnson. The former Met has been a hitting coach at every level in the organization, from his first post, with Class A Brooklyn in 2001, to his last job, with Triple-A Norfolk from 2005 to 2006.

And as the owner of 228 career home runs with the Mets and three other teams, Johnson has plenty of personal experience on which to draw -- even if his reputation as a straight fastball hitter has betrayed him.

"From what I've seen," laughed David Wright, "maybe he'll give us better advice on how to hit a fastball than a curveball."

Speeding up? Henderson intends to influence the division race from first base.

"I ain't going home in October," said Henderson, who intends to have an effect on how the Mets get to October. "We're gonna run there."

He expects that his greatest influence will be on Reyes.

"Now he's got a chance to get 100 [stolen bases]," Henderson said. "Now he can get there. I stole most of mine in the second half. Then he can talk about me, because I can't talk about myself any more."

Reyes had 46 steals in the 87 games the Mets played through Thursday. He was 18 short of his career high, 20 short of the Mets' record and 54 short of 100, the figure reached eight times since 1900, three times by Henderson.

Rickey officially retired: With Henderson now a full-time member of the Mets staff, he's officially given up hope of playing again in the Majors.

"This means I'm officially retired as a player," he said. "I'm going to share my knowledge with the kids and let them go out and do the playing, and let me sit back and help them accomplish their goals."

Henderson's last Major League game was back in 2003, but since then he's made appearances for the Independent League Newark Bears and San Diego Surf Dawgs. He's been quoted -- as recently as this May -- telling the media that if Roger Clemens can come back and play in his mid-40s, so can he.

But with his new post with the Mets made official, those thoughts have finally been buried in the past -- along with some overdue paperwork.

"I haven't submitted retirement papers to MLB," Henderson joked, "but I think MLB already had them."

This date in Mets history, July 14: Starter Jack Fisher, still pitching in the 10th inning, surrendered a run on hits by Floyd Robinson, Vada Pinson and Tony Perez, and the Mets lost, 1-0, to the Reds at Crosley Field on this date in 1966. ... In 1969, in his first start following the Imperfect Game against the Cubs at Shea Stadium, Tom Seaver allowed one run. Billy Williams singled in Don Kessinger in the sixth inning of the Mets' 1-0 loss at Wrigley Field.

On July 14, 1983, Seaver was the winning pitcher in the Mets' 7-4 victory against the Reds at Shea. The loser was Charlie Puleo, whom the Mets had traded to the Reds for Seaver the previous winter. ... The Mets won, 7-0, in Atlanta in 1984, with Bruce Berenyi and Tom Gorman combining for a two-hitter. Keith Hernandez had three hits, three runs, three RBIs, 11 putouts and two assists. "He played his regular great game," manager Davey Johnson said. ... A two-run homer by Mike Piazza off Derek Lowe in the eighth inning provided the tying and go-ahead runs in what became a 6-4 Mets victory at Fenway Park in 2000.

Rotation set: Oliver Perez recovered well from his side session on Thursday and remains on track to come off the disabled list for his start on Sunday. Randolph said that he won't place any limits on the lefty in terms of pitch count in his first outing back.

"No problem," Perez said. "Everything's good, and they're happy for me because I'm ready to go."

Randolph also dismissed Dave Williams as a candidate for Monday's series opener at San Diego. That makes rookie Mike Pelfrey the starter by default, in what will be his third outing since returning from Triple-A New Orleans.

Cards in the cards: The Mets announced on Friday that the June 28 rainout against St. Louis will be made up at Shea on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7:10 p.m. ET. Tickets from the June 28 game will be honored at the gate.

The new date, which had been one of just three off-days for the team in September, now becomes part of a stretch of 17 straight games to end the regular season.

Coming up: The Mets and Reds meet for the third of four games on Saturday on Ralph Kiner Night, a celebration of the Hall of Famer and legendary Mets broadcaster. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET, with Cincinnati's Matt Belisle attempting to deny Tom Glavine his 298th win.