Mets bounce back despite loss of Niese
Figueroa solid after starter leaves with right leg injury
NEW YORK -- After the Mets' 9-0 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon, David Wright sat by his locker enjoying his postgame snack: a large bowl of Lucky Charms.
The cereal that bills itself as "magically delicious" might be the Mets' last resort to ward off a series of injuries that started out as unlucky, but has become surreal over the past two days.
Even in an otherwise uplifting bounce-back win on Wednesday, a big part of the story afterward was what the Mets had lost. This time, it was young starting pitcher Jonathon Niese, who left the game in the second inning with a right hamstring injury.
While stretching to cover first base on a potential 3-6-1 double play, Niese fell into a split at the bag. Still, that fall wasn't as painful as the one the left-hander experienced when he then attempted to throw a warmup pitch, during which he crumbled to the ground in agony.
The Mets later released a statement that Niese will miss the rest of the season after a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed a complete tear of the right upper hamstring tendon from the bone.
Niese's injury came one day after second baseman Luis Castillo sprained his left ankle when he slipped walking down the dugout steps. It also came four innings before outfielder Gary Sheffield pulled himself from the game with discomfort in the right hamstring that recently had him on the disabled list.
For the most part, the Mets have stopped spouting the clichés that injuries happen, that they are a part of baseball and that no one feels sorry for them. By now, they simply must express bewilderment at a sequence of events even Job thinks is just a little absurd.
Manuel and most of the Mets admitted even before this week that they had never been part of a spate of injuries quite like this. Now, questions about the injuries are met with widening eyes and shaking heads.
Maybe Wright has had the right idea all along with his choice of cereal. After all, he's one of the final remaining regulars to avoid the injury hex, even when it appears to aim at his head, as the Mets believe Brad Thompson did in the sixth inning. Nelson Figueroa had plunked Albert Pujols in the fifth -- his second hit batsman of the game -- and Thompson buzzed Wright high and tight on a 1-1 pitch. Home-plate umpire Bill Miller promptly warned both benches.
"I thought it was bush league," Jeff Francoeur said. "You don't throw at a guy's head. Hit him in the back."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was not happy with Thompson's location on the pitch.
"Wright was killing us at the plate. We were trying to get the ball in, but you can't get a ball up that high," La Russa said. "I mean, I don't blame the umpire. That was terrible."
Wright has certainly found his groove at the plate, getting the Mets off to a much-needed quick start with a two-run opposite-field home run in the first inning off St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse. Wright's three hits on the day give him 21 in his past 15 games, over which he's batting .396.
The day's hero, however, was Monday's scapegoat. Figueroa gave up six runs and 10 hits in only 1 2/3 innings in a loss to the Diamondbacks. This time around, he was the one coming on in relief in the second inning for Niese, tossing 4 1/3 shutout innings. Figueroa surrendered four hits and struck out five to earn his first victory of the season.
Figueroa even helped out at the plate, as for the second successive game, a Mets pitcher laced a two-run extra-base hit in the second inning. Tuesday night it was Johan Santana's double to center field; Wednesday afternoon, Figueroa tripled to left-center to pad the Mets' lead to 4-0. He scored one batter later when Rick Ankiel dropped Angel Pagan's sacrifice fly to center.
"Today, I was thrown in the fire," Figueroa said, adding that he may have overprepared himself mentally for his spot start on Monday. "I feel like I made up for the last time out there. I walked into boos and turned them into cheers pretty quickly."
Pagan had three hits and drove in four runs, adding an RBI triple in the sixth and a two-run homer to deep center in the ninth to provide the final margin.
But as the Mets ended the day with one more win, they departed for San Diego with one fewer pitcher -- one who had shown promise in his past two starts and was, in the words of Wright, solidifying his spot in the starting rotation.
Even so, the Mets soldier on, confident that things have to get better.
"It's going to turn around," Sheffield said. "When you go through something like this, there's got to be something good at the end."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.