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Friday, June 28
Already a wild week for the Mets

By Bob Klapisch
Special to

The Mets are taking a deep breath, the kind that stretches the lining of the lungs, preparing for a weekend series with the Yankees that could rescue the summer or potentially ruin them.

Talk about New York pressure: Already 8½ games behind the Braves in the National League East, the Mets are just a losing streak away from essentially flipping the calendar to 2003.

But even as they set foot in the Bronx, the Mets have already been dealing with controversies from every quadrant -- co-owners suing each other, teammates arguing in the dugout in full view of the fans, charges and counter-charges that the Braves were cheating while taking two of three at Shea.

It was a wild week, all right. Most incredibly, no one mentioned Roger Clemens' name, not even once.

Here's how a day-by-day look at how the Mets arrived at the doorstep of this Subway Series.

Monday: Good start, bad finish
The Mets are set to begin a four-game series the Braves, bolstered by the fact they won't have to face Greg Maddux, who's still suffering from a calf injury. Roberto Alomar flatly says, "we need to win three of four."

Al Leiter, the Mets' most dependable pitching-commodity, does his job, limiting the Braves to just two runs in six innings, but is slapped with a no-decision in a 3-2 loss. Scott Strickland gives up an eighth-inning home run to pinch-hitter Keith Lockhart, forcing Leiter to confront the unkind reality.

"We can't start thinking about the big picture now or we're history," the left-hander says. Actually, there are whispers that 2003 is already on Leiter's mind, since the Mets abruptly broke off contract talks for a new two-year deal.

Leiter, who's eligible for free agency in 2003, has told friends he'd jump at the chance to sign with the Yankees, and that he's finished negotiating with the Mets for now.

"I don't care if I win every game the rest of the way, or if I lose every game, I'm done talking," he said.

Tuesday: At odds
The Mets certainly benefit from not having to hit against Maddux. Albie Lopez takes the mound instead, and the Mets jump out to a 7-0 lead for Steve Trachsel, then hold on for a wobbly 7-4 win. It wasn't pretty, but much needed: Since May 17, the Mets had won just one game by more than three runs.

But, as usual, there's news off the field, as co-owner Nelson Doubleday, who'd agreed in principle to be bought out by Fred Wilpon, decides the $391 million appraisal of the franchise's value was too low. Doubleday believes arbiter Robert Starkey's appraisal was biased -- meaning: lower -- in Wilpon's favor.

A long court battle looms, which will further delay any attempt to refurbish the aging ballpark.

The internal war spills over into the dugout, as Alomar and Roger Cedeno argue loudly before the first inning and are separated by Mo Vaughn.

The disagreement actually begins in the clubhouse a day earlier, when a handful of Mets ridicule an unflattering photograph of Alomar as a Padre on his 1988 rookie card. Clearly agitated, Alomar knocks some dominoes off a table, demanding more respect from his teammates.

Cedeno wasn't part of Monday's group, but teases Alomar about the card on Tuesday. The two begin arguing as they walk towards the dugout, at which point they could be seen by fans and TV cameras alike. Vaughn keeps the two from actually throwing punches, and an uneasy truce is reached.

As it turns out, all the negative energy translates positively for the Mets, as Alomar belts a solo homer in the first inning, and Cedeno singles, steals second and scores in the second.

Wednesday: Slammed
Things are calmer, though Vaughn still appears to have his juices flowing. He homers twice, including a titanic shot estimated at 505 feet off the scoreboard in right-center. But once again, the Braves victimize Strickland in the late innings, as Gary Sheffield slams an eighth-inning grand slam en route to a 6-3 win.

That not only eliminates any chance that the Mets can meet Alomar's "three of four" pre-series goal, it drops them 8½ back, all alone in fourth place.

"Those guys got my number right now and they're getting it done," Strickland says of the Braves.

No one in the room argues the point.

Thursday: Wet and wild
The game is washed away by a third-inning rainstorm -- just as well, since the Braves were already leading, 2-1, thanks to another homer from Sheffield.

But even without action on the field, the two teams are nevertheless busy playing mind games. The Mets convince the commissioner's office that Sheffield was using an illegal elbow pad while hitting his grand slam the previous night. For this, Sheffield is fined an undisclosed amount.

Braves' GM John Schuerholz testily says, "This is more important for (Mets GM) Steve Phillips, apparently."

The Braves question the dimensions of Vaughn's pad after he hit two homers in Wednesday night's game, although it was found to be of legal size.

The Mets had actually seen Sheffield's illegal pad while studying advance-scouting videos of the Braves, and thus asked umpires to examine it. The Mets claim Sheffield submitted a smaller pad for inspection, then went back to his illegal one during the game.

In any case, the Mets end the series in worse shape than they began it, or as Mike Piazza put it, "Obviously we don't have a lot of room for mistakes at this point."

Next stop: the Bronx.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for

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