04/13/11 1:00 AM ET
Izzy, Wiggy possess grit Mets have lacked
Respected veterans symbols of resolve club showed in past
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
The combination of names that struck me came one day later was Izzy and Wiggy, as in Jason Isringhausen and Ty Wigginton, former Mets playing in the same game at Citi Field. Izzy retired each of his two batters for the home team; Wiggy played nine innings as the Rockies' first baseman in what became a tough loss for the Mets and the kind of victory a team with more moxie often produces.
Each player had begun his big league career with the Mets, Izzy as a starting pitcher in 1995 and Wiggy as a multipurpose, right-handed-hitting player of value seven summers later. Each played long enough in Queens to create an association with the club and its fanbase, but not so long or so well as to create a lasting identity as a Met.
Each was traded. And as time has passed, each has proven to be the kind of player the Mets have lacked for too long, one with Paul Lo Duca grit, growl, grimace. Izzy has had the more prominent career, serving as a formidable closer for the A's and Cardinals from early August 1999, shortly after the Mets traded him, through early May 2008, when his body betrayed him for the umpteenth time.
Wiggy has become a most respected utility man, even though his resume suggests a certain journeyman aura about him. He has changed employers almost as often as he changed positions. Because of his fire, he has been more than meets the eye, a positive internal force and influence for each of the five clubs that have employed him.
Two winters ago, after the drudgery of the Mets' 2009 season and more evidence that the team required an infusion of character more than additional talent, one of the Mets' advisors suggested that Wigginton would be an effective antidote for what seemingly ailed the team, that his Wally Backman, "take-no-prisoners" attitude would rub off and perhaps push the team closer to the top of the National League East than would another .300 hitter who bats .226 after the sixth inning.
The advisor's words went unheeded by the since-discarded regime, and the Mets' standing at the All-Star break last summer -- eight games over .500 and four games from first place -- deteriorated into four games under and 18 games behind by season's end.
Wigginton himself wouldn't have made the sufficient difference, what with Jason Bay going down and the Frankie Rodriguez incident. He probably wouldn't have played that much. But his persona might have affected others in positive ways and defended against the return of the "here-we-go-again" syndrome that had undermined the team of 2008 and '09.
Isringhausen wasn't capable of throwing after 2009, so he was not on the Mets' to-consider list. But he's capable now, so long as his 38-year-old joints cooperate. He can get outs, and no bases-loaded, one-run-lead scenario is about to unnerve him. He'll be a terrific influence in the bullpen, before he's summoned, and in the clubhouse.
Isringhausen had spent weeks in Spring Training reinforcing Mike Pelfrey's confidence before the Mets broke camp and left him behind in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Did Pelfrey pitch effectively on Monday night because Izzy had arrived?
Before Isringhausen's promotion, the 2011 bullpen was reminiscent of the bullpens that cost the Mets so dearly in 2007 and '08, those with Luis Ayala, Brandon Knight, Jorge Sosa, Ricardo Rincon and Guillermo Mota, those who specialized in Russian Roulette Relief. Other than the brief, pre-injury days of J.J. Putz in '09, the Mets haven't had a steady eighth-inning man since the days of '06, when Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez shared the assignment. Isringhausen may be the first Mets setup man since then to see the eighth inning as an opportunity rather than a sentence.
I thought former general manager Omar Minaya wasn't as mindful of the Izzy-Wiggy-Wally-Paulie (Lo Duca or O' Neill) type of player as he might have been. Al Leiter saw the resolve that Darren Daulton brought to the 1997 Marlins and spoke of it often when he played with the Mets. His generation of Mets had Edgardo Alfonzo, who quietly added to the team's resolve, and Robin Ventura, who was more conspicuous about it.
The Mets of the 1980s had Backman, Keith Hernandez, Lenny Dykstra and, for a brief period, Ray Knight. Bobby Ojeda had some growl, too. And I always thought more Moises Alou would have made a difference in 2007 and '08. The Mets of the late '60s and early '70s were fueled by Tom Seaver. And even some untalented Mets teams in the '90s had a resolute player or two -- Alfonzo, Jeff Kent and Joe Orsulak, who was admired and influential in his own low-key way.
The void in the Mets of 2010 was addressed to a degree with the appointment of Terry Collins. But a manager's impact usually isn't as great as that of players in that area, Gil Hodges, Billy Martin (for brief periods), Lou Piniella and Clint Hurdle being exceptions. But now that the Mets have some grit in the manager's office -- grit Jerry Manuel lacked -- they lack the talent, particularly in the bullpen.
The return of Bay, the emergence of Josh Thole and Ike Davis and the presence of Isringhausen and David Wright will help. But it will take time. Teams with a chance to improve as the season progresses. This Mets team has time, room and a need to improve.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.