Struggling Mets still feel they can win; Expos' jack-of-all-trades

We all know what kind of year it has been so far for the defending world champion New York Mets - a horrendously tough one! Will it get any better now that the Mets have signed 42-year-old free-agent Tom Seaver, who has not pitched since last August? ``I think it can get better for us, but I don't think it can get easier,'' said New york general manager Frank Cashen. ``Going into this season, I had six reliable starting pitchers on my roster. I've already lost two for the year with injuries [he meant 18-game winner Bob Ojeda and rookie Dave Cone], as well as three others who have already spent time on the disabled list.

``For us this season, it's going to be the opposite of last year when we started great and sort of let the machine run by itself,'' he continued. ``We won our division by 21 games in 1986, and we know that isn't going to happen again. We're not right yet as a team, and we may have to tinker with things all year, but I still think we can win our division again.''

One thing the Mets have to be happy about is the return of former Cy Young Award winner Dwight Gooden, who is 2-1 in three starts since coming out of a drug rehabilitation center earlier this month. Gooden beat Pittsburgh and Chicago in his first two starts, striking out 10 Cubs in the latter contest, before finally losing 4-0 to Montreal Monday night. If Dwight can continue to pitch well, especially against key division rival St. Louis, all is not lost for the Mets.

With Gooden and Ojeda unavailable and Ron Darling struggling, New York's starting pitching over the first eight weeks of the season was a far cry from that of 1986. The only member of last season's big four who has picked up where he left off is Sid Fernandez, who actually looks even sharper than a year ago with an 8-2 record and a National League-leading 2.17 earned run average. Terry Leach (4-0) has taken up some of the slack, Seaver could help if he can regain some of his old form, and of course Darling is being counted on to come around before too long.

Meanwhile New York is still an explosive team offensively, capable of scoring runs in bunches, playing tight defense, and staying in a lot of games courtesy of its outstanding bullpen. It also has a strong motivator in manager Davey Johnson, whose tendencies to platoon certain players, depending on who is pitching for the opposition, are right out of Casey Stengel's book.

Recently Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez told reporters: ``Right now we're in the same boat as the '85 Chicago Cubs and the '86 St. Louis Cardinals. Like us, they both won division titles and then had their pitching wiped out by injuries the following season.

``No question about it, to win again we somehow have to adjust to that problem,'' he continued. ``We can't afford to lose many one-run games, and we can't ever let ourselves get too far behind in the standings. Maybe the best thing we've got going for us is the fact that the season still has 100 or so games to run.''

One report circulating now is that Houston fireballer Nolan Ryan, who began his career with the Mets in the mid-'60s, might be available after the All-Star break in mid-July. The prospect of such a deal prompts the recall of other situations in which names like Hank Borowy, Johnny Sain, and even Grover Cleveland Alexander, all late-season acquisitions, won important games for their new teams down the stretch. Casey at the ready

Major league baseball's Peter Pan this season is a 26-year-old rookie with the Montreal Expos named Casey Candaele (pronounced Can-DELL), who is not your usual jack-of-all-trades.

Casey's 5 ft. 1 in. mother (Helen Callaghan was her maiden name) is still more famous than he is, having been a star in the 1940s and '50s in the All-American Girls Baseball (as in hardball) League. Recently, a documentary was filmed about her.

``I never saw Mom play, but Casey is one tough young man when it comes to hanging in there,'' said Bobby Winkles, a former major league manager and current Montreal coach. ``Every year this kid has gone to spring training, he's had to win a place on the team, even though he always played well the previous season. It was like the manager always thought he could find someone better, only by opening day Casey would be back somewhere in the lineup.

``While he is a young man who might not hit quite well enough to ever be a big league regular, you can put him any place in your infield or outfield and he'll do the job for you defensively,'' Winkles continued. ``But what separates Casey from most guys who can play several positions, but aren't always sure where to throw the ball or where to stand when it's time to take the cutoff throw, he never makes a mistake in those areas. Someday he'll make a wonderful manager or coach.''

Already this season the 5 ft. 9 in. switch-hitter has started games at shortstop, second base, and all three outfield positions. He also had one 13-game stretch when, as Montreal's leadoff hitter, he batted .370. Elsewhere in the majors

Rickey Henderson of the New York Yankees, probably the best base stealer in the American League, was telling reporters how he used to rely strictly on speed until Davey Lopes became one of his teammates. ``During the three years [1982-84] Davey and I were together in Oakland, he taught me a lot about how to read pitchers' motions so that I could get a quicker start,'' Rickey said. Lopes still holds the National League record for consecutive steals without being caught, with 38.

Fred Lynn, the man a lot of people thought might become baseball's best player after winning the American League's Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in 1975 with Boston, still can't seem to play a full season without getting hurt. In his last two years with Baltimore, Lynn has missed a total of 88 games. What does this mean? Well, the Orioles were 54-49 last year when Lynn started for them, and 19-40 when he didn't.

From outfielder Mookie Wilson of the New York Mets on why he chose to be married at the ballpark: ``My wife wanted a big diamond!''

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