The final regular-season homestand at Shea begins tonight as the Mets start a four-game series with the Cubs. Here are the lineups and pregame notes:
METS (86-69, 2nd NL East, -1.5 GA):
7 Reyes, SS
28 Murphy, LF
5 Wright, 3B
21 Delgado, 1B
15 Beltran, CF
19 Church, RF
1 Castillo, 2B
23 Schneider, C
49 Niese, LHP (1-0, 4.09, has never faced Cubs)
CUBS (94-60, 1st NL Central, +10 GA):
12 Soriano, LF
5 Cedeno, 2B
25 Lee, 1B
16 Ramirez, 3B
18 Soto, C
7 DeRosa, RF
9 Johnson, CF
2 Theriot, SS
21 Marquis, RHP (10-9, 4.39, vs. the Mets hitters)
MAINE BACK SOON?: Jerry Manuel said he is more optimistic John Maine will return this season, but it depends on how he feels tomorrow. Maine will probably toss lightly on Wednesday, so that leaves Thursday as the most likely day for his return in a best-case scenario. One thing is certain, if he does come back, Maine will have his own version of the Joba Rules. Only one inning per outing, and never during an inning. “Those first five, six, seven pitches may not be what he wants, but they may be very important for the game,” Manuel said about why they must not rush Maine into a game. … As for Maine’s stuff, Manuel said hitters he spoke to estimated it was in the low 90s, an improvement over Saturday’s fastball.
BACKPACK EXORCISM: The Mets destroyed the pink Sleeping Beauty backpack the bullpen rookies had been lugging around and replaced it with another pink backpack. The original apparently coincided with the bullpen’s extreme struggles, so it was sacrificed.
BIONIC BILLY: Billy Wagner swung by the clubhouse today. We didn’t talk to him, but he told teammates his knee felt much worse than his elbow, which was covered in an apparatus that made Barry Bonds’ armor look like a wristband.
FORGET ABOUT THREE-DAYS REST: There’s no catchy headline here. Manuel said he wouldn’t start guys like Johan Santana and Oliver Perez on three-days rest this weekend. He said if Jon Niese pitches poorly tonight he would throw someone else Saturday, but not Santana. … In fact, Manuel said it was more likely he would call on his starters out of the bullpen between starts, but only if he was desperate.
PARNELL’S A POSSIBILITY: More and more the idea of Bobby Parnell has grown intriguing. Not because he’s done all that much (Parnell has recorded five outs), but because those around him keep failing. Today Manuel said the Mets won’t be afraid to put Parnell into a high-stress situation this week.
“With Bobby Parnell right now, he has showed the ability to throw strikes,” Manuel said. “He’s gotten outs. I think whether he is ready for that or not, we can probably not afford to wait because of the uncertainty we have in that position right now. We will probably be given another test in a more stressful situation that what he’s been put in.”
Let the Bobby Parnell as setup man era begin!
UPDATE, 7:14 p.m.: Terrific three-up, three-down by Niese, who could give the Mets a big lift tonight with six or seven (or eight or nine) strong innings.
Niese buckled the knees of Alfonso Soriano on a 74 m.p.h. curve for a strikeout looking. He then got the new two on ground balls.
UPDATE, 8:10 p.m.: Dan Murphy broke out of a mini-slump (0 for his last 9) to put the Mets ahead 2-1. The Cubs have come back here and tied it 2-2 and have two on and none out in the fourth. All of a sudden, Niese appeared to lose his confidence. He retired five straight to start the game, but has been hit hard since. He has already thrown 75 pitches in three-plus innings.
Nelson Fiugeroa is warming in the ‘pen.
UPDATE, 8:15 p.m.: Of all the worst-case scenarios you could possibly dream up, that has to be the single worst way the Mets could’ve started this homestand. A hanging curve ball that was dumped into the home bullpen for a grand slam. Ouch.
Here’s the final line on Niese, who was just pulled for Figueroa: 3+IP, 7H, 6ER, 2BB, 2K, 78 pitches.
If the Mets can pull themselves off the deck now and win this game, I’ll give them great respect. I don’t know if that’s possible now. Figueroa just gave up a solo shot to Derrek Lee, so it’s 7-2 Cubs.
UPDATE, 8:45 p.m.: Another RBI for Marquis, and the Cubs lead now lead 8-2 through 4 1/2.
Bobby Parnell was between 92-95 m.p.h. in the fifth, but the Cubs made him work. He threw 28 pitches and allowed a run on two hits.
It’ll be interesting to see if Manuel gives Parnell another inning of work to see how he responds.
UPDATE, 9:05 p.m.: A very strong second inning of work for Bobby Parnell, who blew away Derrek Lee on a 96-m.p.h. heater in the midst of retiring the side in order.
He threw 41 pitches (30 strikes) and here is his line: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. Overall, Parnell has now allowed two hits and a walk in 3 2/3 IP. He has to get a shot this week no matter what his experience level.
UPDATE, 9:22 p.m.: Not a good few minutes for the Mets. Carlos Beltran goes crashing into the wall for a catch and goes down on the center field grass in pain. He stayed in the game, but who knows what that means for him this week? Beltran, as you know, has struggled before when trying to play through pain.
As that all unfolded, the Phillies took a 3-2 lead over the Braves in the eight. Their run was aided by the pitcher’s throwing error.
UPDATE, 9:56 p.m.: Not a great job by Met fans tonight. Shea wasn’t close to full tonight, and the park is about half-empty right now with the Mets trailing 8-4 in the eighth.
If you’re a fan out there, I hope you’re here at some point this week. These are huge games and it’s surprising to see so many empty seats.