The New York Times’ Ben Shipgel on the latest episode in the New York Mets’ sad and thorough demise.

Mike Piazza, who missed 23 games with a wrist injury, was activated before Saturday night’s game against the Cardinals and hit a home run in his first at-bat. He later singled, and everything was going well until the eighth inning of the Mets’ 4-2 loss, when Julian Tavarez lost control of a 92-mile-an-hour fastball and struck Piazza in the helmet.

Piazza crumpled to the ground and lay there for a few minutes.

“I was a little loopy,” he said.

He walked off the field without assistance, and Ramon Castro went in to run for him and replaced him at catcher. Trainers later determined that Piazza had sustained a slight concussion, but Piazza did not receive a C.T. scan and was not admitted to a hospital.

When Piazza spoke with reporters after the game, he said he felt fine but did not speculate about when he would play again. “That’s up to Willie,” Piazza said, referring to Manager Willie Randolph.

To make matters worse, the cleanup hitter Cliff Floyd strained his left hamstring while sliding into second base in the seventh and said he would probably miss Sunday’s game.

Before the wrist injury, it had been a charmed season for Piazza, who says he realizes that he will probably not be re-signed. He receives standing ovations at Shea Stadium after home runs, and he has handled his tumble in the lineup from fourth to fifth to sixth to seventh with dignity.

Following the script, it hardly seemed surprising that Piazza cracked an opposite-field homer off Jeff Suppan, giving the Mets an early 1-0 lead.

Piazza singled and popped out in his other two at-bats before facing Tavarez in the eighth. After the game, Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa sought out Piazza to express his apologies.

“I don’t really have anything to say about that,” Piazza said.

La Russa said: “The incident where somebody gets hit in the head, whether it’s Mike Piazza or anybody, spoils the whole night for me. It’s been my No. 1 pet peeve. I’d trade him not getting hit, and we lose the game.”

I suspect we’ll not see a pregame press conference today where Mike announces that he’s lost respect for Julian Tavares. In all seriousness, I wonder if Piazza had been fast enough to catch Guillermo Mota in spring training a few years ago, would pitchers be so willing to aim at Mike’s skull?

All cynicism aside, the modest goal of the Mets organization since day one of Spring Training has been to play meaningful games in September, and New York’s International League (AAA) Norfolk Tides are doing just that, having forced a Game 5 in their IL playoff series with Toledo with last night’s 3-2 win. The winner of tonight’s contest will face the victor of the Indianapolis/Buffalo series, also tied at 2-2. Big league alumni you might hold near and dear to your heart starring for Buffalo in the series include former Met Mike Kinkade and all-male cinema superstar/reliever Kaz Tadano.

(Tadano reading a prepared statement to the Buffalo press, stressing that he never rented “Spanglish” from Blockbuster and even if he did, he wasn’t very good).