Mets 6, Braves 5

No sooner did I float the possibility of Carlos Beltran, Kaz Matsui and Jorge Julio becoming fan favorites at Shea did all 3 play crucial roles in yesterday’s unlikely win over Tim Hudson and Braves. So with that sort of soothsaying in mind, how about a no-hitter from Jose Lima today?

The Bergen Record’s Bob Klapisch claims that Victor Zambrano’s early exit on Saturday was caused by a pre-existing injury, and the pitcher was less than honest regarding his condition.

To hear the players tell it, Zambrano’s injury was bound to happen; everyone knew he was headed for trouble. Everyone, that is, except for general manager Omar Minaya, manager Willie Randolph and pitching coach Rick Peterson, all of whom said they had no idea Zambrano’s condition was this critical.

The debate over who knew what put the club’s hierarchy on the defensive, even after a 6-5 win over the Braves that dropped the defending Eastern Division champs nine games out.

Right until the end, Zambrano made sure Randolph and Peterson were kept in the dark. The most critical moment of the day actually occurred two pitches prior to the blowout. That’s when the manager confronted Zambrano on the mound and asked if there was something wrong; apparently, the pitcher’s growing discomfort could be discerned from the dugout.

But Zambrano repeatedly told Randolph he was fine, which may prove to be the most damaging white lie of his career.

“I looked him in the eye three times in a row and asked him how he felt,” Randolph said. “I said, ‘Listen, you don’t want to get hurt here. You don’t want to take a chance. I could get [Darren Oliver] up.’ But he kept looking me in the eye and saying he was fine.”

Why, exactly would anyone bend the truth so outrageously? Part of it is the macho ethos that’s woven into professional sports. Succumbing to pain equals weakness, at least to those who feel the ongoing need to prove themselves.

And that’s the genesis of Zambrano’s problem. He has been criticized ever since he became a Met in the unpopular deal for Scott Kazmir. While the lefty prospect seems headed for stardom, Zambrano has slogged along at a maddening pace, walking too many batters, using up too many pitches in every start, frustrating the Mets as much as his opponents.

The pressure to make the Met community forget Kazmir may have contributed to Zambrano’s decision to lie to Randolph. According to Martinez, the Venezuelan right-hander said through his tears, “They put so much pressure on me,” as he was being taken to the hospital.

Other thoughts on Saturday’s events :

After getting though the 1st inning, The Zambrano project threw a pitch to Andruw Jones and ran off the mound like he saw Dick Cheney with a hunting rifle. Zambrano is a friggin’ head case. It’s like he’s scared to say anything to Professor Rick or Willie when he is not physically right. Randolph said after the game that Zambrano never told him about any discomfort he’s had in his elbow so you know Zambrano will now take a permanent spot in Willie’s Dog House. – Steve Keane, The Eddie Kranepool Society

If I could ask one thing, especially of journalists, it would be could we please let go of the Kazmir trade now? You’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of it, now move on. If Victor Zambrano ever pitches again for the Mets, lets just talk about him.Mike’s Mets

Of course Victor Zambrano doesn’t occur in a vacuum. I imagine if I were a soft-spoken sensitive soul from another country who has never gotten anything close to an even break from the fans of the team that I pitch for, I’d feel compelled to show them. If that was his motivation or it was the natural instinct of an athlete to compete and not let the guys down or an underestimation of how much pain he was in, then it’s understandable if not exactly excusable. – Greg, Faith & Fear In Flushing

Might the Mets consider bringing up Alay Soler (above) sooner rather than later? He has made just one start in AA but, unlike Mike Pelfrey, he has plenty of professional experience pitching in Cuba. I would have liked to see John Maine get a few more outings, and he might if he recovers quickly enough from the finger inflammation that has landed him on the disabled list. – Eric Simon, Amazin’ Avenue