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Not so long ago the New York Mets were David Letterman's
favorite punch line. What did the players want to gain from
going on strike? Letterman asked last spring. More games with
the Mets. Last summer he cracked, "Bret Saberhagen, a former New
York Met, was traded to the Colorado Rockies. In return, the
Mets got two minor leaguers and a substance abuser to be named

However, the Mets are no longer Letterman's punch-line punching
bags. On Jan. 22, 11 Mets players appeared on the late-night
talk show to deliver the top-10 reasons why the Mets will do
better in 1996. Among the one-liners quipped: "We're eliminating
that pregame happy hour," "No more leaving during the eighth
inning to beat traffic" and "No more Cartoon Channel in the

"I was more nervous than I was during my first start. I mean, I
grew up watching Letterman," says pitcher Bill Pulsipher, 22,
who delivered the Cartoon Channel line. "In the past there were
always jokes about us because the team lost. People would ask
me, 'Who do you play for?' and when I told them the Mets, they
would say, 'Ohhhh.' But now it's the in thing."

The Mets are the baseball equivalent of the twentysomething cast
of Friends, riding a wave of popularity that soared in the
second half of last season. At the All-Star break New York stood
25-44, mired in fifth place in the NL East. After the break the
Mets went 44-31, won 28 of their final 43 games and finished
tied for second in the division. "When the season was over, we
wanted to play 20 more games," says Pulsipher.

The Mets might be one season away from seriously challenging
Atlanta. How well the team does in 1996 will depend on the
performance of its promising pitching staff. New York's
second-half surge can be attributed, in part, to the arrivals of
lefty Pulsipher and 23-year-old righthander Jason Isringhausen
from Triple A Norfolk, Va. "When Pulse and Izzy came up, the
level of everybody else's play rose," says first baseman Rico
Brogna. "There was a looseness in the clubhouse, and when we
stepped on the field we thought we would win."

Rookie righthander Paul Wilson, the No. 1 overall pick in the
1994 draft, who led all minor league pitchers last season with
194 strikeouts in 186 2/3 innings, might be the best of all the
team's prospects. Rounding out the staff are righthanders Bobby
Jones, who led the team in wins in '95, and Pete Harnisch, who
is recovering from the arthroscopic surgery done on his right
shoulder last August.

Because the staff is so green, strong defense up the middle will
be especially critical. The Mets are solid with what should be a
dazzling double-play combo of rookie shortstop Rey Ordonez and
second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. New centerfielder Lance Johnson,
signed from the White Sox in December, is one of the top
defensive outfielders in the game and the best the team has had
in center since Del Unser 20 years ago. Catcher Todd Hundley was
having a breakthrough year when he broke his left wrist in late

Last season the New York fans took to this fun-loving,
hardworking group. The players enjoyed themselves as well. After
games the Mets locker room was as loud as a fraternity party;
Hootie & the Blowfish's Cracked Rear View could be heard at full
volume after every win. ("I know every word by heart," says
Brogna.) The spirit was infectious. At the start of the season
manager Dallas Green rarely left his office. During the final
months he was always in the clubhouse, hanging with "the kids,"
as he calls them.

Times sure have changed in New York. Letterman will now be
laughing with the Mets, instead of at them. As Pulsipher puts
it, "Winning breeds confidence, and confidence breeds


COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT JORDAN LEVY INSET [Varies by region] Rising Star Jason Isringhausen Fires Up the Mets

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Isringhausen's arm is just one reason the Mets' hopes have taken wing. [Jason Isringhausen in game]


1995 Team Statistics (NL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .267 (5)
Home Runs 125 (8)
ERA 3.88 (3)
Fielding Pct. .979 (9)

Second-Half Surge

Last season the Mets' winning percentage after the All-Star
break (.587) was 225 points higher than their percentage during
the first half of the season (.362). With the All-Star Game as
the break point, only three teams since 1933 have had a greater
improvement in their winning percentage from the first half of
the season to the second. (In the four years with two All-Star
games, 1959 to '62, the first game was used as the dividing
line.) Three of the five pre-1995 teams below improved their
record again the following season. The exceptions were the 1935
Browns and the 1936 Dodgers.

Largest Increase in Winning Percentage after the All-Star Break

Before break After break
W-L Pct. W-L Pct. Diff.
Browns 19-50 .275 46-37 .554 +.279

Cardinals 27-40 .403 57-29 .663 +.260

Dodgers 36-57 .387 43-26 .623 +.236

Mets 25-44 .362 44-31 .587 +.225

Tigers 36-42 .462 52-24 .684 +.222

Dodgers 24-50 .324 43-37 .538 +.214

Marlins 24-43 .358 43-33 .566 +.208


Baseball is doing backflips over the new Wizard, Mets shortstop
Rey Ordonez. Scouts say Ordonez--who defected from Cuba while
competing in the 1993 World University Games in Buffalo--turns
plays that Cards defensive showman Ozzie Smith has never made.
And his hitting shows signs of improvement: Last year at Triple
A Norfolk, Va., the 24-year-old batted just .214 but drove in 50
runs. Playing for Santurce this past winter in the Puerto Rican
league, he hit .351 and finished second to Roberto Alomar in the
race for the batting title.



CF Lance Johnson[*] .306, 10, 57, 40
2B Edgardo Alfonzo .278, 4, 41, 1
LF Bernard Gilkey[*] .298, 17, 69, 12
1B Rico Brogna .289, 22, 76, 0
RF Carl Everett .260, 12, 54, 2
3B Jeff Kent .278, 20, 65, 3
C Todd Hundley .280, 15, 51, 1
SS Rey Ordonez (R) 50 RBIs in AAA


OF Ryan Thompson .251, 7, 31, 3
IF Jose Vizcaino .287, 3, 56, 8
C Brent Mayne[*] .251, 1, 27, 0


RH Jason Isringhausen 9-2, 2.81
LH Bill Pulsipher 5-7, 3.98
RH Bobby Jones 10-10, 4.19
RH Paul Wilson (R) 2.85 ERA in AAA
RH Pete Harnisch 2-8, 3.68


LH John Franco 29, 2.44
RH Dave Mlicki 0, 4.26
RH Jerry DiPoto 2, 3.78
RH Doug Henry 4, 2.96

[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie