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'B' game carries significance for key Mets players

Wright, Murphy, Parnell make spring debuts; Colon returns to hill after calf issue

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In his fifth at-bat of the day, David Wright crushed a home run in what seemingly was the top of the third inning. Strangely, the home run ended the half-inning. After he touched 'em all, Wright moved to the third-base dugout for a moment of reflection and a word with Bartolo Colon, the pitcher who had surrendered said home run. And then the Mets third baseman bounced up the steps and returned to the batter's box to lead off the bottom of the third against Bobby Parnell.

It was tad confusing, for sure.

In the first inning, Daniel Murphy had hit the second pitch offered by Colon to center field. It was run down and caught, but for reasons unclear, it was ruled foul. So Murphy returned to the batter's box and took three pitches, the final one a called third strike.

More confusing. And one of the Minor League players serving as the defense against a four-man batting order -- Wright, Murphy, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada -- wore No. 20 and the name Johnson across his back. What decade is this?

No, this was not baseball as old Abner had created it or as Mr. Rickey had taught it. Nor was it anything akin to what the Mets immodestly marketed as "Baseball as it ought to be" in 1986. It was baseball as it had to be for a team with a few minor issues and three games scheduled for one day -- two in Kissimmee, Fla., against Astros personnel, the other an intramural engagement here.

The Mets called the one contested at Tradition Field a "B" game, because that phrasing is routinely used when the varsity plays elsewhere. Parnell begged to differ, however, when he he saw so many board the buses for Kissimmee.

"It's a 'C' game," Parnell said before seven veteran players and a host of wannabes played some disputed number of innings with one umpire -- who closely resembled pitching coach Dan Warthen -- standing behind the mound.

Quite confusing, indeed. The baseball novel, "Bang the Drum Slowly" told of a fictional card game players amused themselves with in idle moments. It was named "Tegwar," an acronym for "The exciting game without any rules."

Tegwar this was, though excitement wasn't evident on a quiet and humid Florida morning. But whatever this junior varsity affair lacked in structure and excitement, it made up for in significance. Baby steps are important too.

So the Mets now are almost in position to put their real team on the field. Manager Terry Collins indicated Thursday he expects Wright and Murphy to play against the Cardinals on Friday. Because the afternoon game in Kissimmee was canceled and Travis d'Arnaud didn't play, he probably will catch vs. the Cards. Neither Curtis Granderson nor Chris Young made the trip Thursday and neither participated in the Tegwar game, so they're likely to start as well.

And after batting but not playing the field, Tejada said he's fit to return to shortstop, though Collins will be the judge of that.

First base went unassigned late Thursday afternoon when the manager and two busloads of wannabes returned in time to experience more heavy rain and an extreme alert for tornadic weather. Neither Davis (both calves) nor Lucas Duda (left hamstring) is likely to play against the Cardinals. But ...

Wright and Murphy made their spring debuts in the Tegwar affair. Davis tested his calves, Tejada tested his balky hamstring, Colon pitched for the first time since his calf balked, Jon Niese pitched for the first time since his left shoulder was MRI-ed and Parnell pitched in game conditions -- such as they were -- for the first time since last summer, when the discs in his neck suspended his career.

And all emerged healthy, or relatively so, and pointing to Opening Day. No news is good news someone once reasoned. "No headlines, just headway" is the way the Mets like it at this time of year.

So it was left to Colon and the other formerly infirm to make news. Colon acknowledged he didn't accomplish all he had hoped to. But he felt fine. His pitches had characteristic movement but, he thought, for the most part, they weren't properly located. Wright's home run seemed to reinforce his self assessment.

"But you could see why he's so many won games," Wright said of Colon. "He's kind of a master of his craft -- in out, in out. I'm sure Dan liked what he saw."

The Mets captain was quite impressed with Colon's pitch selection and sequence. He was wowed by a changeup his oldest teammate -- Colon is 40 -- threw Murphy.

"I was on second base," Wright said, "And they weren't trying to hide signs from me. I was trying to think along with the pitcher, 'Where did that changeup come from?'"

Parnell was delighted merely to throw to batters -- even homies -- in game circumstances. He faced five batters. He eliminated all doubts, he said, involving his readiness for Opening Day.

"I got some outs on early swings," he said. "There are still some kinks I have to work out. But I have enough time, I'll be ready to go."

"Bobby was the only one who held back a little" Warthen said. "He was about 80 percent, but no ill effects."

Tejada said he expects to play Friday. He ran the bases before the game and said his hamstring was no longer is an issue. Running the bases in the C game was disallowed for him, as well as Davis. The first baseman needs more time to recover from the calf strains he suffered Sunday. His left calf has improved, his right not so much.

"It's a better to miss a little time now," Davis said.

Moreover, Davis' competition with Duda for the first-base assignment is on hold, as Duda remains restricted because of his sore hamstring.

And finally, there is Niese, who sees whatever progress he makes -- or for that matter, whatever steps in reverse he takes -- through one prism: he is to start against the Nationals on Opening Day, March 31 at Citi Field.

"I have plenty of time," he said. "I'm very close to 100 percent. Today was a big step for me. I felt great, it felt normal.

"I left a lot of pitches up today, but I was excited and it was my first day with hitters. Now the idea is to begin executing pitches and keep them down. I have the time I need."

Marty Noble is a reporter for

New York Mets, Bartolo Colon, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, David Wright