There are times when David Wright seems like a man stranded on a desert island with no provisions to keep him going, no help on the way and no reason to hope conditions will change anytime soon.
Wright is the last piece of the New York Mets core still in place, surrounded by a platoon of replacement players, fill-ins for casualties of a season that has sent nine Mets to the disabled list, enough players to field a team -- if they weren't all hurt.
Most prominent among the injured are first baseman Carlos Delgado (right hip surgery), shortstop Jose Reyes (torn right hamstring tendon) and center fielder Carlos Beltran (right knee bone bruise). When they're healthy, those three and Wright gave the Mets a formidable lineup, well equipped to make a run for the playoffs. Now Wright is the last one standing, surrounded by a roster which includes 40-year-old Gary Sheffield, playing left field on a gimpy right knee after a cortisone shot, and shortstop Alex Cora, playing with a torn tendon in his hand that will require surgery after the season.
Wright has very little protection in the lineup, but the Mets All-Star third baseman continues to lead the National League in hitting as he tries to keep his MASH unit of a baseball team afloat.
Typical was the first game after Beltran joined Reyes and Delgado on the DL. Wright reached base in his first three at-bats, a kind of statement that he is still a presence in the lineup, a player who can do some damage. Two days later, he went 4-for-4 for the second time in June. And the Mets took three of four from first place St. Louis. Wright sounded hopeful about the Mets' condition.
"I think we can win games," he said. "We're capable of doing that with the players we have, but we're going to have to play mistake-free. We have to play near flawless baseball."
That's a tall order for any team, but Wright was quick to point out that despite a dreary June when his teammates were going down almost daily, the Mets were still in the hunt, close to the top of the National League East.
The goal is to tread water, stay within range until some of the injured players make their way back to the roster to join Wright. For Reyes and Beltran, that's almost certainly not before the All-Star Game. For Delgado, the target month for a return is August.
That means Wright must carry the load in what has been a strange year for him. Three months into the season, he was among the National League leaders with a .326 batting average and yet he had just five home runs. He has a .346 batting average on the road but has hit just two home run away from home. This from a guy who hit 30 home runs two years ago and 33 last season.
"It's nice hitting home runs," Wright said. "It's fun hitting home runs. But home runs aren't what I live and die by. I want to win ball games."
And that has been no simple task for the Mets as they limp along, bending under the burden of that lengthy disabled list.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.