1999: Izzy is back, Bobby Bo blusters

This week in 1999: Jason Isringhausen brings his cloud back to bigs while Bobby Bonilla reverts to (bad) form.

The Mets enjoyed their thrilling comeback against Curt Schilling for about three nanoseconds before the cold light of reality dawned on them. During their series against the Phillies at Shea, Bobby Jones was forced to leave a start with an injury that had been plaguing him for a while. An MRI confirmed Jones was suffering from shoulder fatigue, an ailment that didn't forecast a speedy recovery. Meanwhile, the team announced that Al Leiter's next start would be moved up thanks to a sore bicep.

It took calamities like this to force the recall of Jason Isringhausen. After making a ballyhooed major league debut as part of (ahem) Generation K in 1995, Izzy suffered one calamity after another, be it injury (elbow surgery that erased him in 1998), bad luck (breaking a wrist after punching a garbage can), or Biblical plagues (contracting tuberculosis). In spring training, he failed to make a Mets team that was desperate for starting pitching, and his subsequent performances in triple-A weren't all that fantastic, either. But Jones and Leiter are injured, Rick Reed was still on the DL, and the team had just found out that Jae Seo, one of their top pitching prospects, would have to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Octavio Dotel, their other top prospect, was still deemed too raw for prime time.

Thus, the Mets had little option but to give Izzy another shot to redeem himself when they traveled to Pittsburgh for a brief three-game road trip on May 24. Bobby Valentine and pitching coach Bob Apodaca were effusive in their praise for Izzy after his first major league start in almost two years, saying he only made a few mistakes and comparing his velocity to Schilling's. In truth, the righty struggled, giving up a three-run blast to Jason Kendall a few pitches into the game and five runs in six innings of work as the Mets fell to the Pirates, 7-4. Valentine's words of encouragement had the feel of a father softening criticism of his child, as if it was just good enough that Izzy got on a mound and didn't fall off it.

Isringhausen soon dimmed the muted enthusiasm for his big league return when he ended a throwing session complaining of elbow pain, in a spot not too far from where he was operated on by Dr. James Andrews. An exam revealed the pain was only from torn scar tissue, but it served as a cruel reminder of Izzy's tortured path to the big leagues. A black cloud had descended over his head, Charlie Brown-like, and showed no sign of lifting.

The Mets rebounded from Izzy's rough return to take the last two games in Pittsburgh. In the second contest, Mike Piazza drilled a pitch from Kris Benson 443 feet into the third deck of Three Rivers Stadium in an 8-3 Mets win, while Benny Agbayani went deep (already his fourth homer since being called up in Colorado) as part of a 5-2 victory in the finale. The team would've preferred to talk about the home runs, and solid outings from Masato Yoshii and Orel Hershiser, but were forced instead to address a personnel issue, one that erupted to the surprise of absolutely no one.

The issue arose from one Bobby Bonilla, who the Mets inexplicably reacquired in the offseason. (To make the trade even weirder, it happened during the week when GM Steve Phillips was suspended for sexual harassment charges; former GM Frank Cashen temporarily took his place and was technically responsible for the move.) Bonilla was associated with The Worst Team Money Could Buy years. His first stint in New York was remembered most for his lobbying official scorers to change his outfield errors into hits, and for him threatening to show Bob Klapisch the Bronx.

Fans gave Bonilla little rope when he struggled to start the 1999 season. At first, Bonilla took the boos in stride, and his pronouncements of turning over a new leaf appeared genuine. The good will crumbled after the outfielder hit the DL in early May. Rumors bubbled that the DL stint was really a backhanded way to bench Bonilla's slumping bat. (The Mets denied the charge.) Then, more rumors surfaced that Bonilla—eligible to come off the DL at the time of the Pittsburgh series—refused to accept a minor league rehab assignment. He preferred to have the Mets fly minor league pitchers to throw to him in New York, as the team had done when Mike Piazza rehabbed from injury.

This last bit was the last straw for Bonilla, as he suddenly adopted a No More Mr. Nice Guy stance with the press, vowing to not speak to them anymore. However, unnamed friends of Bonilla's did whisper to the media that the Mets were desperate to shed his contract, thus forcing the front office to deny yet another rumor.

The sheer predictably of the Bonilla episode made it no less annoying or sad. But within a week, the Mets would wish they had worries as simple as Bonilla.

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