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Mets Fans, Unsure About Success, Missing Some Exciting Baseball

Wed., June 25, 1997

So this is the series that is supposed to tell us whether the Mets are for real. If so, it would have been nice if more than 26,663 could have been on hand last night to witness their second straight riveting come-from-behind win over the Braves.

Maybe it is just going to take a lot more than three months of good baseball for all the Mets’ former faithful to forgive and forget Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, Anthony Young, Jerry DiPoto and six years of lousy baseball. Or maybe the still-reluctant Shea patrons are the kind of discerning fans who believe that these Braves, minus Kenny Lofton, are not the real Braves the Mets and everyone else will have to measure themselves against come September and October.

Even the Braves acknowledge that to lose Lofton, as they have for at least until the All-Star break, is to lose much of their strut. “I’d like to think we’ll be okay without him,” said Tom Glavine, “but without him leading off and batting ahead of (Michael) Tucker we are a little different.”

So far, the Braves have been without Lofton for eight games - and won only three of them, all against the woeful Phillies and a bunch of pitchers not named Curt Schilling. They are hopeful Lofton will be back right after everyone returns from their midsummer vacation, but the somewhat mysterious groin injury that has put him on the disabled list had them concerned enough to have his lymph nodes checked out the other day.

The Mets, of course, cannot concern themselves with this, nor can they do anything more than what they already have to convince their fans it’s safe to come back to the ballpark. With or without Lofton, the Braves are still the team in first place, the team they have to beat, and not just for their credibility, either. You take the season as it falls and, right now, there is a feeling in the Mets’ clubhouse that it is starting to fall right for them.

“We don’t want to get too cocky,” said Carlos Baerga, the latest Met hero with his game-tying, two-run homer and game-winning, ninth-inning single. “We know that this (Braves) team can come back anytime.

Braves manager Bobby Cox seemed to emphasize that when he was asked about the impact Lofton’s absence from the lineup has on his team. He downplayed it and why not? Cox certainly doesn’t want his players to start thinking they can’t win without Lofton, especially since there is a strong possibility he won’t be with them at all after this season when he becomes a free agent.

“Kenny’s a premier player whose absence from the lineup any team would feel,” said Cox. “But everybody has injuries. That’s what you’ve got a bench for.”

And besides, it’s still just the end of June.

“If they want to say it’s really early, it is,” said Bobby Valentine. “But the fans who have missed this have missed some really exciting baseball.”

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