January 03, 2007

Lo Duca puts Piazza memories in the Past

Marty Noble at Mets.com, writes about Paul Lo Duca and how he made the Mets forget about Mike Piazza:

In less than a month, the Mets, too, were sold on Lo Duca. He fit their needs both as a catcher and as a No. 2 hitter. And in every other way, he fit.

"After five days of Spring Training," David Wright said last May, "it seemed like we'd been teammates for five years."

Lo Duca played his part quite differently from how his predecessor had played it, hitting merely as many home runs, five, as Piazza might have in a good homestand and emerging as an engaging member of the roster. Lo Duca's bat and ability to take pitches to right field served the Mets well enough, and his presence in the clubhouse and the dugout provided elements of fire, fun and family that made the 2006 team what it was.

None of the second-half fatigue that was expected to undermine Lo Duca appeared, even though he entered the so-called "danger zone" for catchers -- he played most of the season at age 34. Or perhaps he's a better hitter when he's tired and injured. The .338 batting average he produced after the All-Star break was the highest in the National League, and he played the entire second half with torn ligaments in his left thumb.

"He put up with a lot of discomfort and played because we needed him," Wright said. "What he did for us was very much appreciated in here."

Lo Duca finished his season with 80 runs and 39 doubles (the most of any catcher in the league), 49 RBIs and a .314 batting average with runners in scoring position. He was lacking in some areas, though. He was the Mets' No. 2 hitter in 118 games, and the No. 2 spot in the Mets' order had the 11th-lowest slugging percentage in the league, .399, 28 points lower than the league norm for that slot. The on-base average for the Mets' No. 2 spot, .338, also was low -- 12th in league, and seven points lower than the league norm.

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