Dave Reardon

Points East

By Dave Reardon

Monday, November 1, 1999

Agbayani played with pain

BENNY Agbayani figures he helped bring a World Series championship to New York. Not quite the way he'd hoped, though.

"I think we kind of wore out the Braves for the Yankees," says Agbayani.

He and the Mets wore out lots of fans, who watched them die and revive countless times through the stretch and in the playoffs, until they finally flatlined for good in one of the most exciting playoffs in baseball history.

"I could feel the tension just watching the TV," says his mother, Faith, in Aiea. "I couldn't sit down, I had to walk around the yard. I'm glad I wasn't there. I don't think I could've stood it."

After singling and scoring earlier in Game 6 against the Braves, Agbayani walked in the 10th inning and scored on a short fly ball to give the Mets a short-lived 9-8 lead.

When the Braves came back to win the game and series in the 11th, he was devastated.

"I had the feeling I wanted just one more game," he says. "I didn't want to get off the field. I wanted to play one more. I took it hard. When you come from a high school that hardly ever loses (St. Louis), you take losing hard."

It was the culmination of a wild ride that saw Agbayani start the year in Triple-A, barely.

In between, there was a lot of pain to play through.

Last May, while Agbayani was making National League hurlers look like the slow-pitch guys at Kanewai Park, something else was happening.

He was turning his left elbow into mush.

First he hyperextended it. Then it got beaned by a pitched ball. Then he banged it against the Shea Stadium wall in rightfield. All in the space of a few days.

"Somedays it felt OK," Agbayani says. "Other days it felt like there was a needle going through it."

He couldn't tell the Mets. Agbayani was enjoying an unbelievable streak, turning on the inside fastballs that the book compiled on him in the minors said he couldn't hit.

"I guess that book was wrong," he says. "So then they started pitching me outside."

A big-league slider that bites the far corner is hard enough to hit with a pain-free swing, and Agbayani hid his winces as he whiffed at them with a damaged wing.

"It kind of bothered me when I would extend to hit outside pitches," he says. "The front elbow is your drive elbow on the swing."

As the summer wore on, Agbayani's batting average plummeted like the value of a Jerome Walton rookie card. The elbow pain never settled, but the batting average finally did, around .290, as Daryl Hamilton, Shawon Dunston and Roger Cedeno got at-bats previously his.

"I didn't tell anyone until the playoffs," Agbayani says. "And then I told them not to do anything until after the season."

An MRI last week revealed at least a hairline fracture of the elbow, and a bone scan today will tell if there is worse damage.

"He was always like that when he was little, too," Faith Agbayani says. "He was always hiding his injuries. I don't think there was ever a game he missed."

Now, some might say Agbayani did the wrong thing, that a true team player reports an injury that might hurt the team.

But can you honestly say you wouldn't do the same thing? After all those years in the minors, wouldn't you keep quiet, and keep playing, keep enjoying the ride of your life? That is, assuming you could stand the pain. For five months.

Dave Reardon, who covered sports in Hawaii
from 1977 to 1998, is a sportswriter at the
Gainesville Sun. E-mail

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