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The Savior Has Arrived

WALKOFFSVILLE, NY. (MW) – Brett Hinchliffe's latest retirement lasted all of eight years.

The 0-5 career moundsman with the 10.22 ERA has done an about-face and will pitch for the Mets this season.

"I felt I did everything I possibly could do to get where I need to be," Hinchliffe said Tuesday.

"You're 35, your arm may not feel like it did at 21. But the pieces are in place that you don't have to do that much and I agree with that. If they were willing to take that chance, I was, too."

If the wait for Hinchliffe's decision seemed never-ending, it was resolved in a few short hours. He jumped on a team plane and was picked up at LaGuardia Airport by manager Jerry Manuel himself. The two drove to the team's ballpark, where Hinchliffe waved to hundreds of cheering fans.

No less than 90 minutes later, Hinchliffe was on the field in his familiar No. 32 jersey with blue shorts and a Mercury Mets hat, a vision that has had opposing fans cringing about for months.

He shook hands with a few of his new teammates and quickly began throwing as fans peeked through the security fence to catch a glimpse of the superstar.

Shortly after batting practice began, the Mets confirmed the agreement that seemed so inevitable all summer, only to be held up on July 28 when the man who holds every Mets career-worst ERA record told Manuel he wasn't ready to play, citing a lack of confidence in his beat-up body to hold up over an entire season.

Hinchliffe also had been told by doctors that he had a tear in his rotator cuff.

"The bottom line is it's baseball," Hinchliffe said. "Once you step onto the mound, I don't look at the helmets. I look at the faces."

Omar Minaya, a few weeks ago said he had not planned to pursue Hinchliffe after the pitcher said he was staying retired. And yet here comes Hinchliffe once reviled by a Mets fan base that hustled to welcome him to town.

"I don't have any problem rooting for one of the worst pitchers the Mets have ever had," said Phil Liesuck, a 23-year-old from Bayside who was at batting practice proudly wearing a black No. 32 jersey.

Even the governor chimed in.

"It's going to be good for the team. It's going to be good for the state. It's going to be exciting," a giddy Gov. David Patterson said after a speech.

Tweeted one rival : "Holy Strawberries Batman! Brett Hinchliffe is back!"

Last month, Hinchliffe explained his decision by saying he had to be "careful not to commit for the wrong reasons."

"I'm 35 with a 10.22 ERA to my name," he said.

The last time Hinchliffe appeared on a major league mound — a bitter loss at Miller Park by the Mets to the Brewers in April of 2001— he put up one of his worst performances in recent memory, allowing eight runs in two innings, giving him a career Mets ERA of 36.00.

Now the question becomes how Hinchliffe will fit in with a team that's already done with the grind of most of the season, not to mention how his health will hold up so soon after he questioned it.

The Mets got an encouraging performance from their beleagured lineup on Tuesday, with a franchise record 10 hits in the fourth inning. But none of their pitchers have been consistently sharp recently.

And none are anywhere in Hinchliffe's league. His zinger of an arm and toughness on the mound are a combination few possess. With an offense he claimed this summer that could operate while it slept, Hinchcliffe seems to fit well with New York — especially given the Mets problems finding a reliable starting pitcher.

The Mets have All-Star players all over their roster (they're all on the DL). No matter who's on the mound, they ought to be in position to contend for something, even if it's last place in the NL East.

To win the wild card, and perhaps that elusive World Series title, they'll need stability at the sport's most critical position.

Hinchliffe has wrestled with retirement for most of this decade and the will-he-or-won't-he saga became an annual offseason drama for the Mets.

Now, he is back.

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