MIAMI – Misfortune has again struck a New York Mets pitcher traveling in a taxicab. This time, the team’s October chances were dealt a blow, too.

Duaner Sanchez, riding with three relatives in search of a midnight snack after the team arrived in South Florida on Sunday night following a sweep of the Braves, separated his pitching shoulder as a result of a two-vehicle accident. The righty reliever flew to New York Monday, where he was hospitalized in “a lot of pain,” GM Omar Minaya said.

With Sanchez, the team’s most durable set-up man, potentially facing season-ending surgery, Minaya urgently obtained pitchers Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez from the Pirates before Monday’s 4 p.m. nonwaiver trading deadline. The GM paid a hefty price: outfielder Xavier Nady, whom he had previously rejected sending to Pittsburgh.

“The fact the injury was there forced me to go in that direction,” Minaya said.

By the time Minaya learned about the accident after 1 a.m. Monday, talks for his big-splash targets – Roy Oswalt and Jason Schmidt – had unraveled. The Mets had been engaged in three-team talks with the Orioles and Astros that would have placed Oswalt in a Mets uniform, sent top prospect Lastings Milledge to Jim Duquette’s Orioles and put Miguel Tejada in Houston, but Baltimore owner Peter Angelos is believed to have quashed any move involving Tejada.

The Mets never would part with Milledge or Aaron Heilman for Schmidt, so the seriousness of those discussions is debatable. Minaya also got Billy Wagner’s endorsement to acquire ex-teammate Brad Lidge, though the Astros’ closer stayed put at the deadline.

The Mets have summoned Milledge from Triple-A Norfolk to replace Nady. Endy Chavez’s outfield role increases in importance, too.

Sanchez’s accident came only days shy of the two-year anniversary of another Mets pitcher suffering serious injury while a passenger in a taxi. Tom Glavine, making the short trip from LaGuardia to Shea, still is undergoing procedures to address the loss of two front teeth. His cab was blindsided by an SUV on Aug. 10, 2004.

Minaya said there’s a “50-50” chance Sanchez will have surgery, which would end his season. The GM maintained that if the reliever avoided surgery, he could return in September. Minaya said he believed the accident happened on I-95, and that the cab slammed against a wall. “Duaner tried to protect himself by putting a hand out and that’s how he got hurt,” Minaya said.

One person who spoke with Sanchez said: “He was upset about his shoulder, and then he was scared about the surgery. The way he described it, he said someone was coming down the wrong way of the highway.”

A Mets official expected no arrests, and suggested another vehicle turned into the cab.

Hernandez, 41, was perhaps the Mets’ most trusted reliever last season, going 8-6 with a 2.58 ERA and four saves. He signed with the Pirates over the winter for $2.75 million, double what the Mets would offer. Hernandez was 0-3 with a 2.93 ERA and two saves this season.

Perez, a southpaw who turns 25 in two weeks, will report to Norfolk. He won 12 games and had a 2.98 ERA with the Padres in 2004, but had a 5.63 ERA in the minors this year as his velocity dropped and mechanics got worse. Minaya sought to flip Perez – who isn’t a free agent until after “08 – with Heath Bell to San Diego for reliever Scott Linebrink, but no deal materialized.

The Mets will be hard-pressed to duplicate Sanchez’s durability and reliability, even with Hernandez. Sanchez (5-1, 2.60 ERA, team-high 49 appearances) was the most trusted bridge to Wagner, a role that Hernandez now figures to share with the struggling Heilman and Chad Bradford. In essence, the Mets lost Sanchez and Nady at the trading deadline and added Hernandez and Milledge to the big-league roster – not what Minaya envisioned.

“Duaner Sanchez was a big part of our ‘pen,” Minaya said. “I do believe two things are going to happen: Roberto is going to do a good job, and I do believe Aaron Heilman is going to step up and do a better job than he’s been doing.”

(c) 2006, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-07-31-06 2245EDT

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