Starting today, Mets' Randolph in line of fire
May 16, 2008
Before the Mets' 1-0 loss to the Nationals yesterday, Willie Randolph playfully answered a question about returning to Yankee Stadium one last time by campaigning for a spot on the National League All-Star squad. That, he said, would be a cool final visit to the Bronx.
But considering the way everything fell apart for the Mets yesterday, the way their warts became so much more obvious for all to see, it's safe to wonder if Randolph will even be the Mets' manager in July.
Today, for the first time, you can say it for real. Randolph's job has to be in jeopardy.
All that has gone wrong with this Mets season was on full display yesterday - on the field, in the stands and in the clubhouse. It was a perfect crescendo of the sort of events that have led to their disappointing, underachieving start.
They suffered their third loss in four games to a team they should beat. Their offense was muted by a pitcher, Jason Bergmann, who entered the game with an 11.68 ERA. They made two critical baserunning mistakes in the final two innings, each of which resulted in a double play.
And the fans directed their daily venom at the manager, booing him as he walked back to the dugout after removing Mike Pelfrey in the eighth. Randolph responded by lifting his head and looking directly into the stands behind the home dugout, giving the awkward and uncomfortable appearance of a fans-vs.-the-manager staredown.
Clearly, Randolph was trying to make a stand against the fans who were targeting him. "I was keeping my head up," he said. "All the time. I keep my head up all the time."
Then, when the Mets' awful day was almost complete, Billy Wagner colorfully admitted in his own way that this clubhouse isn't exactly full of campfires and singalongs.
"Somebody tell me why the -- the closer is getting interviewed and I didn't even play," Wagner said, "and they're over there not being interviewed."
Let the record state he pointed in the direction of the row of lockers where Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran dress.
There was no one there.
"Oh, I got it," Wagner said. "They're gone. -- shocker."
(Beltran already had spoken. Delgado never did.)
A little less than a year ago, Paul Lo Duca angered the Mets' front office by uttering a similar sentiment. "Nobody else wants to talk," he said. "Some of these guys have to start talking. They speak English, believe me."
The obvious clubhouse discord and friction among players should have been taken care of by Randolph long before it got to this.
The Mets thought they were ridding themselves of a clubhouse problem when they did not bring back Lo Duca, which may be true. But clearly he wasn't the sole problem.
At this point, though, with the Mets one game under .500 in their last 149 games (74-75) since last June 1, it's time to wonder if the problem on the field and in the clubhouse lies with this mix of players. As in, they don't mix.
General manager Omar Minaya deserves some blame for that, but it's on Randolph to make what he's given work. And despite all the talent here, it's not working.
"To believe you can win and be one of the best teams in the National League, you have to practice it," David Wright said. "So far, we get hot and then cold, hot and then cold. We need to get hot and stay hot to prove to ourselves, to get that winning attitude and that swagger back."
It was so easy to think the Mets would enter this season strong, looking as if they had something to prove.
But what they've done is effectively extend their awful 2007 collapse by 39 games. They look no different this year from last September - when they blew a seven-game NL East lead with 17 games to play - and that has to be bothersome.
Their best player, Ryan Church, is someone who wasn't even here last year. Their imported ace, Johan Santana, is being shielded from reporters. And the all-around play of their igniter, Jose Reyes, can be best described in one word: desperate.
"We're just not earning our money," Wagner said.
As always, the first person who will pay for that is the manager. Beginning today, Randolph's job is on the line. Good luck cleaning up this mess.