Only two games into the season, and I gotta tell you, I’m already liking what we’re seeing from Terry Collins a lot. After years of being besieged by watching badly managed games by the likes of Jerry Manuel, Willie Randolph and beyond, I suddenly find myself sitting back and enjoying a ballgame without yelling and shouting profanities at my TV.
I’m watching baseball the way it oughta be.
What a pleasurable experience it is to witness a manager – our manager – maneuver and make the kinds of moves that helped the Mets win a game. For the last few years I was only able to see a true in-game strategist when we played teams like the Bobby Cox led Braves almost always ending in our defeat.
Watching how deep Collins can get into the complexities of a game is new hat for me. That inner fire to win was so apparent and he matched it by brilliantly navigating his team to an exciting victory on Saturday night - his first in 12 years.
Some of his moves were very subtle, but profound to Mets fans nonetheless. We got to see starting pitcher Jon Niese pitch his way out of jams and go an entire seven innings before he was eventually pulled. Then we actually saw our own manager actually leave the dugout to go argue a call with the umps. Now, that was a sight for sore Mets eyes.
I thought Collins saved his good stuff for the ninth inning, when many a battle is won or lost.
After a solid inning of work by setup man Bobby Parnell, all that was left was for closer Frankie Rodriguez to slam the door and seal the victory. To increase the chances of success, Collins replaced Lucas Duda in left field with Willie Harris and Chin-lung Hu replaced Brad Emaus at second. Hu actually entered the foray when he was used as a pinch runner for the slow-footed Ike Davis in the top of the ninth when the Mets came back to take a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the inning. Daniel Murphy took over at first base for Ike as the game wound down.
But after a perfect spring that saw Rodriguez toss ten scoreless innings, K-Rod was tagged hard and the Marlins tied the game sending it into extra innings and handing K-Rod a blown save in his first opportunity of the new season. Typical Mets luck I thought – there was no way we were coming back – or so I thought.
Extra innings – where many a Mets manager would find a way to grab defeat out of the jaws of victorry… But not on this night…
The Marlins skipper made a bevy of moves in the top of tenth and wanted this win badly. He replaced his starting catcher, third baseman, plugged the dangerous Emilio Bonifacio into centerfield and brought in Ryan Webb to hold the Mets down. All good moves, but destiny would be on the side of the Mets.
Jose Reyes led things off with a sharp single, and Angel Pagan was asked to bunt him over to second. But Pagan beat the throw and now we had two on with nobody out and David Wright coming to the plate. How many times have we seen this scene late in games last season? Would it be a strikeout? A double-play? Something worse? How about a run scoring single to give the Mets the 4-3 lead and keep the inning going!
Beltran and Hu would follow Wright and both would strikeout, but newly inserted Willie Harris was coming up to the plate and like he did all spring long, Harris delivered in a big way lashing a double to right field that scored Angel Pagan and David Wright giving the Mets a 6-3 lead. That would be all the scoring, but the damage was done. Blaine Boyer would close it out but not before allowing a run, and the Mets won the game 6-4, their first win of the season.
A satisfying win it was.
After the game, Collins was asked about all the moves he made in the game.
“It’s baseball. That’s what baseball is about. It’s fun. You win big, it’s nice to have once in a while. It’s the games like Saturday that test your character, I think. Obviously they responded great.”
Yep… a satisfying win it was. I’m looking forward to more like this one.