- Last Updated: 12:17 PM, June 5, 2012
- Posted: 2:29 AM, June 5, 2012
The Mets had just lost 5-4 and failed to complete a four-game sweep of the Cardinals yesterday when into a somber clubhouse marched Terry Collins.
“Great series,” Collins barked. “Don’t hang your head. Let’s go to Washington and handle business there.”
“So right then and there, that changed the whole demeanor,” Scott Hairston said. “We were kind of upset that we lost, but that’s what he’s been doing all year.”
Collins is the best manager the Mets have had since Bobby Valentine. He is the manager Omar Minaya thought he had in Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel. As little as he is, he is the biggest reason the Mets believe again.
Little Big Man of Flushing. Who will fight you all the way to Flushing Bay. No matter who you think you are, no matter how big or tough you think you are.
His team will fight you all the way to the 27th out. Hairston’s two-run homer in the seventh made it 3-3. After Jon Rauch (elbow tenderness) surrendered a two-run homer to Allen Craig in the eighth, Kirk Nieuwenhuis was on third base with the tying run when David Wright lined to right to end the eighth.
Collins has handled New York as seamlessly as Brooklyn-born Joe Torre did The Bronx. He is driven like Billy Martin with Torre’s communication skills and Rex Ryan’s love for his players. He is a baseball man the way Tom Coughlin is a football man.
He believed in his players when no one else did, and his players believe in him and in themselves. He trusts them, and they trust him. He is their caretaker, Teary Collins on nights when Johan Santana throws a no-hitter on 134 pitches.
Dream Team so far. Manager of the Year so far.
“He’s our sparkplug,” Hairston said.
A morning rain was falling when I asked Josh Thole what he likes best about this Mets team.
“We’re getting to a point where we can’t wait to get to the ballpark,” he said. “We can’t wait to take the field. I’ll tell you, when you’re not winning any ballgames and it’s raining outside, you’re going, ‘Ugh. They’re gonna call this thing?’ Now it’s like, ‘Can somebody pull the tarp so we can get this thing going?’ And you see that in here.”
The starting pitching gives the Mets a chance every night. So does Collins.
“He’s a grinder,” yesterday’s starter Dillon Gee said. “That’s the mentality that we have. We’re a bunch of grinders.”
So when you ask Collins whether a team takes on the personality of its manager, he tells you: “Grind it. Grind it out.”
His fire and passion are impossible to miss in the dugout.
“He’s very intense,” Hairston said. “He’s a rah-rah type manager, and I think that’s what we need and it shows.”
He isn’t the intimidating presence Gil Hodges used to be. No matter.
“The only thing I ever want anybody to say is I’m fair,” Collins said. “That I’m honest, that I’m fair, and that I want to win.”
In a Vince Lombardi kind of way. In one previous stop, Collins wore a “Second Place Is the First Loser” T-shirt. In another, his players wore “Bust’n Ours Kick’n Yours” T-shirts.
“One of the things we’ve tried to set up in this system here is what it takes to play here — not [Single-A] Savannah, not St. Lucie — what do you have to do to play here?” Collins said. “And I think when those guys finally get here, they have a plan.”
The manager’s plan was never last place.
“As I sat down this winter, especially when Jose [Reyes] signed with the Marlins, I sat down, I put our lineup together,” Collins said. “Obviously, he wasn’t in it, [Carlos] Beltran wasn’t in it, [Angel] Pagan wasn’t in it.
“We all knew that if Johan came back, never expecting to be as good as he has been, but had he come back, we obviously knew we had a frontline, top-of-the-rotation guy to add to our staff, which we always thought was pretty good. And we thought we strengthened the bullpen.
“So as I wrote it all down, I looked at it and I said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with this team.’ ”
So bring on the Nationals. Then bring on the Yankees on Friday night, when a rested No-han returns and Little Big Man spoils for a fight.