With less than 17 games left in the regular season, New York Mets fans are starting to feel uneasy.
This apprehension stems from last season, when they were forced to endure the biggest collapse ever to occur in major league baseball. After leading the rival Philadelphia Phillies by a comfortable seven games with 17 games to go, the Mets squandered their lead.
In one of the most spontaneous decisions of my life, I drove from Geneseo all the way Shea Stadium on Sept. 30 last year. Tied with the Phillies with one game left in the season, Tom Glavine took the mound in what was the biggest game for the Mets since game seven of the 2006 National League Championship against the Cards.
It took no longer than 20 minutes before Mets fans were ready to turn off their televisions or, in my case, jump off the railing. Glavine, their ace at the time, managed to give up seven runs in the first inning, making it a nearly impossible feat for the Amazin's to catch up and marking an end to a forgettable season.
Mets fans have been sharing the same thought lately: this year is different. Prior to their series against the Braves this past weekend, the Mets were up just three games. Entering Monday, their lead dwindled even lower, now leading by only one game over Philly. [Editor's note: As of press time, New York trailed Philadelphia by .5 games in the NL East.] Yet fans should continue to be hopeful. The Mets are playing with a certain degree of swagger, a confidence not seen a season ago.
Some may wonder how could a team bounce back after suffering from the biggest flop in the world of sports, but the answer is simple - Jerry Manuel.
June 17 marked a new beginning for the Mets when they fired manager Willie Randolph. After such a dreadful finish last season, Randolph was feeling the heat from New Yorkers. Often ridiculed for being non-enthusiastic, Randolph almost never left the dugout. If Reyes beat out the tag on a steal and was incorrectly called out, Randolph would not be the manager to get in the umpire's face. The team's performance seemed to mimic Randolph's apathy as they started the year 34-35 which prompted a change in managerial duties.
In only his second home game as manager, Jerry Manuel got tossed out. Unhappy with how the home plate umpire called out Carlos Beltran, Manuel sprayed saliva in the ensuing shouting match - something that players and fans had not seen from a Mets manager in years. After the game, the Amazin's went on to win 15 out of their next 20, starting a run to the top of the NL East. The Mets have continued to respond well under Manuel, going 48-28 since the change.
Carlos Delgado cannot be left out when talking about this year's success. In the beginning of the season, it appeared that Delgado had checked into Shea's nursing home, appearing as the poster boy for the Mets' troubles. He went from being a power-hitting machine to only hitting 8 home runs in his first 190 at bats. On June 30, Delgado was batting a pathetic .228. Since July 1, however, Delgado has been a .314 hitter. In his last 70 games, Delgado has hit a remarkable 24 home runs and racked up 69 RBIs. Delgado has been so hot that his customary Shea Stadium boos have turned to echoes of "M-V-P."
If there is a player that can lead a young and shell-shocked team into October, it is the gray-bearded veteran Carlos Delgado alongside a rejuvenated manager in Jerry Manuel. I'm cautiously optimistic that if I drive down to Shea from Geneseo this September, it will be worth the gas.