Chat with Randolph opened eyes

Randolph helps Floyd take new role

NEW YORK -- As Cliff Floyd prepared to leave the Mets clubhouse Saturday afternoon, Willie Randolph pulled him aside. Manager and left fielder discussed the circumstances of the rain-interrupted weekend, and when Floyd departed, he was pretty sure he'd be in the lineup Randolph would post Sunday morning. "Still got a chance for 162," he said.

Even as he spoke, Floyd knew he wouldn't play in 162 Mets games this season. Chances are no one else will, either. And now it's impossible for the Mets left fielder. He wasn't in the starting lineup Sunday after all, and he played no later role in the 3-2 victory the Mets hung on the Marlins. "Down to 161," Floyd said as the Mets dressed late Sunday, his face touched with ambivalence and some confusion. No game Saturday because of the rainout, no action Sunday, and no game to play Monday. "We're gonna have to play 15 [innings] Tuesday," Floyd said, laughing.

Days off never had perplexed Floyd. Truth be told, he even looked forward to them every once in a while. That was then, when his Achilles tendons ached almost every day and every inning, and, more importantly, before he and Randolph had their first chat.

It was that chat before 2005 Spring Training that changed Floyd's career, changed the way his Achilles felt and the way he felt about them and 162 games. "He got me to play," Floyd said simply. "He changed me. He changed everything."

Randolph had the same kind of conversation with Floyd that Ralph Houk once had with Mickey Mantle 44 years earlier. The Yankees manager emphasized Mantle's importance on what became an extraordinary team and urged him to assert himself and his considerable influence.

"Willie said, 'I want you on my team.' No one ever said that to me before," Floyd said. "That was awesome. It made me feel important -- to me. He told me he wanted me on the field. He got me to play when I didn't feel well. He made me a better player."

Motivated as he never had been, Floyd produced a solid season -- not his best statistically, but his most rewarding. He was, without question, the critical force in the first half of Randolph's first season in the Mets dugout. And when their first winning season in four years was complete, Floyd had experienced as much of a renaissance as the team. He had hit a career-high 34 home runs and driven in 98 runs, more than in all but one of his previous 11 seasons. And his 85 runs also were a second-best in his career.

The number of which he is proudest, though, was 150 -- the number of games. Only once, 1998, had Floyd appeared in more games. He had started 147 games -- sore Achilles and all.

"It wasn't easy to play that much," he said. "But it wasn't that hard either. And when you put up with it, you get a feeling of satisfaction. I'm pretty proud of last year."

His teammates were impressed, too.

"You knew he wasn't feeling as good as he could have felt," David Wright said. "But he was out there every day. That's big to see. Cliff's a big influence."

Floyd, Wright (160 games started), Jose Reyes (159) and Carlos Beltran (149) made the Mets one of two National League teams -- the Phillies were the other -- with four players with at least 147 starts. The American League's designated hitter rule made comparable numbers of starts more attainable. Four AL teams had four players with at least 147 starts. No team in either league had five.

"The idea is to play," Floyd says smiling. "We're players."

Not only did Floyd play more, he played more recklessly. He was a more active left fielder than he ever had been. He confronted more walls than ever. He got to more balls than ever. His career-high 283 outfield putouts were partly a function of a pitch-to-contact pitching staff. But he had to be in the field to make the plays.

And as much as the work Floyd did on his throwing with coach Jerry Manuel, his more active defense led to a league-leading 15 assists. "I did more out there," he said.

For all he did, he was recognized and appreciated. "You see how he plays, you see how he is in here [the clubhouse]," Chris Woodward says. "He's a good player, he's a good teammate."

And Randolph sees it that way. too. "All I did was talk to him a little. Cliff did all the work. He played hard for me. He played every day. He wanted it that way."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.