If you recall, an element of the '07 hand-ringing was this lament: "It never should have come down to this." No one said that this year. This year, the Mets lost the pennant race; last year, they lost the pennant. It was theirs, and they collapsed. This year, they had a lead and didn't perform well thereafter. A seven-game lead with 17 games remaining is more than double what the Mets had this year -- a 3 1/2-game lead with 17 to go.
I thought the 2008 team underachieved under Willie Randolph -- evidently, the Mets hierarchy did, too -- and overachieved for an extended period under Jerry Manuel. And the way the Mets produced in September, winning 13 of 25 games, constituted the inevitable, if poorly timed, correction.
I'm not sure Randolph's decisions were as much a cause of the early shortfall as the indifference I witnessed among some players. The indifference was washed away when Manuel took over, creating the appearance that Randolph was to blame. Manuel deserves credit for prodding professionals to play professionally. And he certainly deserves the contract afforded him. I'm not sure all the players are so worthy.
At no time did I think the Mets were a championship team, but the National League East was hardly a dynamic division. I can't say I expected them to lose six of their final nine games, but 13-12 in September was essentially consistent with my view of the team.
The remarkable renaissance of Carlos Delgado was the primary ingredient in the fuel that carried the Mets from fourth place, 7 1/2 games out on June 10, to the 3 1/2-game lead on Sept. 10. The emergence of Mike Pelfrey and the greater-than-anticipated second-half surge of Johan Santana were also critical factors.
The dreadful performance of the bullpen trumped all of it. No contending team I know of in any season performed as poorly in one facet of the game as did the Mets' bullpen. Its disintegration was more spectacular than anything Delgado or Santana did.
Even when the bullpen succeeded, uncommon measures were required. The Mets beat the Nationals, 9-7, in Washington Sept. 17. Six relievers were used to achieve the final nine outs. That was remarkable.
The closing of Shea was inevitable and not something I lament. People asked me what I wanted from the ballpark, and I said, 'I want it to close." It had little distinction and less charm. My memories of it are the people and the events.
Finally, the extension afforded Omar Minaya can be viewed from two perspectives: There's the viewpoint Jeff Wilpon expressed on Thursday when he said, "We obviously were not a very good team when Omar came aboard, and [Minaya has] turned this thing around. We think he deserves another chance to get us to where we want to be." And then there's my take on it, that Minaya relied too much on older players who were unlikely to make consistent contributions over 162-game schedules. Moreover, Luis Castillo's seeming lack of off-season rehabilitation and conditioning created a mess at second base.
The Mets have been contenders for three years, that can't be questioned. At the same time, approaching the rotation as the Mets did in February, by designating Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez and Oliver Perez for key roles, was asking for trouble, thereby putting too much emphasis in a bullpen that showed signs of weakness in 2007.
I wish I could have covered Moises Alou for an extended period. He is a genuine professional who might have addressed the early indifference that was so damaging and would have given the batting order depth and right-handed production. But I saw little reason to expect him to play in 80 games, much less the 120 the Mets thought they could get.
Injuries can be blamed, but older players with histories of breaking down usually do just that. And accumulating so many older players for critical jobs seemed foolish to me.
I've seen Orlando Hudson mentioned everywhere as a possible second baseman for next year. What are the chances?
-- Paul S., Brooklyn, N.Y.
The chances would be better without the presence of Castillo. When Jeff Wilpon mentioned creating "addition by subtraction" last week, I suspect many minds connected those words to Castillo. From what I'm told, Hudson, a free agent, yearns to play for the Mets. I can't be sure of that. I don't know him. But what I know of him would suit the Mets' purposes quite well. Whether or not Hudson wants to play at Citi Field, money will be a factor, and the $18 million owed Castillo can make it an issue.
I'm so glad the Mets brought back Dwight Gooden for the last day at Shea. I don't think anything at Shea ever was more exciting than watching the Doctor dominate hitters in 1985. Is there any chance the Mets will bring him back like they've brought back Darryl Strawberry?
-- Charles K., Bethpage, N.Y.
I'm guessing there are no plans for the club to hire Doc, but his return last week and the reception afforded him must have made an impression. Perhaps he will become a more frequent guest at Citi Field, though I suspect that will largely depend on him.
Is Jonathon Niese going to pitch in winter ball? I think he could use more seasoning.
-- Rich H., Allentown, Pa.
Right now, he probably needs time more than thyme (sorry). Niese pitched 178 innings in Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues in 2008. He hadn't approached that figure in his first three seasons as a professional. So he is making the offseason just that and affording his arm an extended rest.
How do you think the Mets would have fared if they played the Cubs?
-- Allen T., Bronx, N.Y.
Well, if the Cubs had played as poorly as they did against the Dodgers, I would expect the Mets to have prevailed. But there is no way to know whether the Mets' bullpen would have pitched as well as the Dodgers' relievers did. Relief pitching would have been an issue for the Mets, for sure, had they survived the regular season.
I'm afraid that Ron Darling working for TBS during the playoffs means he is done with SNY. Is he?
-- Sara T., Rochester, N.Y.
No. He worked for TBS during the playoffs last year and at times during the '08 season. And he signed a multi-year contract with SNY in the summer.