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Howe Now, Willie?

Mike SteffanosWednesday, September 7, 2005
By Mike Steffanos

Braves 3 - Mets 1

The Mets took another shambling step down the road to perdition last night during yet another scintillating loss to the Braves. At this point they are stuck in baseball's Twilight Zone, basically just losing the same game over and over again.

There has been much to be optimistic about this season as a Mets fan, unfortunately this team is squandering a great deal of the emotional capital they have built up with us. What's most frustrating to me is that they are not playing exceptionally poor baseball; they're just playing bad enough to lose. It forces me to realize that as far as they have come this season, they have much farther to go to be a contender. Physically they are a much improved club, but one that still lacks the mental toughness to win tight, high-stakes September ball games.

In all my years of following this team I have seen this before. By far the most difficult leap for this team will be the next leap, the banana peel of a leap that they are so embarrassingly tripping up on these past two weeks. It's a leap of confidence that understands the difference between being intense and focused and just getting tight because you're trying too hard - from believing that you are focused when you really are not. It's that place that you get to as a team when you finally manage to make your way past the intersection of Hype and Hope and reach the Promised Land that so few Met teams have truly found.

Don't get me wrong here; I'm not saying the team as it exists right now is good enough to make a serious post-season run. Omar Minaya will have his hands full this off-season, and this time it's going to require a lot more than spending a ton of Fred Wilpon's money on a big name or two. It will require the creative vision to strengthen the now without sacrificing the future. We're asking you to be a lot more than Steve Phillips, Omar, and we can only hope that you are up to the task.

And then there is Willie, who is now past the 5 minute honeymoon that Mets fan so generously provide our managers, who now finds himself squarely in the Art Howe Zone, where the smallest move is open for incessant criticism and debate. It's a place where tabloid columnists and radio talk show hosts of dubious worth build themselves up by tearing a manager down. You've arrived now, Willie. The only way out of this mess is to produce what so many of you predecessors have failed to produce.

You could have accomplished a lot if you had somehow managed to guide your team into a couple of wins in Atlanta, if you had found a way to get them to believe that they had a chance. We would be willing to forgive the fact that you yourself have so much to learn, if only you could have accomplished this. We wanted so badly for this team to surprise us, yet they only delivered the painful mediocrity that we have come to expect as fans.

It was hard last September to watch Art Howe lose this team so completely, and it is would be even uglier to watch it happen again. For those of us that still believe that, despite everything, you have the makings of a real manager, it will be difficult to find ways to defend you. Perhaps you can find a way to guide your team back into a passable fight for a wild card hope that beyond reason still exists for them. What you must do, at the very least, is not let this team quit on you or us. We just can't tolerate that again.

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