By Mike Steffanos
Last night's win was not the type of crisply played game that would instantly erase all doubts about the 2008 New York Mets. There were certainly plenty of things not to like about the 8-2 victory over their division rival. One local columnist even suggests an asterisk needs to be placed next to the victory since Jimmy Rollins didn't play, asking "... is this enough to completely flush Philadelphia's sense of superiority: beating the Rollins-less Phillies?"
Being a Mets fan in New York means never being allowed to take a deep breath and enjoy a moment.
It's true enough, though, even putting aside the media's unending need to indulge in their Rollins-worship. Quite frankly, there was never going to be a single game or even an April series that would magically wash away all of the hurt and frustration of those of us who, day by excruciating day, witnessed a Mets collapse that began long before the world started paying attention in September.
As David Wright points out in the same story quoted above, the Mets floundered through much of the season lacking the ability to put the other team away. Quoting Wright:
[The killer instinct] is kind of like a muscle. You have to work it out to be able to truly flex it. We had it in 2006 (when they led the NL East for all but one day). In '06 we got a team down and we piled on and piled on. We have to reacquire that ability to bury teams.
Right now, as important as this will become, it's not about finding the killer instinct. For these Mets, the early season is a time to figure out exactly who they are as a team.
The starting lineup features three players who weren't on this team in 2007 -- Angel Pagan, Brian Schneider and Ryan Church -- plus the gimpy-kneed Luis Castillo, who came over at the trading deadline last season. Johan Santana has come here to lead the rotation. The bullpen has had a much-needed makeover.
Everyone on this club, whether he was here last season or not, must deal with all of the fallout from the late season collapse. At the same time, they have to get used to each other. It's not an easy task.
Although there are areas where I'm not sure what to expect from the Mets, there are many things that I'm certain will improve. Right now the Mets are sitting dead last in the NL with 3 HR. Their team slugging percentage is an anemic .378, number 14 in the 16 team league. While I don't expect the Mets to have the top offense this season, I have to believe they'll be much better than that.
Better signs include a .354 OBP which is second in the NL. The Mets simply must improve their ability to work opposing pitchers -- a big flaw last season -- and this is a good start.
Angel Pagan has picked up right where he left off in the spring, and has made the loss of Alou less of a factor. Church and Schneider have hit well in the early going, and Delgado's less pull-happy approach has also been promising. Among the starters Johan Santana, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey have looked good early on.
On the other hand, David Wright and Jose Reyes have scuffled somewhat, particularly in the last two series.
Reyes has been 2-18 in the four games against the Braves and Phillies. I know some of you, including some of the other writers who blog here, believe Randolph is an ogre who has somehow taken all of the joy and exuberance out of Reyes, but I suspect batting .111 in those games might actually have more to do with it. Athletes tend to not have fun when they suck.
David Wright has gone 1-14 in the same stretch. Teams tend to look flat when they are not hitting, even more so when the best young players on the team are putting up numbers more appropriate for pitchers.
If the Mets take tonight's game and win this series, I will be grateful for the 2 wins and at least a temporary reprieve from the endless talk of last year. If they lose, all the angst and finger pointing will be back with a vengeance. That's the reality, and no amount of logic and reason will change that.
Win or lose, what also doesn't change is the fact that this team still has to come together and become a team. You can't rush that, for good or bad. Only time will tell if they discover the killer instinct and ability to overcome adversity that characterized the 2006 New York Mets. The true identity of the 2008 Mets is something that will require more than a week or two to reveal.