By Mike Steffanos
Game 86: Phillies 3 - Mets 2 (Friday)
Game 87: Mets 9 - Phillies 4 (Saturday)
Game 88: Mets 4 - Phillies 2 (12) (Sunday)
The question has to be asked: Are the Mets now in the Phillies' heads?
Yes, that's a ridiculous question, but no sillier than some of what I was reading after Friday's loss.
I always thought Philadelphia's edge over the Mets last season was a lot more complicated than the endless Rollins-worship story lines would have led you to believe. I thought the roots of the Mets 2007 collapse actually went back to the end of 2006.
The Mets weren't exactly building on a long foundation of success in 2006. They had managed to finish 4 games above .500 the previous year after going a combined 60 games below break-even the preceding three seasons.
Despite losing Pedro and needing 13 pitchers to patch together a starting staff, the 2006 Mets had a knack for battling and overcoming adversity. They ran out to a huge lead and coasted for most of the month of September. Although they had a lot to overcome in the playoffs with both Pedro and El Duque out, they never quite looked the same to me.
They had a good two months to start the 2007 season, but I never felt very good about them. If they fell behind in a game they didn't seem inclined to try to battle back as they did the previous year. Then in June they fell into a .500 rut that they still haven't shaken.
Meanwhile, things weren't going well for the Phillies, but they learned the lesson of how to compete -- a lesson that the Mets forgot. Willie Randolph kept insisting his guys knew how to win and would turn it around. In retrospect, I think he gave too much credit to a club that had only one solitary season of success behind them.
When the Mets and Phillies met in those August and September games, it was the Phillies who knew how to compete and the Mets who seemed somewhat bewildered by the position they were in. The Phillies got more than their share of the breaks in those games, but they also played looser and more confidently. The Mets seemed like they were playing not to lose for most of the final month of the season.
Jerry Manuel has stressed the fact that his team is learning to compete again. This is more than just spin or hype -- you can see it happening. They look like a team that is trying to win rather than trying not to lose. Whether or not they can keep it up is unknowable at this point, but it looks a lot better than what we've seen. Give Manuel credit for getting this one right.
I still think the Phillies have the advantage here. They've already proven that they could put a streak together to distance themselves from .500 while the Mets clearly have not. They have an offense that allows their pitching staff to relax, knowing that they don't have to be great every time out.
Still, if Manuel can get this team back to competing day in and day out, against good teams and bad, then they have a chance to be more than just a source of exasperation to Mets fans. (I'm going to try not to throw something at the TV when they make Adam Eaton look like the second coming of Cy Young tonight.)
This is a big start for Pedro tonight, who really has to prove that he can pitch effectively again. He's been awful 3 times in a row, and he's giving up a ton of hits. His velocity has been fine, but his location has been very un-Pedro like. It's been suggested that his father's illness has been weighing on him, which is certainly understandable, but they really need him to be Pedro if they hope to contend for a playoff spot.
Finally, playoff contender or not, the Mets have to consider shutting Ryan Church down again if there is any question he is still suffering from post-concussion symptoms. Period. We all need to get past these constant questions of whether the Mets are handling this right.