By Mike Steffanos
Despite the reality of rapidly dwindling playoff hopes, key injuries and the trade of Carlos Beltran, many of us Mets fans are still tuning in to watch our team play. The local media has reacted to this in various ways, ranging from ridicule to actual attempts to analyze why we still care.
In his Newsday column from a couple of days ago, Ken Davidoff attempted to analyze whether the 2011 Mets' reputation for grittiness was "Perception or reality".
Davidoff compared the Mets record when they are trailing heading into the seventh and eighth innings this year compared to 2007 (the year of the infamous choke) and 2010. While this Mets team hasn't done quite as well as the '07 bunch -- which did win 88 games, after all -- they are doing better than they did last year. Because of this, Davidoff rated the team's reputation for grittiness as "58% reality, 42% perception".
It was an interesting read and I commend Davidoff for actually writing intelligently on this subject. However, I think he missed the point, at least from my point of view.
Coming back in the late innings of a contest is a beautiful thing, and much preferred to coming back but then losing the damned game. Still, no matter how good you are, any team is going to lose most of the games where they're trailing with an inning or two to go.
What really frustrated me in past seasons, including 2007, was how often the Mets would fall behind by a few runs and fell into a series of bad at bats -- swinging early in the count, chasing bad pitches and swinging for the fences.
This year under Terry Collins and hitting coach Dave Hudgens, there is a better and more coherent approach all times, even when the game isn't going well. Not giving away at bats when you are behind by more than a run or two falls into my definition of grittiness, even when you don't win the game. And it will lead to a couple of wins over the course of a season.
Another thing I like about this team is that they've continued to play well through devastating injuries and the trade of their best player. That to me is more indicative of grittiness than coming back in games, and has a lot to do with why I'm still watching.
Of course, credit has to be also given to the decisions of the front office. They're choosing better replacements for injured players than we've seen over the past few seasons. It's hard to be gritty when your lineup is full of guys who can't hit.
Credit also to Terry Collins, who doesn't make excuses and utilizes his roster better than Jerry Manuel did. I don't whether Collins is personally grittier than his departed predecessor, but his leadership and decision making have contributed to the overall feeling of resilience and grittiness.
All is not perfect however. I'm getting awfully tired of watching Mets teams underperform at their home ballpark. They're six games over .500 on the road, and if they were doing that well at home they'd legitimately be in the wildcard race. Instead, they are seven games under .500 at home. That is a decidedly ungritty number, and we will talk about it next time we post.