Tough Means Sometimes Having to Say You’re Sorry

Collins, the man the Red Sox probably only wish they’d hired instead of you-know-whom . . .

If you want to know the best reason why New York Mets manager Terry Collins isn’t anywhere close to the proverbial hot seat, and why Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine may be lucky to escape with his life when the season ends, you need look no further than what Collins did after a gruesome enough loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday and before a blessed enough win against the Miami Marlines Friday.

The Phillies smothered the Mets 16-1 and Collins, by all accounts, exploded after the game as though he wanted nothing better than to smother what was left of his team. But every Met plus Collins had a night to sleep on it. And when Collins greeted his forces Friday, the manager apologised.

As in, mea culpa, maxima culpa. As in, there was no call for one grown man to rip 25 grown men about twenty new ones simply because the better team used them for batting, pitching, outfield, and every other practise known to baseball man this side of rehearsing the mid-innings infield smoothing.

“I don’t want to ever challenge anybody’s integrity,” Collins told reporters before the Mets went out and, admittedly, took advantage of a Marlins team that has made the Mets resemble World Series contenders lately. “That’s wrong. My players are professionals. They didn’t get here without being guys that played their hearts out all the time. Sometimes you say, ‘What can I say that maybe will make them mad enough to say, ‘You know, I’ll show that little (jerk).’ That was maybe the way I tried to approach it. And I don’t ever do that. So it might have been the wrong way.”

If you can imagine Valentine doing that after chewing his Red Sox out or, more typically, throwing about a third of them in front of a speeding express, either you’re Alfred Hitchcock or you’re looking to launch your journalism career at The Onion.

Never mind that this year’s Marlins resemble killifish. Never mind that the Mess (er, Mets) have won only five home games since the All-Star break. Never mind that before Friday they went sixteen straight Citi Field games without scoring more than three runs.

Never mind that the Marlins played as though they were only too anxious to celebrate the Mets’ fiftieth anniversary by performing a very accurate impersonation of the slapstick Original Mets. One routine fly fell between a few Fish, one ball hit Miami starting pitcher Jacob Turner—who lost track of its carom post haste, former Met standout Jose Reyes committed a wild throw, and Turner aided the cause with a wild pitch.

This time, the Mets took the hints. Scott Hairston, Ike Davis, and Jon Niese took them especially to heart, Hairston offering a home run and a triple and three runs batted in, Davis going over the fence in the seventh to follow up an RBI single in the first, and Niese manhandling the Marlins (three runs, seven hits, one walk, seven punchouts in six and a third innings) as though sampling the offerings at the seafood buffet.

They acted, in other words, almost as though what the Phillies did to them Thursday was an aberration, if not a round of human rights violations. And they didn’t let up come Saturday, either, though it’s usually pretty difficult to lay down on the job when R.A. Dickey, the fellow Fish foreman Ozzie Guillen says should give his swimmers a lot of the credit for his standout, Cy Young-prospective season, went out to nail his nineteenth win and Collins had no intention of letting anyone screw it up for him. Even if Dickey needed a prayer kit working after his ninth-inning relief, Jon Rauch, surrenders a three-run homer to bring the Marlins to within a run before keeping them there to save it.

“I know they care,” Collins said Friday. “There’s a lot of guys playing for a lot of things in there—be it contracts, be it jobs, be it just pride alone. But everyone plays for something. And I know they are. We’ve just got to continue to battle through one of the worst times that any of us have ever been in in the game.”

It could be worse. Collins knows it. That’s why this man who once lost two major league clubhouses because, in essence, he treated every pitch, never mind every play, as though the fate of the civilised world hung on it, makes a careful point of naming no names when he’s infuriated but naming himself when he knows he might have gone one step too far in telling his Mets or their followers disaster is not supposed to be an option.

Crossing the line between demanding accountability and questioning heart helped turn Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s season into a Rimbaudian nightmare. Collins isn’t about to let himself or his Mets forget the line. Whatever overhauling is or isn’t done come the off-season, it doesn’t seem likely that the manager’s job will be part of it.

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