Mets stand by each other and it produces victories
New York remakes itself with youthful perseverance, solid starting pitching
It's not just that the Mets are winning. It's how they're winning. They're doing it with youth and hustle. Some nights, they start an entire lineup of twentysomethings, most of them homegrown players.
R.A. Dickey has brought a magical quality to this season, with an against-all-odds story of perseverance and believing in himself when almost no one else did. There's some of that with Johan Santana, who has made a spectacularly successful comeback from shoulder surgery.
Wrapped around their stories is a larger one of a franchise that's being remade on the fly. This was a team virtually no one expected anything of when the season began. General manager Sandy Alderson cut payroll over the winter, and along with that, he lowered expectations.
Jose Reyes left via free agency. Carlos Beltran was traded at the end of last season, before becoming a free agent. Instead of throwing money at big-ticket free agents -- Alderson didn't have the budget anyway -- the roster was thrown open to the kids and they were allowed to play their way onto the team.
Manager Terry Collins gave them the freedom that all young players need. That is, they were allowed to succeed and fail and to succeed again. Because expectations were lower, there wasn't the feeling that every bad at-bat was the end of the world.
And then something great happened. The Mets began to win, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda began to prove they belonged. Jordany Valdespin got a chance, too. And Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee and others.
Not every day has been a good one. Ike Davis has struggled mightily. Gee has too, at times. Guess what? That's part of becoming a big leaguer. Virtually all of 'em deal with similar things.
David Wright is having a monster season, and without him, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The Mets aren't perfect. As good as the rotation and the offense has been, the bullpen has had a tough time, and Alderson probably is shopping for a reliever or relievers to keep the Mets in the race.
But after three straight losing seasons, the Mets have been transformed, not just on the field, but seemingly in the hearts and minds of people who care about this team. There's something very appealing about a bunch of young guys trying to show the world they belong, not just individually, but as a team.
Collins has orchestrated it all brilliantly, and after 70 games, he seems less surprised than almost anyone.
"This club is playing exactly how I thought we would play," he said. "The thing that has exceeded it, it hasn't been with the lineup I expected to have. These young players have been called upon to step up and take the roles of some pretty good players that are not here. That's the part that's been fun to watch.
"But when you watch us play -- and we have bad nights like everybody else -- when you see David Wright come to the first step to meet Nieuwenhuis after he hits a homer, that's pretty cool. It's the way they root for each other."
He mentions first baseman Ike Davis.
"Ike Davis is struggling as bad as anybody I've been around," Collins said. "He's a good player. He's got so many people in his corner. That's the stuff that's been fun. And That's why I think we've competed. These guys root for each other, they play hard, they don't get down during tough times."
Two weeks ago, when the Mets were at Yankee Stadium for the first round of the Subway Series, Collins was asked how his young players would react to playing their crosstown rivals.
"To me, these are the games you grow with," he said. "These are the games you've got to learn how to play. If you want to win at this level, if you want to play under the brightest of lights, you play in these games. This is where you want to play. This is how you see if they can handle it. If you're going to play in the postseason, you better understand you have to get used to these conditions."
The Mets and Yankees will do it all over again this weekend, this time at Citi Field. Since being swept by the Yankees, the Mets have righted themselves and won six of nine.
This weekend won't be the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of this team's transition. It'll be another brick in the wall, another part of a journey that has been great fun.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.