Ask around the New York Mets' front office on a rather dreary morning that chased four losses in Atlanta and left the Mets in fourth place in the NL East for the near future, and three conclusions could fairly be drawn.
One, Willie Randolph is, at the moment of this writing, still field manager of the Mets, a fact confirmed when Randolph was sighted in the visitors' dugout in Colorado later that night.
Two, that is not likely to change in the next day or two.
Three, this would be a damned good time for the Mets to start winning, assuming the players believe there is any benefit to saving Willie's job.
Randolph's professional future – along, of course, with the Mets' season – has come to that, there being no more margin for an abundance of bad at-bats or guile-less pitching or clubhouse sniping.
As it is, the Mets of the $140-million payroll, the Mets of the assertive Johan Santana trade, the Mets of on-deck-circle preening and championship designs are underachievers again, massively so, and have been for going on a year.
Maybe that is Randolph's fault, and maybe Jerry Manuel, the Mets' bench coach, or Ken Oberkfell, the Triple-A manager, or some other guy in a blue-and-orange windbreaker holds answers Randolph does not.
At this point, I'd like to meet the man who could make something of Carlos Delgado's .364 slugging percentage, or the man who would not recognize the vulnerability in a lineup that sometimes features Delgado, Endy Chavez and Marlon Anderson in defensive corners, traditional positions of offensive production.
Indeed, if Randolph were to go, the final impetus wouldn't be a mistimed – and, ultimately, regretted – observation regarding the local television coverage, it would be the strained calf of Moises Alou, the delayed return of Pedro Martinez, the inability to put away a wobbly Tom Glavine, and before that three losses in four home games to the Washington Nationals.
Broadly, this is about the September collapse, about a leader's culpability, about a dugout demeanor that, depending on one's angle, reflects great composure or borderline indifference. From the perspective of a fan base that began booing in the home opener and has rarely altered its opinion, nobody gets the benefit of the doubt anymore, a perspective ownership apparently is beginning to share. And now it's about being closer in the standings to the Nationals than the Florida Marlins. The maxim goes – and Randolph, for the moment, would have to agree – the season is not about how one starts, but how one finishes. Sadly for Randolph, the Mets have now done neither well, finishing last season 5-12, starting this one 22-23, and since June 2 winning 75 and losing 78, which pretty much covers the time between start and finish.
Where this leads is to an open debate of Randolph's top-step bearing, Randolph's SNY Network analyses, Randolph's clubhouse influence, Randolph's bullpen deployment, Randolph's SNY apology, Randolph's whatever. And it leads to the desk of general manager Omar Minaya, who'll quite possibly wear the consequences as well. According to one insider, Minaya – and not owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon – will make the call on Randolph.
In New York, unless your surname is Torre and you carry the shield of multiple World Series rings, these public discussions hardly ever end well for the subject, which, as Randolph well knows, is how these jobs open in the first place. The process is not terribly flattering, lately Randolph – a proud and sensitive man – has taken to defending himself daily against all the pop-up issues, some legitimate, some imagined, some self-inflicted and entirely avoidable.
Thing is about his job, it can be difficult to distinguish the passing distractions from the pressing crises, because they all play in New York like the latter, and they all carry the potential to threaten the baseball season. Presumably, Randolph believes he is stuck between publicly backing his players and privately wondering why they aren't performing for him. We can assume that when Billy Wagner and David Wright are calling out teammates in the newspapers, those same teammates probably aren't being called out in the clubhouse (or in the manager's office). Wagner might be a loudmouth who, as a guy who pitches a few innings a week, has no business expressing his opinion on anything other than the ninth inning, but his words reflect again on Randolph, just as surely as the standings do, just as September did. Wright, by Friday evening, had backtracked on his gripe that some teammates didn't take losses hard enough, but the damage was done again, and Randolph would take the shrapnel.
For the moment, and actually for quite a while now, none of it looks good. Since reaching Game 7 of the 2006 National League championship series, the Mets have had a couple good months and that is all.
And on Friday night, in the first inning in Colorado, Oliver Perez was in trouble already. Clint Barmes doubled. Garrett Atkins homered. The Mets were down, 2-0. The SNY cameras? Randolph, in the dugout, hands in pockets, face stiff. Yeah, a damned good time to start winning.