New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya is flooding Port St. Lucie with arms, each of them unique. There are young arms, veteran arms, healthy arms and refurbished arms. They are slinging pitches from every angle, on a series of mounds, across the green terra firma at the Tradition Sports Complex. Minaya summed up his surplus of arms saying simply, “You can never have enough pitching.”
Sure it’s an old adage, a tried and true philosophy espoused by legendary baseball minds over the past century. But there is a distinct difference when it comes from Minaya’s lips, because he is speaking from experience, not rehashing a cliché or the ghost of Gil Hodges.
The scars are not visible to the naked eye. Minaya bears those scars internally, scars of season(s) lost. The pain comes from the way the Mets lost, a free-fall into the cold, bitter embrace of October. The promise of playoff baseball came to a screeching halt the final day of the season, not once but twice.
In 2007, the Mets had a seven-game lead on September 12, then dropped 12 of their final 17 games. After losing on the final day of the season, 8-1 at home to the Florida Marlins, Minaya was warned it would happen again.
“The minute we get any kind of lead, especially late in the season, we’re going to hear about this season,” said Billy Wagner in 2007, as the Mets packed up after teh first collapse. “Anyone in here who says we’ll put this behind us when we get to spring training next year is lying. We won’t put it behind us until we win another pennant of some kind. If we’re up 10 next September people will ask if we’re going to blow it. If we’re up one next September people will ask if we’re going to blow it. We’re just going to have to pretend not to hear and find a way to get to the finish line because we didn’t get that done this time around.”
Minaya either chose to ignore it or simply disagreed with Wagner – until last September. No, not again. Minaya kept telling everyone, even after Wagner went down to injury last August, the Mets bullpen would prevail. He believed in Heilman, Ayala, Feliciano, Stokes, Schoeneweis and Sanchez. He believed, as in Tug McGraw-style, “Ya’ Gotta Believe!” right to the very end when they were adding up all the blown saves.
Billy Wagner: seven. Luis Ayala: six. Aaron Heilman: five. Scott Schoeneweis: four. Joe Smith: three. Pedro Feliciano and Brian Stokes: two apiece. Nelson Figueroa, Carlos Muniz and Duaner Sanchez: one apiece.
Again, it happened. A three-and-a-half game lead on September 17 and on the final day of the season, once again, the Florida Marlins stuck a fork in the Mets. Finished. Cooked. Overcooked maybe? More like burnt toast.
Back-to-back seasons, a mountain of blown saves and media scrutiny, something must change. Minaya no longer needed to hear it from Wagner or senior management. He saw it with his own eyes. The Mets could not finish.
Minaya is taking every precaution to insure it will never happen again. Everywhere you look there are pitchers: Livan Hernandez, Freddy Garcia, Jonathan Niese, Tim Redding, Valerio de los Santos, Brandon Knight, Brian Stokes, Casey Fossum, Tom Martin, Rocky Cherry, Kyle Snyder, Tony Armas Jr., Elmer Dessens, Matt DeSalvo, Adam Bostick, Jackson Todd, Hank Webb, Bill Pulsipher, Sidd Finch … should I stop? Got the idea?
But this team (2009) is better than that team and the one before it (2007) Minaya said Saturday, with a nod of agreement from his manager.
But there is no looking back, right?