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For three and a half years we’ve been watching Willie Randolph bring in his closer, Billy Wagner, to pitch the ninth inning of tied or close games. Jerry Manuel’s second game as manager of the Mets showed us a much needed strategic shift. Manuel’s intestinal fortitude was tested by his star shortstop in his first game as well, and he passed with flying colors.
Willie Randolph followed the modern “book” for closers as Mets manager. Billy Wagner nearly always pitched the ninth inning of games that the Mets led or were tied. I always disagreed with pitching Wagner in the ninth inning of a tied game. I wondered: Why not hold onto that weapon until you really need it? Apparently, Jerry Manuel agrees with me. Duaner Sanchez pitched the ninth inning, and when the Mets took the lead Billy Wagner shut the door in the tenth inning. That’s the way to play that situation! Wagner is the pitcher to close out a win, not hold over a tie.
Manuel dealt perfectly with tempestuous shortstop Jose Reyes’ outburst after being removed from the game on Tuesday night. He spoke privately to Reyes, asked for an apology for him and his team. Then he moved on. Reyes responded with a lightning strike of a game on Wednesday going 3 for 5 with 3 runs scored and a stolen base. Manuel pushed the right buttons. There was no need to admonish Reyes or create animosity by benching him. Manuel knows how to read his players and connect with them, something that Randolph always had trouble with.
I also liked that Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen didn’t go out to the mound last night to baby Oliver Perez at the first sign of trouble. Randolph and Rick Peterson always did that. Perez needs to get himself out of trouble and learn to be responsible to his teammates. There isn’t always going to be a safety net below him. He’s the one that the team is counting on. We saw that clearly demonstrated last night and it was perfect.
Although we’re only two games into Jerry Manuel’s managerial career with the Mets, I like what I’m seeing so far. He looks to have a much better sense about dealing with players in game situations and their personalities. I only wish this change had come sooner.