Sports Nut

Nice Guys Finish Second-to-Last

For demanding New York sports fans, second place is no place. And neither is second-to-last. That’s why the city has turned so quickly on the Mets, a team that won last year’s National League pennant but is now the second-worst team in its division. The Mets must get serious if they are going to mount an assault on the Montreal Expos, the only NL East team with a worse record than theirs.

It won’t be easy. At 19 wins and 28 losses, the Expos have opened up a half-game lead on the 19-27 Mets. If the Mets are to catch them, here are the key things they need to do:

Get behind early. A quick way to create a losing atmosphere is to keep giving up the first run. But on the flip side, nothing deflates morale more than blowing an early lead.

Consistency. For long stretches of the young season, the Mets seem to lose one, win one, then lose one again. To catch a team like the Expos, they’ll need to string together five or 10 losses at a time. An upcoming series against the division-leading Phillies offers a prime opportunity for a sweep. However, it’s probably too early to call it a must-lose.

Do the little things wrong. Overlook the fundamentals: Miss the cut-off man, don’t back up throws, make the third out at third base. These things can mean the difference between losing and winning close games.

Losing on the road is not enough. The Mets’ home record (11-10) doesn’t keep pace with the Expos’ (10-14). Allow the opposing team to use the Mets’ home locker room.

Put individual stats ahead of the team’s record. Let struggling first baseman Todd Zeile swing for the fences when the situation calls for a bunt. On the mound, relievers can let inherited runners score—a great way to inflate a teammate’s ERA and make yours look better by comparison. Bottom line: Bring back Rickey Henderson.

Maintain current level of clutch hitting. You don’t play .400 ball without stranding a lot of runners in scoring position. Yet the question remains: Can the Mets sustain this pace in the months to come?

Play the blame game. It’s hard to overestimate bad attitude. Mean-spiritedness, finger pointing, and petty griping must be aired in public.

Rush back injured players. Putting key players with nagging injuries back in the lineup too soon turns names on the 15-day disabled list into candidates for the 60-day DL. Added bonus: Mets must call up rookies not ready to leave AAA.

Pitching, pitching, pitching. Everyone knows bad pitching is the key to losing. There’s no substitute for consistently throwing balls out of the strike zone. Remember: A walk is as good as a hit.

Woo back Dallas Green. Manager Bobby Valentine may have lost a lot this season, but he is not a proven loser over time. Nobody blows the easy games like former Mets skipper Dallas Green. An upcoming three-game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays could be crucial. Dallas Green would lose them all.