NEW YORK – It was three games right out of a Mets fan's daydream, the kind of week that makes even the most cynical loyalist believe anything is possible under the choreography of 93-mph strikes at the knees.
That was Mike Pelfrey on Thursday, crushing the Phillies in a 3-0 shutout. It completed a sweep of historical proportions: The Mets became only the third team since 1876 to complete a three-game sweep of a first-place team without allowing a run. Only the 1974 Orioles (over the Red Sox) and 1913 Washington Senators (over the Philadelphia A's) had ever matched that kind of in-your-face dominance.
Jeff Francoeur called it, "the most amazing series I've ever been part of." And that led the Mets to ask a not-so-crazy question. If they're good enough to take back-to-back series against the Yankees and Phillies, put together a five-game winning streak and re-write the record book in the process, is it realistic to think about a pennant race?
It might be, if the Mets are willing to heed these three suggestions:
Resolve Jerry Manuel's status
The Vigil has been feeding the tabloid beast for days now: Manuel is either getting fired or being feted as a genius, depending on which streak the Mets are working on (hot or cold, winning or else looking like the worst team money could buy).
Obviously, this is a team of crazy extremes. They won nine in a row in late April, actually taking over first place from the Phillies before falling back into the cellar. Now they're surging again – without any firm commitment to Jerry Manuel, who's in the final year of his contract.
That's one of the biggest differences between the Mets and Phillies; despite the swoon, Charlie Manuel doesn't have to worry about his job security. The Mets, however, have created an air of uncertainty around Jerry Manuel, as both COO Jeff Wilpon and GM Omar Minaya rushed to meet the team in Atlanta after their Mets' fifth straight loss on the Florida-Washington road trip.
Wilpon tried to pass off the emergency summit as nothing more than a mobile organizational meeting. But the club's hierarchy was so distressed by the downward spiral, Bob Melvin was brought into the executive suite last weekend at Citi Field and asked how he'd succeed where Manuel had thus far failed.
The de facto job interview suggested Manuel could've easily been dismissed had the Mets not taken two of three from the Yankees. Now such talk is on hold. But Manuel has clearly been on edge, asking Francisco Rodriguez to warm up so many times (often without actually using him) the closer ended up in a heated shoving match with bullpen coach Randy Niemann Sunday night.
The incident, first reported by the New York Times, illustrated how the continual crisis has worn out Rodriguez. In the 20-inning game against the Cardinals last month, K-Rod was told to warm up on 10 different occasions, and was so depleted by the time he entered the game in the 19th inning that he was unable to pitch the 20th.
if Wilpon is serious about sustaining his team's success, he needs to change the conversation -- in the bullpen, the clubhouse and the media.
He needs to relieve the players of the burden of trying to save Manuel's job every time they take the field. To do that, Wilpon (and Minaya) must determine if Manuel is the best man for this position. If so, they need to announce to everyone – players, fans, media – that Manuel's job is safe for the rest of the 2010, without equivocation.
But if they don't believe that, ownership should have the guts to act immediately and not wait for the next losing streak. They should give Melvin the job today and let him bodysurf the current momentum.
PICK UP ANOTHER STARTING PITCHER:
The market is starting to take shape, and practically all of the available arms could help the Mets. The list consists of the obvious (Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee) and the subtle saviors (Ben Sheets or Ted Lilly or Kevin Millwood).
One way or another, the onus will be on the Mets to increase the payroll from its current $126 million. That's no small request, considering the Wilpon family failed to open the coffers for any of the available free agents last winter. From John Lackey to Joel Pineiro, no one, it seemed, impressed the Mets enough to write a check.
Making a mid-season deal requires a little more finesse, of course – and foresight. It's one thing to say the Mets should simply bankroll the rest of Oswalt's $15 million salary this season. But it's quite another to decide what to give the Astros in return.
Our suggestion? Move Daniel Murphy in a heartbeat, but if anyone asks for Jenrry Mejia, politely hang up the phone and move on, even if it means losing out on Oswalt. It'll be up to Minaya to pull off a swap that'll help the rotation without sacrificing a prospect like Mejia. But both interests have to be served.
BECOME ROAD WARRIORS:
This might be the most critical stretch of the Mets' young season. As intoxicated as they are from stomping one of the defending league champions, the Mets now have to match that success on the road. They're heading to Milwaukee and San Diego, where we'll learn if R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi are for real.
The Mets have the National League's worst road record (6-14). The last time they left home they were destroyed by the Marlins and Nationals. Here is where Manuel can leave a permanent imprint on his players: if he can rally the Mets to at least a .500 trip, then it's time to say he's earned his keep and that a run at the Phillies is more than just wish-casting.