“For Willie Randolph, the hardest offseason of his life has included no blaring back pages, no court proceedings, nothing but a wearisome drumbeat of mental rewinds and probing reflections” writes the New York Daily News’ Wayne Coffey. But on the bright side, it hasn’t included the Mets resigning Tom Glavine, either.

Says Willie, “I felt all year long we didn’t have that killer instinct consistently that we should’ve had. We had at it times when our backs were against the wall, and we did show some fight (the Mets went 8-2 after the first four-game sweep by the Phillies), but you have to be careful when you put your back against the wall, because you can’t always get off that wall. In the end, that’s (exactly) what happened.”

Randolph says he believed in his players’ character right to the final game, confident they would right themselves, and admits now the faith was misplaced: “I definitely gave them too much credit. I was looking for them to reveal to me that they were ready to be champions, but they showed me they weren’t ready.

“It’s a tough thing to look at in retrospect, but that’s the truth.”

He faults himself for not going at them harder at times, for not pointedly “telling them what time it is” on two or three occasions. His instinct was to have a meeting before the Phillies series in mid-September, and he didn’t follow it, not wanting to seem panicky. There were behind-the-scenes meetings, for sure – after the sweep in Philadelphia, Randolph was as impassioned as a Sunday preacher, imploring his people to take ownership of the division, to prove they were the best and not wait for anyone to hand it to them, and kicked a waste basket on his way out.

“I hurt my toe,” he says, laughing.

But the message didn’t get heeded for any length of time. Randolph wonders if it should’ve been framed differently. He wonders if maybe he could’ve spent more pregame time with his emotionally fragile relievers, and if it was the right time to go at Reyes in a mid-September game against the Braves after Reyes hit a fly to left and peeled off to the dugout halfway down the line.

Randolph loves Reyes, and fully believes he’ll be a star for a long time. But you need to play the game right, no matter how much talent you have. “You tired? If you are, you can take the rest of the night off,” the manager snapped. Reyes is a sensitive sort who is prone to pouting. His funk only deepened after that. Should a lack of hustle have been ignored, or broached differently? If there was one more well-pitched game in the final week, would it have even mattered?