As if the reports of Cliff Floyd running (instead of hobbling) weren’t enough, the Bergen Record’s Bob Klapisch reports on the suddenly fleet-of-foot New York Mets.
There are the obvious signs – Jose Reyes on top of the major leagues in stolen bases during the exhibition season. Kaz Matsui at the top of the runs scored category with Carlos Beltran right behind him.
And then there are the subtle hints that something bigger is up with the Mets this season – Mike Piazza hustling from first to third on a single. Jason Phillips tagging up on a routine fly ball and heading from second to third.
The obvious and the unlikely have conspired to provide the Mets with a new attitude and a new attack to match their new and improved roster. And the common denominator is Willie Randolph.
“He says it every day,” Doug Mientkiewicz said of the rookie manager. “We’re going to play aggressive. We’re going to make mistakes on the bases, but you know what, we’re going to win a lot of games by our baserunning.
“You can’t be scared to fail on the bases. We’re going to run ourselves out of a lot of innings, but we’re going to create a lot of innings because of what we do. There are going to be a lot of fans complaining about how we run the bases, but that same person who says we shouldn’t have done that the next day will be saying, ‘That’s a hell of a play.”
Mientkiewicz, who has stolen a total of 11 bases in his entire career, might seem an unlikely advocate for the newly minted Willie-ball. But he spent almost his entire career with the Minnesota Twins where the small market squad won by doing the exact things that Mientkiewicz sees Randolph putting into action with the big-budget talent the Mets have acquired.
And that may be the most unlikely factor in the Mets style. The Mets have built a roster that could sit back and rely on a three-run home run, with a batting order that from one to eight puts a player at the plate with the potential to hit at least 15 home runs this season and a heart of the order that features four players who have hit at least 30 in a season.
But the Mets are instead intent on combining the big-name talent with small-ball style.
“I want the mentality to be that,” Randolph said. “Obviously, Jason Phillips is not the kind of guy who’s going to do a lot of that, but it was nice to see that approach. I believe in setting a tone for the game in some way and that’s how you do it. I’ve always believed you don’t have to be real fast to be a good baserunner. I want my players to understand that.
“Pete Rose was not a fast runner, but he was an aggressive, excellent baserunner. Even if you’re not fast I want your mentality to be, ‘Listen, we’re going to try to take the extra base. If you don’t make us stop, we’re going to take it to you that way.’ As spring goes on I want to see what guys are not afraid to do those things.”
“It is an attitude he brings to the base paths,” Piazza said. “He stresses you don’t have to be a fast baserunner to be a good baserunner. Jason and myself, the slower guys, are able to show that.”
While Piazza and Phillips may pick their spots, Reyes, Matsui and Beltran are green-lighted to go as they please. And already they’ve shown a penchant for rushing their way around the bases.
“In Matsui and Reyes you have two guys who can absolutely wreak havoc on the bases,” Mientkiewicz said. “They can change the outcome of games just by being on the bases whether they run or not. And in Carlos you have a guy who to me is the best baserunner in baseball.
With the top of the lineup featuring Reyes and Matsui, it makes plenty of sense for Randolph to be emphasising the running game. At the same time, the former’s ability to get to first base oughta be addressed as much as anything, as trendy a concern as it may be. If you’re a Mets fan and you’d like to make yourself sick this morning, look up how many times Reyes walked in 2003 and 2004, and then remember he’s your leadoff hitter.