Mix Of Veterans, Youngsters Perfect Recipe For Mets

Mets Have Found The Perfect Ingredients To Take The Cake

NEW YORK — After the final brushes of the 2015 season are applied and the portrait is complete, the cold colors of baseball metrics might insist that the Mets' young starters and closer simply were too dominant.

When this World Series is over and after the parade through the Canyon of Heroes — if a historical one-man wrecking crew is not stopped — maybe everyone will be content to explain the Mets' inexorable march with one giddy word. "Murphy!"

Yet to examine only the box scores, to honor only what transpires between the white lines, to jump to the end game is to ignore lessons learned, bonds formed, chemistry developed in a clubhouse between veterans and rookies over a long season.

The rallying point, the poignant moment for Mets fans arrived on July 29 when Wilmer Flores, believing he had been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, wept on the field during the eighth inning of a game against the San Diego Padres. The fans at Citi Field chanted his name. Tears rolled down his face. Except Flores wouldn't be traded, the Mets backed out of the deal because of Carlos Gomez's bad hip.

Those tears became symbolic of how much a player wanted to remain a Met. And now here was Flores on Friday, the starting shortstop after Ruben Tejada's leg was broken on Chase Utley's slide of infamy.

"I truly believe everything happens for a reason," Flores said. "This is the reason. I'm so thankful to be here."

Gratitude from a 24-year-old kid is one matter. Leadership from veterans is another. Yes, David Wright, who'll be playing in his first World Series, signed an eight-year, $138 million deal in December 2012. Yet the Mets' payroll, thanks to Bernie Madoff's greed and deft restructuring by GM Sandy Alderson, has hovered around only $100 million the past four seasons.

Maybe that has led to a hungrier team. More probably, Alderson and manager Terry Collins, a baseball lifer who deserves this October more than anybody, have found that beautiful blend of giving veterans and willing kids. This is a loose clubhouse. This is a team easy to like.

Take Michael Conforto. The rookie was playing A ball for the Brooklyn Cyclones a year ago. Conforto has played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and, now, in his first year the MLB World Series. It's all happened so fast it's a blur, he said.

"I will say I haven't won a World Series," Conforto said. "Hopefully, I'm saving it for this one right here."

What Conforto really wanted to talk about was how Michael Cuddyer has helped him with the art of pinch-hitting, baserunning, all the nuances that turn a prospect into a smart big leaguer. Conforto, it should be noted, essentially has taken Cuddyer's job.

"That's the kind of guy he is, the kind of leader he is," Conforto said. "He has taken me under his wing and tried to make things easier for me. And something like the belt shows his leadership."

Cuddyer is the guy behind awarding the WWE-style championship belt to the game MVP after every Mets win.

"Everybody wants to win the belt," Conforto said. "The team rallies around it."

"Whenever anybody wins it, everybody is screaming and yelling," Matt Reynolds said.

None of this team building is lost on Collins.

"The belt? It's important because somebody wants to win it," Collins said. "There's a celebration at the end of the game. It's pretty fun to see. The other night Tyler Clippard won and he was pretty excited. Even though it's minor in the scheme of things, it means a lot because it's coming from your teammates."

If the idea of a handing out a belt seems something less than profound, you are missing how complex the dynamics of a clubhouse can be. You have veterans like Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson, Kelly Johnson and Wright giving instead of taking, caring instead of turning their backs and younger guys are going to follow suit.

"At spring training, we joked about that, 'There's a coat rack inside the clubhouse door, hang your ego on it,'" Collins said.

"You talk to Michael Conforto, and who's the one guy who has contributed to him the most? Michael Cuddyer and he's the guy taking his job. Granderson comes in here every day and has something to say to those guys. Cuddyer is a guy we paid a lot of money to come here and be an every day player and winning games is all he talked about. Now, I'll go up to him and say, 'I'm going to try to get you in,' and he'll say, 'All I care about is winning.' That kind of veteran leadership, you can't replace it."

Obviously, the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes changed the offensive dynamic. Yet Collins said the day Juan Uribe and Johnson walked through the clubhouse door as part of the first midseason trade is when everything changed.

"Guys knew their jobs were at stake," Collins said. "Guys started swinging more aggressively."

Johnson, who has played on eight major league teams, including five since the start of the 2014 season, is a fascinating guy. On this day, he talked about learning how to put his own feelings and ego aside when he stopped being an every day player with Tampa Bay in 2013. He talked about how that may sound easy, it isn't, but once you do accept reality and embrace your role it can be a fun game.

He talked about watching Dustin Pedroia while with the last-place Red Sox wrapping up broken hands every day, doing everything he can just to get into the lineup and playing with such intensity. He talked about watching Derek Jeter with the Yankees, the master of consistency, doing the same thing, same smile, same jokes, knowing exactly what he'd do every second of every day.

"Pedroia and Jeter, David Wright has that same drive," Johnson said. "He's never walking around doing nothing. He always has a purpose. When the younger players show up and see the captain, the guy who has been here the longest, the highest paid so serious about what he does, you can't have a better example.

"He basically has to do physical therapy every second of the day just to get his back ready to go and be in the lineup. That drives you. That molds you. It has a big effect on a team."

Uribe, out with a chest injury, is the only Mets player with a World Series ring. He has two. Granderson is the only other to even have played in a World Series. This is a young team. Heck, Reynolds could become only the second player since the 1903 World Series to make his major league debut in the postseason.

Trades, getting Travis d'Arnaud back, Collins talked about looking down the dugout and wishing some guys who no longer are with the team were still there. They're all part of it, he said. The guy who has been part of it the longest is their captain. David Wright is the glue.

"If you talked to him at the end of June, he doubted he was coming back," Collins said. "He was not making very good progress. He said 'Hey, this may not happen.' He met us in Los Angeles and his conversation with Don Mattingly changed it, because Don had [back problems] and David changed a 360. All of a sudden, he said, 'I can do this.'

"We got him back in our locker room, back in our lineup and his presence means a lot. This guy comes in the clubhouse, he's one of those guys when he walks in, heads look up. He's only worried about the team, only worried about winning games. The day he came back, he said, 'I know you guys are playing great, if you're not able to play me, I get it.'"

Collins played him.

"The energy on our club? It's unbelievable," the 66-year-old baseball lifer said. "I like our shot. I like our chances."

He likes it so much because he sees Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey at the start, Jeurys Familia at the end and Daniel Murphy the rest of the time. Collins likes it, too, because of the energy in that clubhouse. There's no metric for that kind of emotion and team chemistry.

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