Let’s start with toughness, the one intangible the Mets have lacked most in recent years. You only have to go back a couple of weeks for a glaring example, when the Mets let Chase Utley wipe out Ruben Tejada at second base with an over-the-line slide and did nothing to retaliate.
Oh, sure, Carlos Beltran managed to get in the way of a double play the next day, but he didn’t even make contact, and when all was said and done, the Mets sent the message that they wouldn’t stand up to the Phillies — the team that has bullied them in one way or another for four years.
I don’t blame Jerry Manuel for the Mets’ failures in recent years, but he clearly failed to instill enough grit in his ballclub. Somebody has to do it because there’s no hard-edged leadership in their clubhouse….
Not that retaliating or even fighting is a cure-all for the Mets. Talent aside, however, winning in the big leagues starts with attitude, with the type of mental and physical toughness that has defined the Phillies and separated them from the Mets.
(Well, that and a farm system that allowed them to trade for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt over a 12-month period, but that’s another story – and a reminder of one of Minaya’s biggest failings.)
OK, first of all, Harper totally ignores the fact that Beltran not only called out Utley for the slide, but then admitted he was trying to hurt someone the next day and regretted that he was unable to do so.
But Harper loves to cite anonymous and mysterious baseball people who think Beltran is selfish and lacks grit, and this documented evidence of Beltran demonstrating precisely the type of grit Harper argues the Mets are missing would contradict not only the point of this column but the crux of many of Harper’s past columns, so, you know, let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.
Also — and way more importantly — talent not aside. Talent absolutely not aside. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for everyone to understand that the big difference between the Phillies and the Mets is not toughness or edginess or some sort of nebulous magic dust but real damn baseball skill, the most important factor in winning real damn baseball games.
The Phillies’ pitching staff posted a 110 ERA+ this year because it got 250 2/3 (!!) stellar innings from Roy Halladay and 208 2/3 excellent ones from Cole Hamels, and a bunch of strong performances from bullpen arms.
Yes, they weathered a slew of injuries to their starting lineup, but they did that because they fielded a deep and strong team, not through Charlie Manuel’s special old-man alchemy. They had the young players to trade for Roy Oswalt. A strong and well-managed farm system merits more than a parenthetical aside.
Now, look: No one’s saying the Phillies don’t hustle or that hustling doesn’t help win baseball games. Certainly the Phillies appear to exhibit a certain mettle, and since we’ve come to associate them with toughness and grit and, above all, winning, we mentally highlight their hustle plays and gloss over their junior moments.
Talent not aside. I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t make for a good story. Remember that during the World Series last year, Harper himself expressed surprise that the “gritty, gutty” Phillies suddenly didn’t “appear to be so tough-minded after all” once they ran into a better Yankee team.