Collins remains cool, focused under pressure
NEW YORK -- Terry Collins doggedly chased this chance his entire adult life, like a guy on a treadmill that never stops. He's 66 years old and is just now getting his first crack at a World Series ring, after spending parts of the past decade in Japan, with the Duluth Huskies in the Northwoods League and with China in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
You probably shouldn't tell Collins to "get 'em next time" if he doesn't get 'em this time.
So where were the signs that Collins was feeling a sense of urgency on Friday night?
Since the Mets had lost two in a row in Kansas City, shouldn't the manager have shaken up his lineup? What was slumping rookie Michael Conforto doing back in left field with an .050 postseason batting average? And for that matter, where was the quick hook when Noah Syndergaard, another rookie, couldn't get out of his own way in the first two innings?
Turns out the baseball lifer might just be a little smarter, a little tougher under pressure than the average talk-radio caller. Collins remained patient and his Mets rewarded him with a 9-3 victory on an excellent night to wave an orange towel at Citi Field, cutting the Royals' Series lead to 2-1.
"If you show panic now, it could spread in the clubhouse, and I'm not going to do that,'' Collins had said before the game. "I like our lineup. I like what they've done all year long. You go through ups and downs, but as we've seen, when they break out, they're good. And tonight, they need to break out.''
Break out they did, with early home runs from David Wright and Curtis Granderson the biggest of 12 hits for the Mets, who produced only two hits against Johnny Cueto in Game 2. Now they get a chance to even the Series on Saturday night in Game 4 (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX; 8 p.m. game time), with rookie Steven Matz facing Chris Young, who will be pitching on three days' rest after throwing three innings of relief to earn the win in Game 1, a 14-inning roller-coaster ride.
Collins had given the Mets the day off on Thursday, figuring they needed a little more rest more than yet another workout. He professed his confidence before Syndergaard put New York in a 3-2 hole in the second inning.
"We still have a lot of confidence," Collins said in his pregame talk with reporters. "I thought [Michael Cuddyer] put it pretty good yesterday when he said, 'You've got to win four anyway; start now.' So we're not down, we're positive.''
Conforto played a big role in the Mets' second-half surge, but he entered Friday hitless since his home run off the Dodgers' Zack Greinke in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, 20 days earlier. Most figured he'd go to the bench, with Juan Lagares starting in center and Yoenis Cespedes shifting over to left.
"I get a lot of suggestions,'' Collins said.
Conforto rewarded Collins both with an infield single that drove in a run and an important assist from left field to minimize the damage in the Royals' two-run second inning. But more than that infield single or even the throw that helped out Syndergaard, the biggest benefit from starting Conforto may have been simply that it showed Collins' belief in his team hadn't waned.
And if there was any doubt that the Mets had lost their swagger, Syndergaard put that thought to rest with his first pitch of the game, a 98-mph fastball up and in, which knocked Alcides Escobar on his rear end. It was a purpose pitch, admittedly designed to create some discomfort in Kansas City's hitters, but it was Syndergaard who was the first to seem flustered, allowing three runs in the first two innings.
Collins said afterward that Syndergaard was two hitters away from being pulled in the second, but he didn't want to go to his bullpen so early. He kept thinking that Snydergaard would get turned around, and he did, retiring 12 in a row at one point and getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth inning with a 5-3 lead.
"I just thought that was a situation where, listen, we needed that third out, and I thought he was the guy to do it,'' Collins said. "I liked the way he was throwing, even though he walked a couple of guys. But he's pitched so good lately that I wanted to stick with him.''
When Collins set his rotation for the World Series, he had flexibility to line up his guys any way he wanted it after sweeping the Cubs in the NL Championship Series. It was no accident that he put Syndergaard in the third spot, both because it is usually a key game in a best-of-seven series -- Joe Torre considered it the biggest game -- and it sets Syndergaard up for the deciding game, if the Series goes the limit.
"We went into this postseason trying to tell ourselves that every game is an elimination game,'' Wright said. "That's what [we've done] a really nice job of. We had that under our belt in L.A., playing that [NLDS] Game 5, and we brought that right into the [NLCS vs. the Cubs]. We [have] treated every game like a Game 5 in the first round, or Game 7 from there on out.''
Collins has said the Royals have an advantage because they're playing in the World Series for the second year in a row. But his cool, steady hand on the wheel is proving to be a subtle equalizer.