This is the first time in Collins' career he's so close to making the playoffs he can taste it. The problem is, he's twisted himself into a soft pretzel trying to adapt to the current ways of handling pitchers who have returned from Tommy John surgery.
Collins has three of them, and the dance with Matt Harvey has been the most difficult.
"I told you yesterday, this is what it is. This is a different era and a different age," Collins said on Monday before Jon Niese shut out the Braves for six innings on the way to an essential 4-0 win at Citi Field. "If it keeps us from winning the pennant, I'm not going to be very happy about it. But it is what it is and you have to adapt to it."
There are no Niese rules that anybody knows about, although the veteran left-hander was pulled after allowing only three hits and throwing 88 pitches. Collins was told he had to pull Harvey after five innings with a one-hitter on Sunday night, resulting in a chaotic loss to the Yankees that has had a ripple effect.
Harvey, nearly two years out from this surgery, has taken the heat for claiming that he's working under an innings limit this season, a hard cap of 180, his agent, Scott Boras said. Harvey is 3 1/3 innings away from that figure and has two more regular-season starts to go.
The ongoing controversy forced Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to say at a community event on Monday that there are no innings restrictions on Harvey and that the 26-year-old right-hander should not be held accountable.
"I think it's unfair to put all of this or any of this on Matt at this point," Alderson said.
Collins, though, is left with the task of juggling all these needs in a pennant race and obviously is taking it hard.
"Taking Matt out after five innings last night, was I disturbed? You're damn right I was disturbed," he said. "But that's what it is. And so I did it, for the good of Matt, hopefully, and the good of the organization for the future, that there's not an injury, that he is OK and that's he's going to come back.
"And so all the talk isn't going to change the fact that that's what we had to do, we decided to do it and nobody on either side is happy about it. Matt's not happy about it, we're not happy about it. But that's what it is. So we move on and we play today. New game. Last night, done, over."
The fact is that the turmoil among the starters is not limited to Harvey. Jacob deGrom, at 181 innings already, will miss his coming turn and is expected to start sometime this weekend in Cincinnati. Collins knows when that actually will be, but he wouldn't say.
Logan Verrett will start in deGrom's place on either Tuesday or Wednesday night against the Braves, with Bartolo Colon pitching the other game. Again, before the game, Collins would not be definitive about those plans, either.
"Well, whoever walks out there tomorrow will be the starter," Collins said. "It'll either be Verrett or Colon. The other guy will pitch the next day."
Afterward, Collins said Verrett would indeed start on Tuesday night.
The second-place Nationals were rained out of their game on Monday night against the Orioles and trail by 6 1/2 games with 12 left to play. Is this any way of running a race to the National League East title?
You know this has to rankle Collins. He managed the Astros, Angels and Mets over 11 seasons and in the midst of it all did the same in Japan and in the Minor Leagues. Collins has a .492 winning percentage, and at 85-65, this is by far the best of his five seasons leading the Mets. The other four were all sub-.500 efforts.
Collins has bristled for months as he's had to juggle the pitch counts and innings amassed by Harvey and deGrom, in particular. Steven Matz completes the threesome of starters who have survived Tommy John surgery. The aim is for these three young pitchers to not have another.
That is a global view. The micro view is the rare chance to go to the playoffs. The Mets haven't been there since 2006, and Collins has never been there. So he's well aware that sometimes these opportunities are few and far in between.
How does Collins reconcile all that?
"You reconcile that because the evidence dictates they need some rest," Collins said. "As we're watching Jake go out the last three times without his best stuff, without his best command, that tells us that at this time of the year, there's a little bit of fatigue there.
"It's the best move for us to give him some extra days. It's the best move for him. Even though it's hard to do, you have to make the move so an injury doesn't happen. You put him out there and you're asking him to fail because he's not at his best."
Asked if he'd be content if his pitchers remained healthy win or lose the division title, Collins lit off on a two-minute diatribe that became louder and louder as he became more heated.
"If this pitching staff is healthy, I'm going to be very good with it. OK?" Collins said. "There have been things that you do that you think might have been done better in the past, but it doesn't happen today. Things change, and you have to change with them."