After the Sunday win, for instance, Jose Reyes, Anderson Hernandez and Endy Chavez clustered in one group eating chicken and black beans; at the table next to them Shawn Green and Mike DeFelice played chess, while John Maine and Tom Glavine sat next to them.
Still, it’s striking how day-to-day the clubhouse spirit can be. After the win over Florida, the place looked like the Mets were on the verge of clinching the division: Music blared, players laughed, everyone reflected on how they managed to pull this one out.
But the next day back at Shea, after a lopsided 13-4 loss to lowly Washington, the clubhouse was almost entirely empty. The players who showed up to speak to reporters—Beltran, Mike Pelfrey, Wright, Paul Lo Duca—did so in whispers, despairing at their dismal performance.
“We just didn’t come out with any fire tonight,” said Lo Duca, of the loss to the fourth-place Nationals.
David Wright said the loss was “embarrassing.”
And even though Randolph exudes calm, it sometimes seems that the alternating extremes of relief and despair are taking a toll.
After the Sept. 20 game in Florida, when the Mets blew multiple leads and lost to the last-place Marlins, Randolph’s face was that of a man in his own personal hell.
“I saw that face [on Willie],” said New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, describing Randolph’s postgame interview. “It was the first time the words he said didn’t match how he looked. He looked like he got beat up.”
After a win two nights later against the Marlins, giving the Mets two in a row, Randolph said, with an exhale, “It’s nice to keep winning—sometimes you get one win and it seems like three.”
Randolph knows something about what it takes to succeed late in the season. Even early on in his 18-year career as a player, Randolph brought to the field a consistent, quiet ferocity that helped the Yankees win two championships and a pennant. And after his playing days were over, he was a steady presence at the side of the ultra-stoic Joe Torre as the Yankees won four World Series between 1996 and 2000.
Rightly or wrongly, Randolph seems to assume that all of his players have the same innate composure and desire to win that he always did.
Throughout the weekend in Florida, Randolph insisted his team was operating at playoff intensity, however much the results on the field suggested otherwise. And he said that his tonic from a bad loss, like the one against Washington on Monday night, is to get back out there and play baseball.
“This time of year, where we are in the standings, you just want to get back out there and play again,” he said at a press conference after the loss to Washington. “You just want to chalk this up and get back out there as soon as you can and keep playing.”
In the dugout in Miami a few days earlier, Randolph had reflected briefly on the vagaries of slumps, and what it takes to get out of them.
“You learn a lot about yourself with how you deal with adversity or pressure,” he said. “It’s not like I look forward to it, but if it’s here? Then that’s exciting. I like to see how I react on the fly—and how my people react on the fly. The ones who handle it are the ones who succeed.”