By Ernie Palladino
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The Citi Field checklist neared completion Sunday.
Honor the great catcher Mike Piazza. Check.
Kick this miserable season out the door. Check.
Get Terry Collins locked up for 2014. That comes Monday.
And it should.
When the Mets make official Collins’ two-year extension today, they will have done the last right thing in a lost season that saw too many decisions and twists of fate go the wrong way.
In Collins, they get to keep a manager for whom the players continued to play. Perhaps they didn’t always do it well. In fact, they rarely did it well. But that was more a function of on-field youth and front-office fiduciary ineptitude that caused that. Little of it could be laid at Collins’ doorstep.
On the contrary, this man who was basically run out of Houston and Anaheim appears to have found a home in Flushing. Regardless of the record — and it got awfully ugly at times, save for Matt Harvey’s starts — he remained a beacon of optimism. He encouraged, rather than derided. He coaxed rather than hammered.
If the players hated him, they kept it secret.
This is what the young Mets need at this point. Not an iron-handed general, but a firm though amiable leader who can put the losses and injuries behind him and focus on the good things that are happening around that franchise.
Good things like Zack Wheeler, the up-and-coming pitcher who will have to assume the staff ace role if Harvey indeed undergoes Tommy John surgery. If the baseball gods really want to smile on born-again backslapper Collins, they’ll turn his Arizona Fall League experiment into a real cure for that partially torn collateral ligament and allow baseball’s most exciting pitcher to resume his dominance of 2013.
And if Harvey eventually does have to go under the knife after six to eight weeks of throwing, well, then Wheeler and Dillon Gee and Jon Niese simply will have to raise their games and become consistently effective mound presences. Gee did exactly that in the second half of the season.
So, too, can Collins get excited about Juan Lagares, who set a franchise rookie record with 14 outfield assists. Travis d’Arnaud showed he has room to grow behind the plate as well as in the batter’s box, but there is potential.
Now, all Sandy Alderson has to do is procure some veteran power and some bullpen help during the winter to keep Collins stocked and stoked for next year’s drive toward respectability.
For now, though, they’ve got an enthusiastic skipper who showed he deserves a chance with a real team.
“I’ve been in baseball for 42 years,” Collins told the media Saturday. “This is what I do. This is what I enjoy. This is the fun part of the game — to compete every night. When you’re my age, you walk in there and those guys…you hang around with them. It keeps you young.”
And it keeps the young guys motivated and in learning mode. It took veteran third baseman David Wright to emphasize that Collins had done exactly that.
“I believe he has that fire and emotion it does take,” Wright said. “Especially with how young we are. He relates to the young players well and continues to teach and motivate. That’s what we need.”
What they need to do next year is win. Given what he had to work with this year, Collins did a fine job getting everything he could out of half a team. It will be interesting now to see how he does with some real talent, assuming Alderson comes through for him over the winter.
If that needed help doesn’t materialize, he’ll probably get fired anyway. If it does and he fails, Collins will certainly get the axe.
But at least he gets the chance. That becomes official today.
Sunday was Mike Piazza’s time. He deserved it.
Today is for Terry Collins. He earned this day, too, as well as the two years beyond.
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