Noble: Fiery Backman could be Mets' answer

Noble: Fiery Backman could be Mets' answer

Chances are folks in Flushing are closely monitoring the developments to their South. In the geography of the National League East standings, the Nationals and Marlins are due South of the Mets but they appear significantly -- perilously -- closer than anyone anticipated. And with the Mets 11 games from first place with 42 games remaining, scant reason exists to peer to the North.

Identifying them as participants in the NL East race was a charade two weeks ago. And now they are without a bona fide closer. Moreover, they remain without a healthy and productive Jason Bay, and their second baseman would be delighted to touch the Mendoza Line. A team that has been without a reliable eighth-inning reliever since Duaner Sanchez hopped in a cab in the summer of 2006 isn't going to find a closer at this point. And even if the offense were to assert itself now, the Braves and Philies probably are too far to the North for the Mets, and at least three second-place teams are more likely Wild Card participants.

So now, when the folks in Flushing look to the South, they may fix their gaze on the Orioles, the suddenly more formidable Orioles of one William Nathaniel Showalter. For two weeks now, the Orioles have been bucking the system, performing as if they belong in the same division as the Yankees and Rays, beating their chests as well as some opponents.

The three-point turn -- playing respectably, playing competently and playing competitively -- happening where Cal Ripken used to play regularly began with the appointment of Showalter and the adoption of a more optimistic view by the once mighty O's. Showalter took over a team on Aug. 3 that, one day earlier, was farther from fourth place -- 22½ games -- than three other last-place teams were from first. The standings remain a pretty grim picture for the O's, but they have won 10 of 16 games Showalter has managed.

Rest assured the corporate offices at Camden Yards are joyful, and the offices at Citi Field are at least curious.

If the Mets have decided to discard their manager, they haven't whispered their plan to anyone who types or talks to the public. But if they are moving in that direction, they may be considering their own kind of three-point turn -- dismissing Jerry Manuel, appointing Wally Backman and starting to perform better.

The recent renaissance of the Orioles stands as a reminder of what a managerial change can effect, especially one that brings in a new man with a reputation of not tolerating the kind of malaise that now exists at Citi Field. Showalter and Backman are akin in that regard. They ain't gonna stand for it.

Each may have worn out a welcome or two. But see what Showalter accomplished in the Bronx and in the desert. And Backman's teams have won routinely every step -- and misstep -- along his way. Through 58 games in the New York-Penn League, Backman's Brooklyn Cyclones have built a nine-game lead in the McNamara Division and the best record among 14 Class A teams at 38-20.

Jeff Wilpon didn't afford Backman a second chance without a thought of giving him a chance to manage the big league team.

Whether the time has come is another issue. The Wilpon Mets never have been comfortable paying more than one person at one time to do one job.

In one way, putting Backman in charge of the Citi would be reminiscent of another managerial move the Orioles made long ago, hiring a man long on fire, short on inches and accustomed to winning -- Earl Weaver.

Backman is a shade taller than the Earl of Baltimore and, given his own playing style, not necessarily as much of a three-run home run devotee as Weaver. But winning fuels him, as it fueled Weaver, and it is a reciprocal arrangement. Backman fuels his teams as much as he directs them. He was an igniter for the Mets teams of 1984-88. And the managers he later played for -- Tom Kelly, Jim Leyland and Jim Fregosi -- appreciated his on-field growling-and-grunting manner.

Moreover, Backman's drive is steadfast. The fire in Little Walter is the eternal flame.

Eventually, the Mets will benefit from his leadership; if not this summer, then next. And in Flushing, the battle cry already is what it used to be in Brooklyn: Wait till next year.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.