NEW YORK -- It's 25 hours before Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Willie Randolph, do you know where your starting rotation is? Randolph didn't. On a brilliantly sunny Flushing afternoon, he wore a cloudy expression. "Things happen sometimes and, you know, it's easy to feel sorry for yourself," said the Mets' manager, who then invoked his favorite vocal shrug. "It is what it is."
But this time, it's more than that. It's a numbing turn of events -- or of a right leg. It's not a square deal, but a raw deal, squared. It's more than just being plain snakebit. The Mets have become the rat in the snake pit of postseason baseball. Actually, a day before the Mets were to place their 2006 destiny on the line against the Dodgers, Randolph did know the whereabouts of his rotation. He just didn't know what to make of it. Pedro Martinez was in pre-op, getting ready for Thursday surgery on his torn rotator cuff. Orlando Hernandez was prone somewhere for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test, a Tuesday workout jogging tweak having jeopardized his plan to step into Pedro's No. 1 starter shoes against the Dodgers Wednesday afternoon. Steve Trachsel was somewhere between California and New York, making a delayed return from tending to a family issue that had separated him from the team last weekend. His original Monday night flight had been cancelled. Tom Glavine was in the bullpen, finishing a sideline throwing session prior to his planned start in Thursday's Game 2. That leaves ... Hey, John Maine, doing anything Wednesday afternoon? El Duque's mishap quickly fueled numerous conspiracy theories around Shea Stadium: Hernandez didn't want to deal with the formal media conference and this was a convenient way to bail ... El Duque wanted to look in on his former team's Division Series opener against Detroit, and it was his only chance to reach Yankee Stadium in time ... the Mets just wanted to mess with the Dodgers' minds a bit.
And Oliver Stone wasn't even in-house, although Kevin Costner was.Eliminating the element of gamesmanship, the episode was another -- by now wholly unnecessary -- reminder to the Mets that even when you are on top of the world, a piano may fall out of the next open window you walk under. This is a team that went through the season without a care in the world while compiling 97 wins. No one in the Majors had more, no one in the NL was close. There wasn't another team that could test the Mets. Fates ... now, that has been an opponent of a different color. Even as they crossed the finish line to their NL East title, the Mets already resembled the Joe Hardy character chasing that final fly ball in "Damn Yankees." Legs crumbling, age-lines appearing, weakened. Cliff Floyd's lower left leg, the Achilles and the ankle, chained him. Martinez was shelved with a right hip injury, then one to his right calf. Invaluable reliever Duaner Sanchez was lost to injuries suffered in a taxi accident. But after they clinched, that's when misfortune declared open season on the Mets. Carlos Beltran gave in to numerous nagging injuries. Pedro was found to have a torn left calf muscle, then a torn rotator cuff. At one point, Carlos Delgado was scratched from the lineup with what was actually described as "general body soreness." So even before the Hernandez news got his mates in the gut, David Wright said, "We've had to deal with stuff all year. With Pedro being out, we've had young guys step up. We've had guys stepping up and coming together all year."
But fates' piling on gave Randolph pause."I really don't believe ... the last week and a half," said the veteran baseball man, "I've never seen anything quite like this. I can't say I've ever experienced anything like this before, even as a coach or player." Then came the page-turner: "We're in the playoffs, man. You have to react, and adjust as you go. We will, and we'll be fine." In other words, they'll try to again be the root of all good. Methodical. Showing mettle. "The good part about this ballclub," Randolph reminded, "is that we've rallied around each other all season long. ... We play for each other." Besides, the Mets just don't cut it as characters deserving sympathy. This is a team that flew out of the gate -- its five-game lead was the largest in MLB history after 12 games -- and never looked back. It won 97 games with a fearsome attack, not on pitching. Glavine (3.68) was the only full-time starter with an ERA below 4.48. Besides, there is Maine, who pulled off a 3.60 mark in 16 games, including 15 starts. "When you have a record like they have," pointed out Nomar Garciaparra, "it sure wasn't just one guy winning all those games. I know what they're thinking: 'It's our whole team that got us here.' "I'm sure they'll have that attitude [Wednesday]." It isn't like they have a choice. The sweetest victories are the ones for which you have to fight, not those which are handed to you. Actually, the Mets do have a choice: Curse the bad breaks, or shrug them off. Even before leaving their Shea Stadium locker room early Tuesday afternoon, they appeared to have made that choice.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.