The pitcher is finished. The whole ballpark can see it. His velocity's down; he's walking guys. Pull him, screams the crowd, before he blows the goddamn game!
"Nah," says the manager. "I bet he can go one more inning."
The pitcher is Johan Santana in 2012, throwing a no-hitter. Or he's Jacob deGrom in 2015, winning the Division Series. Or he's Matt Harvey, two weeks later, losing the World Series. He's any/every member of the 2017 Mets tattered pitching staff, struggling to get out of the fifth. The manager, in all these strikingly similar scenarios, is Terry Collins.
Tomorrow night, barring nuclear war, Collins will manage his 1,013th game for the Mets, passing Davey Johnson to become the team's longest-serving manager. To survive six years with a franchise as busily toxic as the Mets is no small accomplishment. Stranger still is that, as his team staggers towards the milestone, I've found myself liking Collins more than ever before.
In 23 years of managing, Collins has won 941 games and lost 948, giving him a perfectly mediocre winning percentage of .498. When his teams were bad—and for the first four years he was in New York, the teams the Mets gave him were very bad indeed—Collins generally pulled them up. Now, he's dragging them down. He may not last the summer, and even if firing him helps the team—since the real problem stems from the owner's box, it's hard to see how it would—I'll be sorry to see him go.
This is heresy, of course. The Mets are playing sloppy, hideous, near-unwatchable baseball; praising the manager is simply not done in such circumstances. And Collins tortures Met fans, in the same ways he always has. He leaves his starters in too long. He runs relievers into the ground. He starts a slumping veteran over and over and over again, hoping for a hot streak that never comes. No matter how bad things get, he never tries anything new. It drives Mets fans, who are forever on the edge of sanity to begin with, crazy. It drives me crazy. Terry Collins doesn't care about that.
Every infuriating decision that Collins makes stems from an unshakeable optimism, a hope that what didn't work yesterday might work today. So what if it almost never does? Many Met fans loathe Terry Collins at least in part because the mentality that has let him survive this job, that same stubborn and irrational belief, is the same that's required to be a fan of the Mets. You could call that crazy, or quixotic, or (if you're feeling particularly uncharitable) stupid. You could also call it divine.
"You just think in your heart he's going to break out, so you want him in there," Collins said this week of Curtis Granderson, who is presently—and it pains me to say this, because Curtis remains my favorite Met—one of the worst hitters in the National League.
"I let my heart get in the way of my gut," Collins said in 2015, after Harvey lost the World Series.
Terry Collins manages with his heart. Even when it doesn't work, there is something to admire in that. In real life, we are told, sentimentality will get you nowhere; the world serves us bitter proof of this every hour. But in baseball, heart wins almost half the time.