2005-05-20 / Sports

“Willie Ball” A New Wrinkle For New Mets

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

Mr. Met and the fans celebrate an opening day victory over the Houston Astros last week. (AP/Gregory Bull).Mr. Met and the fans celebrate an opening day victory over the Houston Astros last week. (AP/Gregory Bull). It’s become crystal-clear what type of team the 2005 Mets will be. After an exciting win in the home opener against the Houston Astros, New York showed that their hoped-for renaissance will look more like the speedy St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s than the more powerful Mets of the same era.

In other words, speed kills, and the Mets have plenty of it. Sure, Carlos Beltran, Mike Piazza, Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron can all hit the long-ball. But it’s the quickness of Jose Reyes, Kaz Matsui, Beltran and Cameron that will cause opponents fits, and not just with stolen bases.

The forceful style of play can be directly traced to manager Willie Randolph’s first skipper in New York 20 years ago. His mentor, Billy Martin, emphasized the same aggressiveness with those Yankee teams of the late ‘70s and the Oakland A’s of the early ‘80s. The 1981 Athletics style became known as Billy Ball. Maybe the ’05 Mets can etch their own name in history. Willie Ball, anyone?

Sure, there’s always a place for a mammoth home run or a pitching gem, but power slumps while a Pedro Martinez start is but once every five days. Willie Ball means double steals, suicide squeezes, drag bunts and taking the extra base no matter where the ball is hit.

In Willie Ball, just like on the Yankee teams Randolph played for, you’re always in attack mode. That type of play never hits a rough patch.

For one day, at least, Willie Ball was a huge success. In front of a sellout crowd starved for success after so many dark years, not to mention an 0-5 start, the Mets literally ran their way to an 8-4 comeback win. The game wasn’t pretty by any means, but the Mets earned the win because they forced the action instead of waiting for something to happen.

As dull as the Mets were under Art Howe, they’ll be anything but under Randolph. Watching the Mets under Howe was like listening to classical music, nice for certain situations, but not enough juice to keep you going. Not only did the team play station-to-station baseball, seemingly waiting for the three-run homer that would never come, but they had no spark.

A manager sets the tone and Howe’s laid-back demeanor rubbed off on his players, creating a stoic clubhouse and a morose product on the field.

Not so with Randolph’s Mets. He wants to force the opposition into mistakes. He wants to create havoc. He has plenty of players to carry out his plan. Reyes always has the green light to run, Beltran has the highest stolen base success rate among players with at least 100 steals, Cameron swiped 22 bags last year and Matsui finally showed that he could use his bunting skills to his advantage, something he failed to show do in 2004.

New York will lose more than their share of games this way. That aggressiveness will run them out of potential scoring opportunities on occasion. But a running, gambling style can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Martin taught Randolph that.

Now, 20 years later, Randolph hopes to teach his new club in Queens the same thing. It may not translate into 90 wins and a playoff appearance, but they’ll be more exciting to watch to be sure. Just call these guys the “Motorin’ Mets.”

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