Commentary

A new regime in Queens, please

The K-Rod incident, and the way the Mets handled it, proves new leadership necessary

Updated: August 13, 2010, 11:21 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Johan Santana tried to fix it, oh yes he did. That's what franchise players do, you know, take the ball and try to fix the franchise.

[+] EnlargeFrancisco Rodriguez
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowWith Francisco Rodriguez headed for a Queens courthouse, Johan Santana pledged to step up.

"I'm ready to pitch 10 innings," Santana assured New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel.

"Don't come out here today," the ace told him. "Leave me alone."

"I sure would love to," Manuel responded.

Santana struck out the Colorado side in the first. He executed a hit and run, made it from first to third on a single, and didn't let 110 pitches over the first eight innings stop him from taking the mound in the ninth.

On any other gray and drizzly day, a four-hit shutout would've made the sky above Citi Field a blissful shade of blue. But nothing could make you feel good about the Mets on Thursday, not with their closer coming out of the wrong kind of pen and escorted by police into a criminal courthouse, his hands cuffed behind his back.

Francisco Rodriguez was arrested for allegedly pummeling his girlfriend's father after Wednesday night's loss, charged with third-degree assault, and suspended by the Mets for two days, making Santana's willingness to go the distance all the more profound.

But the ace didn't qualify as some superhero swooping in out of a comic book, not after a woman who had accused him of rape sued him in a Florida court.

Yes, only the Mets could temporarily divert your attention away from a pitcher accused of assault with a brilliant performance from a pitcher accused of worse.

"I'm done with that," Santana said. "I'm not commenting on that."

The Mets were willing to comment on Rodriguez, and maybe they should've gone the Santana route. If more evidence was needed to prove this organization lacks organization, it was found in the way Manuel and Jeff Wilpon handled the K-Rod case.

[+] EnlargeJerry Manuel and Johan Santana
Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireJerry Manuel was all smiles with Santana during the game, but his comments after the game were bewildering.

Rodriguez was held in custody at a holding facility at Citi Field after Wednesday night's altercation, held there after he allegedly sent his girlfriend's father to the hospital. Yet when asked before the game if he would have any hesitation using Rodriguez if the closer showed up at the ballpark free of handcuffs, Manuel said, "None."

Good heavens. Of all the surreal quotes Manuel has delivered into a live mike during his term, this one syllable trumped them all.

Nope, not a single millisecond of pause to hand the ball to a pitcher who had embarrassed the franchise, who had exhibited anger-management issues in the past, and who had spent the night in a pen that doesn't swing open when a baseball manager calls.

An hour after Manuel spoke, the Mets announced they had suspended Rodriguez for two days without pay. "Ownership and the organization are very disappointed in Francisco's inappropriate behavior," Wilpon said, "and we take this matter very seriously."

So in one New York minute, the manager says he'd go right back to K-Rod if Santana needed relief, and in the next the team owner is removing the closer from the roster.

It gets better. Armed with knowledge of the suspension and Wilpon's stated sentiment in his postgame news conference, Manuel came up with this beauty:

"I don't have all the facts. Until I have all the facts, then I make a judgment as to how I feel about it and so forth. But I just think right now it's unfair when everything is not on the table to make a judgment one way or another. Despite what the team did, I still feel that way."

In effect, Manuel called Wilpon's suspension of Rodriguez "unfair."

The manager declined to say he was angry at K-Rod; he maintained he needed to hear the whole story before he took his own temperature. Manuel acknowledged the incident and the arrest disappointed him, but added, "You still have to weigh what spurred such an action. That has to be a part of it, despite that it's wrong."

In other words, if K-Rod can convince Manuel that the man he allegedly assaulted had it coming to him, well … play ball!

Manuel didn't get it, even if some of his players did.

"No one should act like that," Carlos Beltran said of Rodriguez. "It doesn't matter if the team did whatever it did. No one should act like that. He feels sorry about what happened, but it's too late."

Good for Beltran. Good for the center fielder to recognize the urgency of a matter Manuel didn't bother to address with his team.

Of course, the bad karma gripping the Mets involves far more than this latest confrontation on K-Rod's résumé, a résumé that lists as references Tony Bernazard, Randy Niemann and Brian Bruney.

The Mets are a .500 team in name only. Just as John Mara angrily pointed out that last year's 8-8 Giants had the feel of a 4-12 team, this year's 57-57 Mets have the feel of a 50-64 team.

Normally an inconspicuous presence, Mara assumed a leadership role when he stepped before the cameras and notebooks and ripped every Tom, Dick and Jerry in his employ.

But Jeff Wilpon didn't hold a news conference Thursday, when another Same Old Mets crisis begged for his face-to-face thoughts on a season spinning out of control.

The owner settled for a typed one-sentence rebuke of K-Rod, and if nothing else, it sounded a whole lot better than what was coming out of Manuel's mouth.

Truth is, the Mets need a new and dynamic force in the worst way, something stronger than an adviser who can knock down Omar Minaya's bad ideas. Joe Torre was offered as an answer in this space, and if the Dodgers manager does indeed become a free agent, the Mets will give him some thought.

Torre? Bobby Valentine? Cliff Lee? Billy Beane? The Mets desperately need a grand slam between now and Opening Day, 2011, and surprise, surprise: The number of grand slams they've hit this year matches the amount of consideration Manuel would've given to benching a freed K-Rod.

None.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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