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Out of the Tunnel

As expected, Cliff Floyd has signed with the Cubs [1] (at Shea May 14-17), making him officially an ex-Met. It’s not like we didn’t know his going wasn’t coming. And now he’s truly gone.

Cliff became a Met when the team didn’t know whether it was coming or going. The 2002 season was a calamity and the 2003 version would be a disaster, yet there was Cliff, jumping on board our sinking ship after one and before the other. He wouldn’t make much of a difference to Met fortunes his first two years, the second of which he framed with one of the most honest Met quotes since “can’t anybody here play this game?”

Things aren’t looking bright. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

It was the best traffic report ever given on the long and winding Mets expressway. Cliff knew from what he spoke as the 2004 season crumbled to bits. I suppose it was a coincidence that it was practically moments later that Art Howe was fired, Jim Duquette was replaced and the Leiter-Franco regime was changed. Perhaps it was chance as well that in his eagerness to clean house Omar Minaya shopped Cliff around in the winter of ’04-’05. “The New Mets” promotional literature of that offseason spotlighted Beltran and Martinez, Reyes and Wright, Kris Benson even. No mention of their intermittently hobbled teller of truths and incumbent leftfielder.

Cliff stayed. Willie Randolph arrived (and will remain [2], hallelujah). Maybe it was one more case of the coincidental that this manager teased more health and more hits out of his default cleanup hitter than his predecessor did. Every third quote in 2005 from Randolph was of the “I challenged Cliff” variety and Cliff met every challenge. He was the best everyday player we had two seasons ago. While Carlos settled in and old Mike felt around for a comfort zone and David and Jose learned their craft, Cliff Floyd was the first all-around star of the Willie Randolph era — and, to be blog-indulgent about it, the Faith and Fear era. We liked to refer to him as our Monsta [3], but he was more like our light. Thirty-four homers, 98 ribbies, serious athleticism in left…the days of the Mets being stuck in the tunnel were over.

Cliff Floyd in 2006 wasn’t Cliff Floyd of 2005. The Mets didn’t need that much from him. If he couldn’t deliver a reasonable facsimile for longer than a spurt here and there, then we’d win with approximately half a Floyd. His ’05 protégés grew up around him and the more recently imported talent carried its load. We could afford an off year from Cliff in ’06 and still succeed. I guess we couldn’t take that chance for ’07.

Though the light-and-tunnel remark was briefly his calling card and cross to bear, I prefer to remember another exchange as quintessential Cliff Floyd: smart man, smart player, veteran player, player’s player, our player. It was from the NLDS — one of those mostly pointless pregame press gaggles [4] during the postseason, the first one the Mets had been in six years, the first one Cliff Floyd played in since he was a young Marlin.

Q: Little off topic, you guys had such a great season, finished first. Is it enough of an advantage for a team to have that extra game at home? Should there be more of an advantage for a team that had such a good season?

CLIFF FLOYD: That’s way over my head, boss.

I have a hunch it wasn’t.