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Calm Collins

The most obvious fun of Friday night’s comeback win in Houston [1] emanated from Mets bats exploding in accordance with their time-release settings. For more than six innings, nothing. Then the fuses went off and so did Bay (BOOM!), Martinez (SUPER BOOM!) and Wright (GO-AHEAD BOOM!). Pridie’s ringing insurance double made a nice noise, too (r-r-ring!).

But what I really got an Astrenfreude kick out of was watching Brad Mills and Dave Clark arguing in the Houston dugout. Clark’s the third base coach of the Astros or, from the looks of his skill set, their soon-to-be former third base coach. He sent one plodding baserunner (Carlos Lee) to a watery doom at home plate and then either misdirected or didn’t direct another (“knucklehead” Bill Hall, per Keith Hernandez) into a slow-moving 3-2 double play wherein Daniel Murphy came off as heady.

The fun of Clark’s clunkers was twofold. First, given that the Astros had a 4-0 lead that could have easily been 6-0, the Mets fan sat back and hoped it would come back to bite them — and it did. When Bud Norris was dealing, such speculation looked like a pipe dream, but when Bay’s internal baby monitor woke him up…and young Fernando resumed his prospectitude…and David loosened up at last…well, shoot (as they say in Texas), it sure was nice to watch the Astros get bit.

Second, in terms of fun — though this occurred before the Mets’ sudden surge of offense — was watching Astro manager Mills expressing his displeasure with Clark. Nothing against Clark, except my visceral dislike for him ever since he used to pound our pitchers as a pinch-hitter and spot starter (Dave Clark lifetime vs. the Mets: .342/.414/.547 in 133 plate appearances); I also tired quickly of the Dave Clark Five allusions he inspired (Gary Cohen made them incessantly and Bob Murphy never reacted to them…not even in bits and pieces). All I really cared about Friday night was Clark put his team, the team playing the Mets, in a position to lose, and Mills was as disgusted as I was delighted.

You don’t see the manager arguing with one of his coaches during a game. It was manly baseball-arguing, mind you. There was no eye contact. Can’t be eye contact. Each man had to keep his eyes on the game even while they were jawing away at each other. But they were clearly going at it. Because it was happening in the other team’s dugout, it was quite satisfying to take in. If it were happening between Terry Collins and Chip Hale, it would be a sign of the apocalypse.

That thought made me appreciate Collins a little bit more. Terry Collins wouldn’t do that. He’d get pissed off at a baserunning blunder, sure. We know he got pissed off at Daniel Murphy in Atlanta when Murphy took off for third in a most disadvantageous situation in April. We heard [2] he took Murphy into the runway, away from cameras, away (more or less) from teammates and told him, essentially, enough with the errors of enthusiasm. Whatever hanging out to dry he did, he did if not quietly, then at least in the shadows.

Collins may not be unique in that respect. The Mills-Clark flapping was unusual, so Terry’s not the only manager not exploding in full view. What I liked Friday night about Terry was a shot of him standing alone, eyes fixed on the field, plotting and strategizing, completely into the game (or maybe that blonde in the third row…but I’m assuming the game). It put me in mind of a couple of weeks ago when something that passes for amusing rippled through the Met dugout. I don’t remember what it was — maybe Mike Pelfrey was wearing Chin-Lung Hu’s batting helmet before realizing it didn’t fit — but it was one of those incidents the telecast captures wherein everybody’s having a good laugh.

Except Terry wasn’t laughing. I don’t mean that in the Kirk Gibson “there’s nothing funny about eyeblack in my cap! [3] baseball is life and death sense. It wasn’t one of those moments when the manager straightened out his unserious charges and pointed them on the straight and narrow to a pennant (though we have finally moved into a fourth-place tie with the Nationals). He just didn’t notice, or if he did, he wasn’t interested. He was interested in the game. Gary Cohen noted that Terry, in so many words, isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs in the dugout.

I found myself respecting that. The guy isn’t, by all indications, a receptacle of hilarity. Perhaps in his private life. Perhaps his family finds him a scream. Perhaps he’s Keeping Everybody Loose in the clubhouse (though I’m guessing no). It may not make Terry Collins the life of any given party or someone with whom you’d want to share a particularly long elevator ride, but that’s not why we’ve been introduced to Terry Collins. He’s here to manage the Mets. He’s doing it his way, and his way doesn’t seem to be not working.

That sounds like a tepid endorsement of an 18-20 skipper, but putting aside you being what your record says you are, I’m actually modestly enthusiastic about Collins. Didn’t think I would be. Still might not be when all is said and done. He still seems on the precipice of a blowup or meltdown when the losing reappears, but who likes losing? He hasn’t embarrassed anybody when he’s seemed less than pleased. He hasn’t seem disengaged from the process by any means. And if he finds nothing funny about managing, it’s understandable. He’s back in a major league dugout after more than a decade’s absence. I doubt he found that funny.

I don’t mind witty, urbane managers, or managers who can multitask between baseball and the world around them or managers who can entertain multiple constituencies in between filling out lineup cards. Terry Collins isn’t any of those things as far as I can tell. He’s a baseball manager whose job is to manage baseball.

He’s managing pretty well thus far.