Lowly Mets having more fun in the clubhouse than on the field

NEW YORK - JULY 12: Gary Sheffield #10

NEW YORK - JULY 12: Gary Sheffield #10 of the New York Mets celebrates after scoring a run against the Cincinnati Reds on July 12, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) (Credit: Getty/Jim McIsaac)

David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since

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'What do we have to do to win a game?"

That's an actual quote from an actual Met, spoken in frustration this week as this sinking team was in the process of losing three of four to the Braves and two of three to the Nationals.

Everyone knows what losing baseball looks like on the field. But here are a few snapshots of what defeat - or at least a defeatist attitude - looks like before and after games for a team that appears to be playing out the string before the end of July.

Unlike Citi Field, with its endless catacombs of hidden back rooms, the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park is transparent, with an open cafeteria area, its own home theater and really no closed-off areas, except for the trainer's room.

So the daily rituals of these Mets, a team six games under .500 (44-50) for the first time since the end of the 2004 season, were on full display this week.

Each afternoon, eight players were immersed in card games as they waited for BP. Another group was behind closed doors in the theatre room watching concert videos, the music thumping so loudly through the walls that it could be heard clearly in the manager's office as Jerry Manuel gave his daily media briefing - on camera.

For the five or so players actually in the clubhouse, three were hunched over a laptop laughing over videos - presumably not of that night's starting pitcher for the Nationals.

Is there a connection between a team's pregame recreational activities and their performance on the field? Maybe, maybe not. But the Mets rushed through the two losses to the Nats as if they were late for dinner, falling Tuesday in 2:09 and Wednesday in 2:20 while scoring a total of one run against a team that had been 26-66 entering those games.

With so many of these players barely having a foothold in the majors, the lack of focus on the task at hand is a little surprising. Manuel has acknowledged the gap in talent the Mets face on a nightly basis - even against Washington, a team on pace to go 48-114.

"That's where we have to evaluate what we have in going forward and see if it's enough to compete," Manuel said. "Right now, where we are, we have a lot to overcome."

He's right about that. And if nine players on the disabled list weren't enough - it's about to become 10 if Gary Sheffield can't play Friday night in Houston - the controversy swirling around vice president of player development Tony Bernazard is further dragging this team down.

While the suspicion was that Bernazard helped turn the clubhouse against Willie Randolph before Randolph was fired last season, he seems to be a polarizing force in the other direction this time, with the players directing anger toward him.

As for Manuel, he wanted no part of the Bernazard situation Wednesday, deflecting questions before Omar Minaya addressed the issue in a dugout news conference.

But Bernazard already has become a radioactive topic in the organization, and despite Minaya's pledge to "investigate" the incidents, he does not appear to be in any imminent danger of losing his job unless more embarrassing episodes come to light.

As for combating the sense of apathy pervading the Mets at the moment, it doesn't appear that any help is coming from outside the organization. Minaya insisted Wednesday that the Mets will be "buyers" in the days leading up to the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline, but they have precious little to bargain with.

Minaya remains adamant about holding on to the few prospects within the farm system and refuses to deal the best of them for any player, even if it is one of Roy Halladay's caliber.

Despite Minaya's talk about the wild-card race as a possibility, no one involved with the Mets right now is thinking about fighting back into contention. It feels like too steep a climb, without anyone willing or able to shoulder the weight.

"Obviously, it's a struggle and a challenge," David Wright said, "and we're not meeting that challenge."

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