David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PHILADELPHIA - Of all the Philly villains over the years, from Jimmy "Team to Beat" Rollins to Chase Utley's UFC style of play to Ryan Howard's soul-crushing home runs, Tuesday night's dustup with bench coach Larry Bowa barely caused a ripple on the Richter scale of this simmering rivalry.
Bowa, well known for his nuclear temper, tried to ignite the Phillies -- and bait the Mets -- by screaming about Hansel Robles' attempt to quick-pitch Darin Ruf in the seventh inning. At least that's how it started.
As soon as Bowa was ejected by plate umpire Dan Bellino, who tossed him almost immediately, he then directed both barrels of his rage at Daniel Murphy. Standing in the dugout, Bowa could be seen yelling expletives at Murphy -- apparently for flipping his bat after Monday's homer -- then pointing at his own ribs, suggesting that Murphy should get drilled there in retribution.
It was Larry being Larry, basically. Even the Phillies knew that. "I think he just got mad at everybody," manager Pete Mackanin said.
Can't say we blame Bowa for his frustration. After being piñatas for much too long, the Mets are the ones holding the big stick now, and kudos to them for taking care of business in Tuesday night's 6-5 comeback win, their second straight over the Phillies. And they had nothing to apologize for, despite Travis d'Arnaud feeling bad over his own bat flip Monday -- the result, he said, of too much pine tar.
"It was definitely over the top," d'Arnaud said. "That's not the player I am."
We get baseball's unwritten rules, and agree with a few of them. But the Mets should feel no reason to backpedal from what they did during the first two wins over the Phillies. They walloped them fair and square Monday. Even old pal Jeff Francoeur -- who nearly did as much yelling as Bowa -- admitted that he was fine with the Mets' behavior in the eight-homer smackdown.
Francoeur was plenty mad over Robles' quick pitch, using a couple of popular expletives, but he refused to stew over Monday's humiliation.
"They did what they were supposed to do [Monday] night," Francoeur said. "I've got no problem with what they did. I got no problem with the way any of those guys played. They play hard. They're a great baseball team. I got a lot of good buddies over there."
Being in first place doesn't guarantee respect, but listening to Francoeur talk about the Mets, they're earning it these days. And if that means doing a few things that hurt the feelings of opposing teams, so be it. The Mets are through being a punch line. They've graduated to focusing on bigger, more important goals than dugout screaming matches.
The Mets didn't get drawn into Bowa's nonsense, but they made sure to stand up for Robles. Once Bowa and Francoeur began yelling at Robles, the rest of the Mets started walking toward the Phillies' dugout, prepared for whatever might follow. As Bowa was getting ready to leave, that's when he appeared to threaten Murphy, who shrugged off the whole matter after the game.
"I can't sit here and try to pretend to know what someone else was thinking," Murphy said. "If that's the reason, then he must have taken exception to it."
The Mets no longer have time for the distractions that usually follow this team around as reliably as the 7 Line. With 37 games left, and a 5 1/2-game lead over the Nats, there are six weeks of work to do. And if Bowa felt he was in the right for threatening the Mets, he didn't stick around after the game to say so. By the time the Phillies' clubhouse door opened, a team spokesman said Bowa had left.
"There's no grudge or anything," Mackanin said. "We fought, which was good to see."
The Mets used to take consolation in battling. It was Art Howe's favorite postgame expression. He left Flushing with a .424 winning percentage after two seasons and never finished higher than fourth.
But those Mets are over. The Phillies better get used to it.