David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Mets found themselves in a familiar place Sunday -- and we're not talking about Citi Field. Once again, they were doing just enough to lose, and this game didn't look all that different from the five straight losses leading up to it.
Other than the pink bats and cleats used for the Mother's Day matinee, we could have lifted this video from Denver, Miami or even Saturday night in Flushing. The May defeats were all starting to blend together after a promising April, and with the Yankees up next, there was no telling where this might end.
But Terry Collins and Co. got lucky. It never came to that.
Thanks to Ruben Tejada, the unlikeliest hero on this roster, the Mets avoided that plunge to oblivion. Or at least delayed what some may believe is inevitable. Tejada's one-out single in the 11th inning delivered an improbable 5-4 victory over the Phillies and allowed everyone in the clubhouse to relax for a few hours before Monday's trip to the Bronx.
"We needed that one," Chris Young said.
That was an understatement.
Aside from maybe Jenrry Mejia, who remains at risk to lose Wednesday's turn in the rotation, we're not putting anyone on the chopping block yet. It's not as though Collins' job is in jeopardy, and his coaching staff appears secure.
But losing can be habit-forming, and the Subway Series -- with the exception of last year's stunning four-game sweep by the Mets -- is not usually a time to break free of those humbling routines. At least now, after Sunday's victory, the Mets can purge the bad thoughts of the past week, maybe cleanse the psyche before facing the Yankees.
Collins, who has been scrambling with a patchwork roster since Opening Day, knew the dark road his team was looking at in the coming days. Getting swept by the Phillies would make his job that much tougher, with each loss further chipping away at his hold on the clubhouse. Deserved or not, that's what happens when things go bad. Collins has seen it at his other stops in Anaheim and Houston.
The Mets were backed into a corner again Sunday, forced to play two men short because Wilmer Flores -- technically the starting shortstop -- and reliever Gonzalez Germen were sidelined because of illness. That left Collins without many options, and the adjustments he was able to make were small ones, such as giving Antony Recker the green light to swing on 3-and-0 against Cole Hamels in the fourth inning.
Recker flied out to the warning track and the Mets left the bases loaded, but Collins was unapologetic. His club had snapped a 23-inning scoreless streak only two days earlier, so the manager felt like taking a flier on Recker. Collins cited the need to start "thinking outside the box" in order to score runs.
We agreed with Collins but then asked him: Couldn't that also be called "desperate"? Sort of like buying a lottery ticket to get out of debt?
"You can call it desperation if you want to," Collins said. "I don't care what the name of it is. I'd rather have it a little more positive than standing on the edge of the cliff."
Probably a good idea. Collins has been to that cliff so many times that he should own real estate there.
And rather than melting down as he has in the past, Collins has faced this latest challenge in more Zen fashion, perhaps because he realizes that the Mets have to be fixed -- let's say upgraded -- by people above his pay scale.
We're not sure when, or if, that's going to happen. The assumption is Sandy Alderson will dial up Las Vegas for a Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard at some point and dump a retread or two from the pitching staff. After Collins showed his frustration Saturday by suggesting a Vegas arm could be on the way to replace Mejia in the rotation, he backed away some after Sunday's win, and Alderson did not make himself available to discuss the subject.
For now, the Mets did what they absolutely had to do Sunday -- restore a fragment of their self-esteem. "A thing like this can kick-start a winning streak," Recker said. "This can get your confidence up."
It wasn't a loss. And that's something.