David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Everyone knows Citi Field is big. At its outermost point, there's a 414-foot nook at one end of the faraway bullpen in right-centerfield. To the speedier and more ambitious Mets, they look at the distant gap and see the possibilities, not its limitations.
"When I hit a ball there, I'm always thinking four," Angel Pagan said. "Until someone stops me. All the way."
As in four bases, an inside-the-park home run. Think triples are the most thrilling play in baseball? To Pagan, that's so 2010.
These Mets -- under new manager Terry Collins -- want to push the envelope any chance they get. If Citi Field refuses to yield home runs, it makes the Mets that much more determined to score by any means necessary.
"Even the guys that haven't been in our ballpark, I think they've heard and seen how big it plays," David Wright said. "So from Day One in spring training, I think we've realized that's the way we have to play offensively. We understand that you always want to put pressure on the defense, but I think it makes it more important to do that at our ballpark."
The talk is not new. From the moment the Mets first saw their spacious, oddly shaped home two years ago, they figured it was going to favor a team built on pitching, speed and defense. But it's one thing to preach aggressiveness on the basepaths and another to live it on a daily basis.
Maybe the frustration of the previous two seasons finally has made them believers. Or maybe it took the persistent prodding of Collins, a manager who himself sprinted around the bases during March drills in Port St. Lucie. When even PR guru Jay Horwitz is getting his khakis dirty sliding into home as a pinch runner, you get the sense this whole fast-break mentality is contagious.
Of course, there is a cost-benefit analysis that has to be made. The Mets intend to be smart about those chances, and in doing so, live with the consequences when the gamble doesn't pay off.
In Tuesday's win over the Phillies, Pagan hustled from first to third on a single to leftfield -- and Raul Ibañez never even bothered with a throw. That put Pagan in position to score on a passed ball.
In the first inning of that game, Pagan executed a double-steal with Jose Reyes, but both wound up stranded. "That's the way we're going to play when we get on base," Reyes said.
As for the downside, not all gambles work. Take last weekend in Florida, when Wright tried to go from first to third on a none-out single to rightfield and failed. That violated a sacred rule of baserunning -- never make the first or third out at third base -- but it took a flawless play by Scott Cousins and a perfect one-hop throw to nail Wright. Collins actually applauded the hustle. "I've got no problem with that," he said. "That's what we have to do."
He wants the Mets to be in the heads of other teams, making them rush to get to balls and hurry their throws. The manager believes playing at that pace will create mistakes by the opposition. And with the Mets working inside a small margin, these little things can make a big difference.
They're not going to lose standing around waiting for a three-run homer, especially at Citi Field, where the wait for one of those can be longer than the line at the Shake Shack.
"There's going to be some times where probably we get thrown out at third with nobody out," Wright said. "But if you're going to make a mistake, I'd rather see it done on the aggressive side. I think that we have to continually kind of remind ourselves that's how we're going to play and that's what's going to make us successful."