These Mets are easy to like, and even they feel that way

New York Mets catcher Mike Nickeas is met New York Mets catcher Mike Nickeas is met at home plate by his teammates after hitting a grand slam against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field. (May 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since ...

Team chemistry is an art form, and you know what they say about good art. It is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. You see it in these Mets.

Yes, yes, we know all the caveats. "You don't have to have a happy clubhouse. If you've got really good players and they play well and you win, they don't have to get along," Terry Collins said Sunday.

You can make the argument that harmony is merely one of those quaint old baseball customs that doesn't really make much of a difference -- like wearing stirrups or exchanging the lineup cards.

Also, there is the chicken-or-the-egg aspect. Does a team win because it has chemistry or does it have chemistry because it is winning? "It's a great question, and if you could answer it, you could put out some very great teams," catcher Mike Nickeas said. "But we just have it."

In the case of the 2012 Mets, it really does matter. This team, which beat the punchless Padres, 2-0, on Sundayand is a surprising 27-21, knows it does not have a load of star power or firepower. So any little edge helps.

If you have someone rooting for you, even though you might be taking his playing time, it helps. That really happens on this club, Collins said.

If you can look around the field and see someone with whom you rode the buses in the minors, that helps, too. "We did actually ride the buses together," Lucas Duda said. "It's fun to have that core group of players out there, it's fun to see [Daniel] Murphy and Ike [Davis] and Kirk Neuwenhuis. It makes it a little bit more comfortable."

Said Collins, "It helps if they get along. It helps if they pick each other up. It helps if you're having a tough day if you have somebody there to pat you on the back instead of ignore you."

This is all cliché stuff, but phrases become clichés because they are true. Collins said that out of the blue, Andres Torres came up to him the other day to say he'd never been on a team as cohesive as this one. And he has been on a World Series winner. Plus, he has been struggling like heck lately, so he wasn't looking through a rose-colored prism.

Frank Francisco, who got his 13th save Sunday, two weeks after he looked certain to lose the closer's job, said, "That's the best thing you can say about your teammates: They give you confidence and make you feel like you belong in that place. They've been great, even in my worst moments."

The Mets are the way they are in part because of Collins' leadership and in large part because they all have struggled. Nobody on these Mets has led a charmed life through school, the minors and major-league stardom. You don't give anyone big-time lip when you have the taste of failure on your tongue.

"In this particular culture, we have guys who have the freedom to be themselves," said R.A. Dickey, 7-1 after Sunday's win, who has covered his own rough road and now is a potential All-Star. "I've been in clubhouses where that hasn't been the case, where you've been afraid to say anything because of superstars, what have you. Here, everybody has a voice."

Mostly, chemistry matters because the Mets are trying to establish an identity. Let's face it, for the past 15 years, the Mets have tried to be Yankees Lite: Pay as much as you can to get the biggest names you can get. It hasn't worked.

These Mets are different. They aren't world-beaters yet, but they do have a certain something that inspires hope and restores a sense of humor. Witness the more than 300 entries Sunday in Banner Day. The tone was upbeat, gentle, realistic. This peanut stand loved "I Still Call It Shea" and the Top 10 list that began "No-Hitters are Overrated."

Team chemistry isn't overrated. Not on this likable team. You can just see it.

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