Nelson Figueroa still has a hard time understanding why the Mets released him at the end of spring training, but all it takes is a quick glance around his clubhouse to remind himself how well it worked out for him.
Not only did the righthander from Brooklyn land with a World Series contender, he also went to the Mets' arch rival. And he loves that thought because right now, well, the Mets are a team he doesn't care for one bit.
"To have the rug pulled out from under you, you have to find a way to refocus," he said, "and there's no better way than first place."
Speaking before last night's game, Figueroa criticized Mets management for the way they handled his release and described the Phillies as a professional organization that cares only about becoming World Series champion again.
"This clubhouse is different," said Figueroa, who gave up three runs and four hits in the eighth, bumping his ERA up to 5.09. "There's an atmosphere here where from the time we get to the park, the whole day is spent trying to figure out how we're going to win . . . They don't panic early in April when we have a two-game losing streak and worry if the manager is getting fired or the GM is getting fired."
Figueroa laughed when asked about the Mets-Phillies rivalry. "It doesn't even come up in here," he said. "It doesn't come up in conversation unless we're playing them. You don't worry about what's behind you."
But it wasn't long ago when Figueroa expected to be a Met. He said he was so certain in spring training, that he made travel plans for his family to be at Opening Day.
Looking back now, though, Figueroa ignored the warning signs.
"Knowing the health of the starting staff, knowing the problems the starting staff had and knowing I was never given a chance to compete for the fifth starter spot, it all should have added up, but I kept telling myself, 'No, it can't be,' " Figueroa said. "And it was."
His baseball resume includes several major-league stops, along with Mexico and Taiwan. But his experience didn't take the sting away when the Mets cut him at the end of spring training. He said his first instinct was to walk out, but he said he stopped on his way out, turned around and sought answers.
"I asked why," he said, "and they said this is just a move we need to make."
That answer didn't sit well. "I basically told them in two years, I gave them my blood, sweat and tears, my heart and my soul," Figueroa said, "and it wasn't enough at the end of the day to make the team this year . . . I shouldn't have had to prove that I belonged on this team."