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Terry Collins manages 1,500th game; Wally Backman also adds to resume

On the giant screen, Mets manager Terry Collins

On the giant screen, Mets manager Terry Collins watches a replay of Miami Marlins' Garrett Jones home run which was later overturned as a foul ball in the fourth inning. Credit: AP / Alan Diaz

Terry Collins managed his 1,500th big-league game Saturday night.

Wally Backman is still waiting for his first.

Those two facts are not as related as they may seem. Barring a complete collapse by the Mets, Collins is likely to return next season to complete the final year of his contract.

And even if the Mets decide to fire Collins, there is no guarantee the job would go to Backman, who on Friday was named Pacific Coast League manager of the year after guiding the Mets' Triple-A Las Vegas team to the playoffs for the second straight season.

Under Backman, the 51s are 80-62, best in the league.

The Mets are 63-73 under Collins after Saturday night's 7-2 loss to the Phillies. Now in his fourth season with the Mets, Collins is 288-334 with them and 732-768 in three major-league stops.

Collins beat out Backman for the Mets' job. The two men have an excellent relationship and speak often about the players who shuttle between Triple-A and the majors.

"He deserves a lot of accolades," Collins said Friday. "Wally does an outstanding job and certainly I rely a lot on his opinions and what goes on and I'm happy for him. With all the player moves we've made, he's kept that club steady moving forward, and congratulations to him."

General manager Sandy Alderson said Backman's honor was "well deserved," one that "reflects the work he's done this year."

A significant portion of the Mets' fan base would like to see Backman, 54, get a chance to do that work in the dugout at Citi Field.

But in some corners of the organization, questions remain about whether Backman could work smoothly with the front office.

Former Las Vegas players on the Mets rave about playing for Backman, the former spitfire second baseman on the Mets' 1986 World Series championship team.

"He's really, really good at communicating," utilityman Eric Campbell said. "He's a fiery guy. Players really want to play hard for him . . . He just hates to lose."

Said reliever Vic Black: "He has a fire for managing. Loves his players. Will stick his head out there for you. As long as you compete and show up every day and take care of your business, he's all for you. He knows what the end goal is: For us to not play in Vegas or wherever it is and for our careers to be here."

Backman once had a major-league managing job. He was hired on Nov. 1, 2004, to skipper the Arizona Diamondbacks. But he was fired four days later after newspaper revelations of serious legal and financial problems.

Backman has worked hard to get back to Triple-A, one rung below the majors. It remains to be seen if winning PCL manager of the year, as chosen by the league's managers and media members, will boost his chances with the Mets or another organization after the season.

"It's an honor to get chosen by your colleagues," Backman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday. "I'm thankful I got picked by my peers . . . There's no question Triple-A is the toughest level to manage at because of the player movement. That's what makes it tough. There are so many different guys going back and forth. To win as many games as we have each year with as much movement as we've had, I've got to give the organization credit for giving us players to replace the ones who've gone to the majors."

Collins, meanwhile, was asked Saturday night what it means to him to have reached the 1,500-game mark.

"It means I'm really, really lucky," he said. "That's exactly what it means. I've been very, very lucky . . . to be able to do it as long as I've done it. Hopefully, it can continue for a while."

With Marc Carig

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