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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

It's Amazin' to see winning attitude back in Flushing

This still image from video shows Mets pitcher

This still image from video shows Mets pitcher Max Scherzer, left, and agent Scott Boras as they participate in a news conference, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Credit: AP

Phase One of the Mets’ cultural makeover occurred a year ago with Steve Cohen’s purchase of the franchise.

This week’s signing of Max Scherzer officially commenced Phase Two.

Sure, there was a bunch of stuff that happened in-between. A few firings, some embarrassing moments, an on-field collapse. Standard Flushing fare. Same Old Mets.

But Wednesday’s Zoom call barely had enough bandwidth to contain three of the oversized egos crammed onto my screen -- we’re including Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras -- and that’s a good thing. Because the 2022 Mets now have serious attitude, from the owner’s box down to the pitcher’s mound, and not the annoying variety.

The winning kind.

You could say last year’s Mets, despite spending more than 100 days atop the NL East, didn’t have that killer instinct, the go-for-the-throat mentality, the coffee-is-for-closers mantra. At times, they were feisty, resourceful and occasionally successful -- but that was mostly the bench mob.

The core of the ’21 Mets? Meh. In the second half, they were beat up, but so were the Braves, who rocketed right past them for a fourth straight division crown and later the World Series title.

First and foremost, this is a talent-driven business. But next on the list is doing whatever it takes to steamroll the guys in the other uniform. Scherzer’s been living that mantra for 14 years in the majors, earning him three Cy Young awards, a trio of top 10 MVP finishes and this new three-year, $130-million contract from the Mets.

"This offseason, we set out to make a real impact on our club," said GM Billy Eppler, on the job for 13 days. "And Max was at the top of our list. In doing our work on Max, we came to learn that he has a special way of perceiving the game. In every sense of the word, he’s a pro.

"With Max, he brings a relentlessness and an obsession to win to our clubhouse ... I think that surrounding yourself with people like that -- with high achievers -- creates standards. And it’s infectious."

The ’21 Mets were contaminated by something last season, and the symptoms were the exact opposite of what Eppler described. Maybe some of that speaks to those who won’t be returning for 2022 as the front office has targeted upgrades with solid reps throughout the game, from winning organizations. Scherzer even took a minute Wednesday to mention the rave reviews he heard about the newly acquired Eduardo Escobar, just as a great clubhouse presence alone.

The money is what got Scherzer to Flushing. The record-setting $43.3M annual salary. Period. Let’s not kid ourselves about recruiting Zoom calls or selling the NYC suburbs. The place Scherzer said he was most attracted to is Port St. Lucie, the Mets’ spring-training site, because it’s only 45 minutes up I-95 from his home in Jupiter.

But we’re willing to play along. If Scherzer believes in Cohen’s determination to make the Mets a champion someday, there are worse endorsements. And in this case, with Cohen, there’s no reason to doubt him. The Mets’ owner blew right past Gerrit Cole’s previous $36-million record, and not by a couple extra mil. A whopping 20% market-wrecker.

Not the most prudent move by Cohen, who certainly infuriated some of his fellow owners, especially with the CBA only hours from its expiration date. Then again, he clearly doesn’t care. Scherzer had to appreciate that.

"He looks at this as he wants to win a championship and he’s going to do whatever it takes to win here," Scherzer said of Cohen. "You don’t hear that from owners too much these days. That piqued my interest."

The subtext to that statement, of course, being a slap to the MLB owners in general, as Scherzer -- a member of the union’s executive council -- was in Dallas taking a Zoom break from Wednesday’s latest round of labor warfare. Scherzer flatly said he wanted to get a contract done before the lockout, and if it meant wearing a Mets cap, for a new market-setting salary, then Cohen ends up the beneficiary.

Scherzer becoming a Met is no fairy tale. This was not the culmination of some lifelong dream. It’s a cold, calculated business decision, and what better way to operate for a hedge-fund billionaire like Cohen? But make no mistake. The pairing of Scherzer and Cohen comes at the perfect time for the Mets, and all it took was money. Beating everyone else is the fun part.

"I told you last year I wanted to win," Cohen said, "I talked about sustained winning and winning championships. And I mean it. I think the Mets are closer today than we were then."

Scherzer’s arrival proves that. And Cohen doesn’t sound finished, either.

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