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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Sandy Alderson proves to be a fan at heart

General manager Sandy Alderson of the New York

General manager Sandy Alderson of the New York Mets celebrates after the Mets' 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 15, 2015 in Los Angeles. Credit: Getty Images / Harry How

CHICAGO - The celebration played out before him on the Wrigley Field turf, two whole sections below. Sandy Alderson sat alone, in near-darkness, shaded by the ceiling provided by the ancient ballpark's second deck.

For the Mets, the moment was all about releasing the pressure, popping the cork on a season's worth of roiling emotion. Terry Collins doused the chanting fans behind the dugout. The players hugged and danced, spilling more than they actually drank.

But Alderson, the architect of the 2015 National League champions, remained in the shadows, preferring to watch as his on-field personnel -- the group that had just swept the Cubs, America's Team, in the NLCS -- soaked up the attention they all deserved.

It wasn't until long afterward, in the empty visitors' clubhouse, that Alderson chose to answer a few questions about the Mets' first trip to the World Series in 15 years. He ducked in to shake hands with a few of his front-office staff, as well as COO Jeff Wilpon, and then spread the credit around.

"I'm just very happy for everybody involved," Alderson said. "Starting with ownership, to all our fans in New York who have been patient with us -- and bought into the program, by and large. I'm glad they've been rewarded."

With that, he smiled.

To us, we always confused his self-deprecating humor for a cool detachment, that he wasn't as invested as the loyal fans who dotted the empty rows during the brutal times at Citi Field.

But we've come to realize that was a mistake. Behind the scenes, and occasionally leaking into public view, Alderson reveals the depth of his commitment, from taking on MLB officials -- his former colleagues -- on the Mets' behalf to simply displaying the fervor of a typical jersey-wearing fan.

Before Wednesday night's Game 4, an MLB official approached a club executive about the plans if the Mets clinched. At first, the person was looking for Alderson. But the team exec cut off that discussion, saying he'd handle it. Best not to tell Alderson until the outcome had been decided.

"No, no," the exec said. "Or maybe if we're up 10-0."

Alderson told us after the NLDS clincher, drenched in champagne, that he watched these games the way those at home did. . Nervously pacing, sweating every out, maybe cursing an unfriendly bounce or questionable call. There wasn't much left for him to do now, Alderson said, and we got the sense he was a bit melancholy over that, not relieved.

The job he's done to this point, however, is beyond reproach, nearly immune to criticism. The Mets are not a perfect team, but from where we sit, on this date, they are closer to that standard than any other NL franchise.

Omar Minaya, the GM fired to bring on Alderson, certainly deserves a piece of this glory by proxy. He handed over a nucleus of talented yet undeveloped young players. But Alderson was put in charge to complete the project, under tighter financial constrictions than ever before with the Mets, and he was able to do that.

A year ago, Alderson was mocked when word slipped out that he told his staff in spring training the Mets were a 90-win team. They finished 79-83, the fourth straight losing season on Alderson's watch. As it turned out, he was a year too early, but the Mets didn't claim the NL East crown, or reach the World Series, on autopilot.

Alderson promised to improve the Mets at the trade deadline, and he did, dealing for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes in a flurry of moves that addressed the team's weaknesses. Alderson also had to endure one of the more embarrassing nights of his GM tenure when the Mets pulled back on an agreed trade for the Brewers' Carlos Gomez.

That proved that being lucky helps, too. After the Gomez deal imploded, the Mets learned of Cespedes' availability, and Alderson pulled the trigger on that swap 13 minutes before the deadline on July 31. He also refused to blink in his high-profile game of chicken with agent Scott Boras over Matt Harvey's innings limits, with Harvey finally seeing things his way -- and going all-in for the Mets' playoff push.

Those were passion plays by Alderson, so don't let the cool exterior fool you.

"We took some detours along the way," he said. "But everything came together. Some times it doesn't."

For now, those times are over with the Mets. Now is the chance for Alderson to bask in that glow, even if he'd rather watch everyone else do it.


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